Research is just beginning to look at risk, protective factors and the effects of being a victim of electronic aggression
Dr. Mohammed Abul Kalam
The government has decided to observe December 12 as the National Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Day to make its Digital Bangladesh concept a memorable one. The cabinet endorsed a proposal in this regard. Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam told reporters that December 12 will be observed as the National ICT Day every year and it will be considered as the ‘Kha’ category day as per circular of the Cabinet Division. The cabinet secretary said “The country has advanced much in the field of ICT…We are now at the 7th or 8th position in the world considering mobile phone usage and internet penetration.”
Alam said Bangladesh has accepted the Digital Bangladesh concept officially and has been working on it. To make it memorable, he said, a proposal was made in a meeting in this regard. The cabinet secretary said the Awami League formally declared the Digital Bangladesh concept in its election manifesto on December 12 in 2008. “That’s why, the government has fixed December 12 as the National ICT Day to make it a memorable one,” he added.
Electronic media play an integral role in the lives of all people. Over the years, the rapid evolution of technology in various forms has significantly influenced the way people live and interact. Televisions, record players, computers, and VCRs changed how people learned, were entertained, stayed connected, and explored. In the past two decades, these devices have been replaced by cell phones, i-Pods, MP3 players, DVDs, and PDAs (personal digital assistants). These new technologies have become a mainstay for how people, particularly children and adolescents, communicate and are entertained. Technology enables young people to communicate more effectively: the ability to talk to people worldwide, to more easily and regular¬ly communicate with family and peers, and to make rewarding social connections that may be difficult to make in person. Some young people report that they feel better about themselves online than they do in the real world and feel it is easier to be accepted online. In addition, the growing accessibility of the internet through cell phones and wireless computer access allows adolescents to quickly and easily increase their knowledge about a broad number of topics.
Technological advances also create the potential for risk. Electronic aggression is any kind of aggression perpetrated through technology—any type of harassment or bullying (teasing, telling lies, making fun of someone, making rude or mean comments, spreading rumors, or making threatening or aggressive comments) that occurs through e-mail, a chat room, instant messaging, a website (including blogs), text messaging, or videos or pictures posted on websites or sent through cell phones.
Recently, extreme episodes of electronic aggression disseminated through blogs and online video postings have gained nationwide attention. This attention has sent parents, educators, and policy makers scurrying to find ways to protect chil¬dren from electronic aggression. Many parents have responded by installing fil¬tering software or setting time and content limits on internet use. In some cases, policy makers have responded by passing legislation or setting country level policies in an attempt to safeguard young people when they are using new forms of technology. The new laws have also guided policies and practices across the country and stem from growing public concern about technology being used by young people as a vehicle to inflict aggression. Unfortunately, research about electronic media and aggression is limited, and policies and practices are being developed and implemented without a solid research foundation.
The available information consistently suggests that most young people report little or no involvement in electronic aggression. Additionally, face-to-face verbal and physical aggressions are still far more common than electronic aggression. However, it has been suggested that electronic aggression is a growing public health problem in need of additional research and prevention efforts. This assertion is largely because of the results of the only longitudinal data on this topic that suggest that internet harassment is becoming more and more common. Specifically, a large number of internet users said they had been the victim of “on-line harassment,” which was defined as threats or other offensive behavior [not sexual solicitation] sent or posted online. A definitive answer to the question of whether or not electronic aggression is a public health problem cannot be given because electronic aggression is a fairly new topic of investigation and those researching the topic use different measures with limited comparability. For example, some researchers use a narrow definition of electronic aggression (e.g., aggression perpetrated through e-mail or instant messaging), while others use a broader definition (e.g., aggression perpetrated through e-mail, instant messaging, on a website, or through text messaging).
Research is just beginning to look at risk protective factors and the effects of being a victim of electronic aggression. At this point, there is no data showing a causal link between any variables and electronic aggression victimisation or perpetration. The information currently available suggests that young people who were victims of internet harassment were significantly more likely than those who had not been victimised electronically to use alcohol and other drugs, receive school detention or suspension, skip school, and experience in-person victimisa¬tion. In addition, young people who received rude or nasty comments via text messaging were significantly more likely to report feeling unsafe at school. Internet harassment victims were also more likely than non-victims to report poor parental monitoring and caregiver-adolescent emotional bonds. These difficulties could be: the result of electronic victimisation; could increase the risk of electronic victimisation; or could be related to something else entirely. Still, intercepting harmful information online is not enough. Vulnerable teenagers need to be identified, educated and supported so they will not fall victim to online suicide groups when approached by one. In short, we can consider the Blue Whale challenge- this is no more a game. It is a program created by villains who are trying to brainwash young people by ordering them to complete “missions” that reveal the dark side of humankind. Therefore, never allow this “game” to override cognitive thinking.
The concern about the sudden captivation in the Blue Whale centres on hackers who will capitalise on interest in the activity to lure curious clickers into compromising their computers and networks. And even though there has yet to be any confirmed suicide directly connected to the game, it could lead to trouble for vulnerable youth looking for attention. A suicide contagion has been well-documented in research and so even just increased discussion of suicide in relation to this game is potentially problematic. Instagram now warns users who search the app for #bluewhalechallenge that they may encounter images that encourage hurtful behaviors.
Whether the Blue Whale Challenge/Game/App is true or not is mostly beside the point. There certainly are many pro-suicide websites and individuals or groups online who encourage others to commit suicide. Today it may be a Blue Whale, tomorrow it could be some other high profile provocation. Take this opportunity to talk with your children about what they might encounter online (positive and negative) and foster a relationship with them so that they know they can turn to you if they run into trouble or are feeling down. Frequent and open dialog is the best way to inoculate our kids from the variety of life challenges they are likely to confront, whether perceived or actual, online or off.
Available data indicate that victims of electronic aggression do experience distress associated with electronic aggression. The amount of emotional distress experi¬enced by a victim seems to be related to the relationship between the victim and perpetrator and the frequency of the aggression. Electronic aggression victims were significantly more likely to report they were distressed by the incident when they were bullied by the same people on-line and off-line relative to young people who were bullied by different people on-line and in-person and young people who were only harassed on-line but did not know the identity of their harasser. The likelihood of distress also appears to be related to aspects of the electronic aggression incident. For instance, young people who were harassed by people they only knew on-line were more likely to report distress if the harassment was reoccurring, if the harasser was age 18 or older, or if the harasser asked for a picture. However, these victims were less likely to report distress if they used chat rooms or the internet at their friends’ homes. Research has not been conducted to examine how various forms of electronic aggression may differentially affect victims.
Focus groups with parents also suggest that the potential negative effects of electronic aggression are not limited to the young person who is victimised. Caregivers who are aware that their adolescent has been a victim of electronic aggression report that they sometimes feel even more fearful, frustrated, and angry about incidents of electronic aggression than their children.
Consistent with the electronic aggression victimisation literature, data are limited on the risk and protective factors associated with electronic aggression perpetration and on the effects of perpetration on young people. Available research suggests that, like perpetrators of other forms of aggression, perpetrators of electronic aggression were more likely to believe that bullying peers and encouraging others to bully peers are acceptable behaviours. Additionally, young people who reported perpetrating electronic aggression were also more likely to report perpetrating face-to-face aggression. In terms of protective factors, young people who said they were connected to their school, perceived their school as trusting, fair and pleasant, and believed their friends were trustworthy, caring, and helpful were less likely to report being perpetrators of electronic, physical, and verbal aggression.
Electronic media create tremendous positive social and learning opportunities for adolescents, but new technology also comes with some degree of risk. With the development of new cell phones that are small enough to fit into young children’s hands and that are designed to be visually attractive to a younger audi¬ence, more and younger children will become competent and frequent users of new technology. This growth will likely contribute to the continued increase of electronic aggression. Accordingly, research needs to continue and be attentive to some of the issues raised in this brief to gain a better understanding of elec¬tronic aggression prevalence, etiology, and prevention. As this field moves forward, it must be rapid and flexible enough to keep up with the evolving nature of technology, or it will be limited to knowledge, intervention strategies, and policies that are outdated and restricted in application potential. Researchers are encouraged to partner with young people, parents, and educators who are “on the front lines” and may be more aware than researchers of individual and contextual factors that are associated with electronic aggression.
The writer is Former Head, Department of Medical Sociology,
Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control & Research (IEDCR),