Cyber bullying increases in era of Covid-19 pandemicUntact classes are have become commonplace in the Covid-19 pandemic, and unfortunately, school bullies have also found ways to take their bullying online.
In light of the recent controversy over alleged school bullying by star sports players and celebrities during their school years, experts say that preventive measures need to be taken to cut down on the ever-increasing cases of cyber bullying.
Cyber bullying among students involves bullies using messengers and social media to verbally attack victims.
Choi, a student about to enter high school in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, has deleted her KakaoTalk account four times over the past year. As her social media usage has increased due to staying at home more often because of the Covid-19 outbreak, friends around her called her an "Instagram attention-seeker."
When she posted a picture on her Instagram account, she saw a comment reading "Bluffer.” Soon after deleting the comment, Choi was invited to a group chat room with seven people, where they continuously bullied her.
"I deleted my KakaoTalk account to avoid cyber bullying, but I had to re-establish my account a month later in order to get information about school from my teacher,” she said. Choi said that she has been seeing a psychiatric doctor for counseling once a week.
According to the School Bullying Survey 2020 released by the Ministry of Education on March 21, 12.3 percent of all types of school bullying were cyber bullying.
This is a 3.4 percent increase from 2019, before the outbreak of Covid-19, and the highest since the annual survey began in 2013.
On the other hand, 0.9 percent of students said they experienced physical abuse, the lowest level since 2013. This can be attributed to a decrease in face-to-face classes due to school restrictions.
Cyber bullying in schools is largely divided into three types, and KakaoTalk bullying is the most frequently used method of cyber bullying. This method involves inviting victims to a group chat room to bully them, without letting them leave.
The other two types are "Wi-Fi shuttle," where bullies use the wireless data of victims, and "game item shuttle," where bullies force victims to pay for game items.
The problem is that cyber bullying can occur anytime and anywhere, without time or space constraints, even if the victim does not attend school or moves to a faraway place.
"Since school bullying previously mostly occurred at school, many victims thought that it was at least safe at home,” said Kim Bong-seop, a researcher at the Intelligence Information Ethics Team at the Korea Intelligence Information Society Promotion Agency.
“However, in cyber bullying, perpetrators cannot be physically separated," said Kim.
External monitoring is also not easy. Teachers and victims' families cannot easily access the social media accounts and group chat rooms because they can only be accessed by people of the same age.
Furthermore, if a third party intervenes, it can lead to invasion of privacy and personal information controversies.
In 2012, a middle school student in Daegu took his own life after being subject to continuous cyber bullying. At the time, the investigative authorities announced that they would strengthen monitoring of SNS posts and group chat rooms. However, online censorship became an issue.
"SNS posts are deleted from time to time, and slang is used in group chat rooms, making it difficult for external people to understand the context of the conversation and who the specific person is,” said Lee Chang-ho, a senior researcher at the Korea Youth Policy Institute.
Victims of cyber bullying tend not to tell teachers or parents of their experiences. They are worried that they will be banned from using social media or lose their phones. The atmosphere around them makes it difficult to talk about their situation.
The School Violence Prevention and Countermeasures Act (School Violence Prevention Method) included cyber bullying as one of its types of school bullying through a revision in April 2012.
However, there were no regulations on the fundamental response to and punishment for cyber bullying. In order to protect the victims, psychological counseling, temporary protection and class replacement were allowed.
"The current law is based on physical bullying and physical separation from the establishment of the school bullying committee,” said Cho Jung-sil, chairman of the victims' family council. “As untact classes increase, existing laws cannot cope with cyber bullying."
Criminal punishment for cybercrime is not impossible, but it depends on the age of the perpetrator — which is why many are calling for a revision to the juvenile law.
“As these occur within the educational sphere, it is essential to assure students' safety of their right to learn, so criminal punishment for cybercrime is important,” said Lee Seung-hyun, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Criminal Policy.
BY KIM NA YOON [firstname.lastname@example.org]