Arlina Arshad (or Arlina Banana to some) had been inundated with abuse on Twitter.
A social butterfly who also lives with a Borderline Personality Disorder (BDP), Arlina looked to social media as a place to escape.
In 2015, a concerted attack hit her account. This time, the keyboard warriors wanted to do damage. She was an ‘attention seeker’, they maintained. Ten people, on average, would taunt her about her physical appearance on the platform daily. When she tweeted that she was unwell and was going to take her own life, the attacks escalated. Some comments referenced a desire to splash acid on her face. The invective directed at Alina had become so serious and so frequent that she considered taking her own life
I’m not being cyberbullied. Am I …?
Arlina’s story (more of which later) is powerful motivation for educators of online safety such as Digi’s Philip Ling.
Philip knows online safety.
He knows that for bullied victims much of what occurs online is not perceived as cyber-bullying. He knows that among the teenagers he educates, an average of 64% feel that sending improper messages, posting inappropriate photos, and pretending to be someone else is NOT considered cyber-bullying.
For Philip, service providers have a role to play in bridging the gap of understanding. ‘We should enable access’, he believes, ‘whilst empowering our users to be safe and responsible.’
With surveys showing that 89% of youth believe cyberbullying is just a big fancy word and not a big deal, it’s clear that the issue isn’t even recognized by large numbers of youth. For Philip, this is worrying, especially in an environment where singular instances of bullying ‘can quickly expand into campaigns where what may be originally organized by one bully can be multiplied and carried out by several others or the same person repeatedly, resulting in the victim feeling perpetually victimized.’
Such attitudes and instances, if left unchecked and uninformed, can ‘breed a new generation infused with a culture of apathy and low empathy levels.’
Enter the CyberSAFE in School Programme, an initiative with an aim to not merely provide panaceas to children, but to listen to them (one early survey showed that, of those victims of cyberbullying, just 13% would turn to teachers with 7% seeking support from a school counsellor).
In preparing the programme, a quantitative national survey and qualitative focus groups collated the only insights that really matter in the context of cyberbullying: those of the children. Based on their impact, an approach was formed that targeted resiliency strategies as well as addressing key misconceptions of what actually constitutes cyberbullying, and the futility of online retaliation.
With that targeted approach, the programme has evolved and has engaged more than 100,000 schoolchildren on online safety. A subsequent 2015 survey showed that an average of 69% of children believe they can now deal with negative online situations. Eighty percent say they now know how to block or report.
The school programme isn’t an isolated effort. Along with it, initiatives that support ‘students leading by example’ and ‘nurturing young leaders’ are bearing fruit. As an output from the latter, over 60 videos about cyberbullying were produced by children to educate their peers. They make for sobering viewing.
Arlina’s story: an unexpected ending
Arlina’s story could well have formed narrative of one of those videos. A dark narrative.
She was digitally surrounded. Threats, insults and abuse were hurled at her en masse. But then…
…in a sudden turn of events, other netizens began to stand up and stand by Arlina.
Messages of hate and bile were drowned out by messages of support, encouragement and concern. Over the next year, Arlina tweeted hundreds of motivational words from her account @arlinabanana. Today, that account numbers north of 100k followers, and her sentiments are collated in her book, Pujuk.
— Arlina (@arlinabanana) October 25, 2017
‘Social empathy is what makes it possible for us to live together in a society’, Philip muses.
With empathetic souls such as himself and Arlina out there sharing that message, the future of online safety is in good hands.