You have bullies at school and bullies in cyber space. While the school bully can be identified with no trouble, the cyber bully has no persona and cannot be easily tracked down. So it is up to you to keep safe.

Did you have friends tell you of the existence of a social media profile with your name, photo and details that you didn’t know existed? Is an anonymous user posting abusive or mean comments on your blog? Did you see a photo that you posted privately in another website or profile?

You are not alone. Cyber bullying or abuse, as this is commonly termed, happens to about five out of 10 of your peers. A report by Microsoft on Online Behaviour Survey conducted on age group of 8-17 years in 25 countries ranked India third in cyber bullying!

Cyber bullying is when a person threatens, abuses or humiliates a user through an online medium like social networking sites, online games, e-mail, blogs and so on. Why are children easy targets for cyber criminals or abusers? Rakshit Tandon, Cyber Security Expert and Consultant, Safe Surfing Campaign at Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), lists the reasons: “Lack of netiquettes, lack of awareness against dangers, they can get easily stalked, become friends easily with unknown persons, share a lot of personal information, have easy access to smartphones and most importantly, there is no one to guide them or teach them as parents themselves are not aware.”

Cyber bullies are different from the bullies in your school as they can be anonymous (as in, hide their real identity) which can make it difficult for the person to be tracked down, plus they can be anywhere in the world and team up with any of the million users of the internet.

With children increasingly using the internet for knowledge and leisure it is important to do so cautiously, as those between the age group of 10 and 23 are the most vulnerable. According to Tandon, cyber stalking and sexting are recent trends of the most common forms of cyber bullying.

You are at risk when

According to Dr. Debarati Halder, Advocate and Managing Director, Centre For Cyber Victim Counselling: “There are several pockets which can trap unaware children who wish to get logged in to get connected to the world. Two such traps are social media and chat rooms.

While most of the social media offer membership to individuals from the age of 13 and upwards, some chat rooms which are part and parcel of email services may not have this age barrier. Online abuse starts when such children grow extremely inquisitive and start participating in the discussions/posts/blogging without understanding where it is leading to.”

“Creating fake profiles using personal information and posting obscene content is one of the most common problems. Misuse of personal pictures and spreading them, and also cases of relationships abuse are also on the rise,” adds Tandon.

How it affects you

Since children are emotionally fragile, abuse of any kind will leave a deep impact on them psychologically. Dr. Halder explains: “When children become victims of bullying, their ego is hurt and they may go into deep depression. Suicidal tendency due to bullying among children is well known now. On the other hand, some children may become extremely deviant and may become bullies themselves.”

“They may even learn illegal and unethical tricks like hacking, creation of fake profiles and so on at an early age to take revenge on their bullies and then may practice this over everyone they like. For children, who unfortunately fall victim, I have noticed many of them (especially girls) becoming very withdrawn. Some have even turned to hackers to remove the offensive posts.”

How to stay safe

Learn of the different do’s and don’ts on Internet so that you know what to avoid and how to identify and handle cyber bullying/ abuse.

If a website/social media forum has an age restriction, respect it.

If you receive an e-mail or link from an unidentified or unknown source do not open it. Else, ask the advice of an adult.

Beware of what information you give out about yourself and what you do, including photos and contact information.

Ask a parent to help you with creating a child-friendly e-mail and social media accounts. These help filter inappropriate content.

Schools can conduct workshops, create a curriculum for Netiquette (Internet do’s and don’t’s), and appoint Cyber Monitors/Captains among students.

What you should do, a website that campaigns against this form of online harassment, suggests the “Stop, Block, and Tell” approach — Stop correspondence, Block the abuser and Tell an adult.

If you can, record the abuse by taking a screen-shot, saving the link/ text / e-mail/ picture sent to you, or of the comments posted on your blog or post.

Most websites have a “report abuse” option which you can click to report of the cyber bullying incident. Or contact the website administrator who will help block the abuser or report him to the authorities.