Being natural kehpohs, every Malaysian knows that behind each traffic jam… there is a car accident with people driving slowly to gawk from their cars. We may be even worse kehpohs online where we comment on and share every sensational post… whether its plastic rice la or some lady hitting an uncle’s car with a steering lock.
We may join the crowds of commenters in bashing someone who has allegedly done wrong in an online post. Unless you’re part of the “everything on FB is true” crowd, in which case: they’re automatically guilty! (not really la, check your facts). But is this harassment? Where do we draw the line at shaming?
Recently, a Malaysian activist group, PeopleACT (People Against Cyber Threats/Harassment) conducted a survey with 507 Malaysians (and 15 non-Malaysians) about cyber harassment and discovered that… well, you have to keep reading to find out!
Basically, the survey asked respondents “have you ever experienced the following?” and then gave them 8 options of cyber harassment, including a “none of the above” option.
But first some background info about this survey:
- 522 respondents, more than 50% of which are offline respondents
- 336 (64.4%) participants were women, while 183 (35.1%) were men. 3 respondents did not state their gender.
- Majority from Selangor (52.7%) and Kuala Lumpur (23.8%), and other states
- Survey ran from 8 June to 31 December 2016
- 14 interviews were conducted with victims/survivors of cyber harassment
- Majority of respondents are between ages of 17 and 24 (52.1%), followed by 25-39 (30%), and above 40 years old (15.1%). Only 2.1% were 16 and below.
We also asked Lim Ka Ea, a campaigner for the organisation that conducted the survey, on what cyber harassment means.
She says it includes any persistent act carried out via the internet (or other forms of electronic or digital devices) that causes someone to feel intimidated, distressed etc… basically, anything that creates a hostile environment for that person online.
(Hostile environment is a term that is normally associated with sexual harassment under US labour law)
It could include actions like hate speech, blackmail, doxing (revealing someone’s personal details), threats of death or rape, revenge porn (sharing explicit photos of someone without their consent), child pornography, spam (being bombarded by a large volume of messages continuously), and sending sexually explicit content to someone who doesn’t want it.
Let’s have a look at the results…
1. Women are 25% more prone to being stalked online… and we’re not talking about guys checking out your beach holiday pictures
16.4% of female respondents have experienced being persistently stalked online compared to 13.1% of men. Maybe this explains why the top followed accounts on Instagram are all women. My female colleague Jolyn gives her input on being stalked online:
“It’s more annoying online because you can’t stop them. In real life you can at least walk away or stop them from doing it.” – Jolyn, Cilisos Writer
These incidents can be truly harrowing… Just feel your skin quiver with disgust as you read this true account from a victim [WARNING: EXPLICIT]:
“After refusing to go on a date with A, a survivor persistently received violent and obscene text messages via Whatsapp voicemail from A.” – from the issues paper by PeopleACT
This was just the beginning of the horror. One of the messages read, “Aku penggal kepala kau. Kepala anak sulung kau aku belah. Kau sundal. Anak kedua kau babi”, which roughly translates to “I will behead you. I will cut your youngest child’s head in half. You b***. Your second child is a pig.”
Another message said, “Aku lapah kau. Jantung kau aku rentap” which means “I will skin you. I will rip your heart out.”
“A told the survivor that A had published pornographic photos of the survivor on social media and A was monitoring his/her movement outside her house. – PeopleACT
You can already see how an incident like this could impact a person’s life with deep and lasting trauma. It was not even a single incident, the harassment continued for at least half a year.
“The survivor said that he/she was receiving these messages a couple of times a day for six months. He/she quickly deactivated his/her Facebook account, relocated his/her family and changed his/her phone number. Even then, he/she continued to receive anonymous phone calls which he/she suspected were coming from A.” – PeopleACT
In this case, the cyber stalking was followed by threats of physical harm, a theme that seems to recur in the form of hateful comments. This could be why UN Women classifies cyber harassment as online violence, which it claims affects 73% of women around the world.
2. The most common form of cyber harassment was hateful comments, and over a third (32.65%) of respondents experienced this.
A high proportion of both women and men admit to having received hateful comments online. (34.9% for men, 30.4% for women) 85.4% of respondents use Facebook on a daily basis. Facebook has its own guidelines on what they consider hate speech, meanwhile countries rarely have this kind of definition in their legislature.
In the UK, there are laws that prohibit expressions of hatred towards a person’s race, colour, ethnicity, disability, religion, or sexual orientation, nationality or citizenship. Meanwhile, in the US, it is illegal to physically harm someone for the same reasons (religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation etc.)
Since Malaysia is a multicultural country, topics such as religion or race can be touchy. Knowing where to draw the line between hate speech and free speech, can help us preserve the diversity of opinion in our democracy.
The survey takers also conducted 14 interviews with victims and survivors of cyber harassment and found that the “hateful comments” they received sound something like this [WARNING: EXPLICIT]:
“Poor girl. Ugly c***, if you suicide one day it will be the best day of my life.” “Bila la dia nak mati?” “If it were up to me, I would have chopped off this [name of the survivor] head already…” “Bodoh macam lembu.”
If you think that’s bad… just imagine those coming in the hundreds. Comments that target one’s ethnicity or religion can be especially hurtful, as it can not only lower your self-esteem but also cause health problems according to the Human Rights Commission.
One of the writers at our sister site Soscili has experienced receiving hateful comments on Instagram after defending someone, and it definitely wasn’t fun.
“After the incident I felt demotivated and wouldn’t voice out my opinions again.” – Adi from Soscili
If we’re discouraged from voicing our opinions and beliefs online, how else can we promote open discussion and develop ‘better solutions‘ to the current and future problems faced by our nation?
3. Men are 57% more likely to experience shaming and to receive hateful comments than women
Despite the belief that men have “thicker skin” (literally, according to the International Dermal Institute)… more male respondents experienced online shaming than women at 17.9%. For women, the number was 11.4%, which means that for every two women shamed, there are three men experiencing the same.
Ok… we all have different definitions of what “being shamed” is. What does “online shaming” even mean in this case? For the people who answered the survey, it was having their personal details or photos being revealed by someone who disagrees with them.
20.7% of men say have experienced online spying, which is described as “your online activities are being spied by the authorities; eg. university administrator, government, religious department”. Meanwhile, only 12.2% of women say the same.
Also, Men are 14.8% more likely to receive hateful comments online than women, especially men between the ages of 17-39. And we’re not talking about regular, run-of-the-mill, Chinese New Year criticism from relatives… (let’s face it, we’re never eating the right amount according to our aunts and uncles.
We mean Truly. Hate-filled. Comments. (see next point for some vivid examples)
(Also it’ll be kinda funny if I do get hateful comments here since I am in that demographic)
4. You’re twice as likely to be sexually harassed online if you’re female
It was found that women are at least twice as likely overall to be victims of sexual harassment online (20.9%) compared to men (9.8%). What’s even more chilling is that women between 17-24 are three times as likely (10.7% compared to 3.3%) as their male counterparts to be called obscene names, or receive unwanted pornographic material.
It was also found that women between the age of 17-24 (youths) are more exposed to almost every type of cyber harassment. But surprisingly, both men and women are equally likely to become victims of revenge porn, at 2.2% and 2.1% respectively.
Although Malaysia has laws that make posting obscene imagery illegal, is it enough to prosecute these offenders? On the other hand, legislatures like California and Scotland have laws made specifically to combat revenge porn.
“Sharing, or threatening to share intimate pictures or videos of someone without their consent causes devastating harm to victims and it is absolutely right that the law should reflect this.” – Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, as quoted by BBC.
5. One out of every two respondents have experienced cyber harassment in one form or another
Earlier this year, cyber harassment was considered the third most dangerous cyber threat in Malaysia after fraud and intrusion, New Straits Times reports.
Ok, picture this. You’re driving to work/college like you always do…
Some guy from the next lane cuts you off without signalling, so you snap a quick photo of the number plate and upload straight to Facebook. Then before you know it, the post starts getting shares and dozens of commenters are bashing the person in the picture.
It’s a common way for people to “get back” at road aggressors. But this could actually be considered cyber harassment as we are posting personal details or photos of somebody online.
This actually happened to a young lady in Kuantan back in September 2014. She hit an elderly man’s car with her steering lock repeatedly, but what followed was essentially a crowdsourced campaign of cyber harassment targeted towards her.
Which leads us to question…
Are there things we Malaysians could do better on social media?
Typically, we Malaysians love our social media, with an average user spending four hours daily on social media alone! (and having four social media accounts according to an MCMC survey) Another thing we love to do is to cucuk one another. And we tend to do this online whether it’s making memes or dissing our friends on FB.
But knowing exactly where does it cross the line into online harassment can save us unnecessary pain and suffering. We live in a world where five-year-olds walk around with iPads and can easily come across the things we write online… (Check out this Malaysian lecturer/dad’s commentary on our tech-saturated youth)
It’s hard to say how kids who grew up with Snapchat filters will see themselves in the future, but can’t we at least bring some of that world-famous Malaysian hospitality to our social media?
Perhaps we should think twice before publishing that scalding comment, rape joke, or posting someone else’s photo with the objective of shaming them. Even when someone looks like they’re in the wrong, we may not know the whole story. So how about we show a little grace… Human beings make mistakes right?
Organisations like PeopleACT are raising awareness, as well as highlighting the legal difficulties of prosecuting those guilty of the acts of cyber harassment, but in the meantime, we can do our bit as civil and responsible netizens.