In July 2019, Papua New Guinea experienced its first known cyber bullying-related suicide, when a 24-year-old girl died from drinking gramoxone herbicide. A family member of the deceased reported that this had happened after one of the pictures she uploaded on her Facebook account was photoshopped and gone viral online on various Facebook meme pages.
Indicated as the first suicide due to cyberbullying, this is a similar experience as with other Pacific Island states who are now exposing to the threat posed by the internet.
The last decade has shown that the internet infiltration in the Pacific Island countries has risen rapidly. Schools, homes, workplaces and individuals are now accessing the internet more readily in compared to the past years.
Cyberbully cases could unavoidably increase as well, in the coming years due to the increasing coverage and number of internet users in the Pacific. Social media penetration has increased from 52% in 2017, 55% in 2018 and 71% in 2019; still, data gave a strong indication of the cumulative increase in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Source: We Are Social. Digital in 2017, 2018 & 2019 Report: Internet users, social media use for Pacific Island Countries.
In 2016, a study conducted at the University of the South Pacific on cybercrimes showed that even in small island states such as those in the Pacific, it is not uncommon for people to experience cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place online. In the Pacific, it took the form of a meme, direct massages, news blogs, fake Facebook accounts created to share pictures or to defame others.
This call for users to realize that whatever threat is posted on the web now, will follow in years to come. UNICEF has reported that "Just as the internet provides an incredible amount of information and tools for people, we also know that there are high rates of cyberbullying... it's important that we are aware of this and we take steps to address it."
Cases of cyberbullying
The Fiji National Substance Abuse Advisory Council reported that in 2017 there were 234 cases, and in 2018 there were 154 cases of cyberbullying in schools. With 62% of the reported cases are female, and 38% are male students. Though the numbers reported does not indicate an increase, the cases of suicide or attempted suicide related to social media-bullying have increased as reported by the Fiji Online Safety Commissioner.
“I want to disappear, I cannot bear it knowing that he will one day post my pictures on the Facebook” this is a respond from one of attempted suicide of a female who was receiving threats by former boyfriend who threatened to post up intimate images of her. As a result from these constant bullying, victims were suffering from suicidal thoughts and living in fear.
At the 2019 Miss Heilala beauty pageant in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, the 2018-2019 Miss Heilala spoke out about the cyberbullying she had experienced at her reign and insisted that she would not tolerate it any more. A firm stand she took as the spread of the online streaming of the event took across the pacific and the world and at that she was getting a lot of attention and support as well as online criticisms. According to one of her interview she said “..acts of cyber bullying is a crime.. I just hope that you never treat another human being this way!".
Awareness on cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can be very precarious for teenagers and youth, as they are the most to go on social media to explore, learn and are quickly drawn to the risks posed by the virtual platforms. It is reported that only one out of ten victims of cyberbullying will report any cyberbully matter to an adult or their parents.
With that, children should be taught about cyberbully. To know how to notice when they are being bullied or when they know someone that has been bullied online. In addition, parents and teachers need to train students on how to behave on virtual platforms so as not to become bullies themselves. Teenagers and youths need to understand the consequences of a cyberbully.
Parents, teachers and responsible adults need to know the different online platforms that their children are being bullied on. The results of a survey conducted by Ipsos about the online channels through which children are cyberbullied in Asia-Pacific countries in 2017, 53% of respondents stated that bullying happened via social networks, compared to text messages and emails.
Again, statistics by Ipsos shows the results of a survey conducted on the type of person who cyberbullies children, 53% of respondents reported that bullies were classmates of the victims followed by another young person at 38%.
Source: Ipsos 2018 Report: Type of person who cyberbullies children in Asia- Pacific Island Countries.
Responsible adults should be aware of such information in order for them to monitor their children's usage in those various online platforms and to educate them about various security settings.
In this growing need for access to the internet in the Pacific, people should not be blinded by the vast opportunities that the technology presents, but to be aware and educate each and everyone of the impact that might arise because of the internet. Being small developing islands states, countries in the Pacific cannot afford losses due to cyberbullying amongst youth and teenage population (Nisha & Farik 2015).
Creation of websites such as Cyber Safety Pasifika promotes the safe use of technology and how to stay safe online for internet users in the small islands states. Cyber Safety Pacifica is promoting information and education to prevent cyberbully and include tips such as; do not start it, do not be a part of it, do not let it get out of control and speak up as cyberbullying is never okay.
Dealing with cyberbullying
It is vital for parents and teachers to maintain the socio-family connection to their children and monitor their kids' online activities. Create a safe space for them to talk to if they experience cyberbullying.
Children need to be educated about how to use online platforms and to learn about how to navigate the security settings of the online social media platform. ITC lessons are to be created for students in schools so that students can be aware of the ethics of using online learning platforms.
Law on cybersecurity and cyberbullying should be created and implemented by countries. As in the Solomon Islands, there is no law against cybercrimes. In a news article in 2017, the Director of Public Prosecution said the Solomon Islands does not have stand-alone legislation to deal with cyber-crime. It has been evident that social media users can say whatever they want to say without thinking about the law to censor what they put out on social media. Memes, edited photos, fake accounts have been accelerating, and it is something that countries should start putting guidelines to prevent their adverse effects on teens and youths.
In the Pacific, the rate of cyberbullying is currently seen to be inconsiderable, but it is crucial to look at ways to prevent and or maintain it at minimal.
Despite the disparities in internet penetration levels, a study published under the Pacific Review-Journal in 2018 noted that nearly all countries in the Pacific are increasingly regulating or are moving towards regulating the internet. With that, more data needs to be gathered around the social impact of the internet and the use of social media and its correlation to cyberbullying.