Online bullies offered to kill my premature baby: Local blogger on cyberbullying

Online bullies offered to kill my premature baby: Local blogger on cyberbullying

SINGAPORE - Singapore ranks among the top again. But it's not a good thing this time round. You see, Singapore and China top the cyberbullying league in Asia, a recent Microsoft survey has found.

In 2010, it was reported that Singapore ranks just behind the US for cyberbullying incidents per capita. Working on this feature made me think: When did it become okay to pour vitriol on people?

These days, most of us will have some facet of our lives put online for all to see. Our names, likes, photos of what we do or eat, even what we are musing over now occupy bits of cyberspace.

You don't have to camp out on social platforms to get a glimpse of the rampant hate on the Internet. It's so common to find an anonymous keyboard warrior labelling someone, usually a female, fat or ugly, or a netizen calling someone stupid and deluded for supporting a particular political party here, or by virtue of being of a particular race.

Blogger Xiaxue reckons that when it comes to dealing with online nastiness, people should just grow a thicker hide.

I agree to some extent. After all, the act of putting thoughts online is an invitation to read, like or comment.

We interview 3 bloggers who tell us how they fight back and put the cyberbullies in a tight spot:

Don’t mess with my baby

Readers track down her bullies

For weeks, blogger Audrey Ooi's life hung in the balance, as did the life of her unborn baby.

While she was pregnant, the 28-year-old was plagued by pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening condition related to high blood pressure. When she gave birth in August to her son Jude Maximus Tiah - two months premature - she got more than just congratulatory comments.

Two netizens, whom she did not know in real life, left comments on her baby's photos which she posted on social media app Instagram. Calling him an alien, they wrote that they would "pray for his soul", and would go to the hospital he was in to "apply euthanasia", among other things.

Ooi, who blogs at fourfeetnine.com, is no stranger to online criticism, having received countless comments about her height, looks and her motivations for dating hubby Timothy Tiah, a founder of blog advertising community Nuffnang.

The couple attracted global attention when Mr Tiah's wedding proposal video went viral. TV host Ryan Seacrest hailed it as a heartwarming coda to 2012, while singer Christina Perri confessed that it made her cry.

So Ooi usually takes such things in her stride. But it was different this time.

She tells The New Paper on Sunday: "I'm not very superstitious typically, but in this case I was very angry and upset, because saying that you're going to pray for someone's soul implies that he is either dying or has done something very bad."

The Malaysian blogger, who also runs an online shop, is an example of how cyberbullying and harassment affects not only children, but also adults.

The issue of cyberbullying, especially among the young, has been gaining prominence.

A study by Microsoft Corporation states that 58 per cent of children in Singapore aged eight to 17 have been victims of cyberbullying. The global average of this 25-country survey is 37 per cent.

Counsellors The New Paper on Sunday spoke to define cyberbullying as an act of deliberately causing harm to another person using the Internet or other digital technologies.

Ooi, having struggled to deliver her baby safely, did not take the bullies' comments lying down.

Besides telling them to stop their snide comments, she also tracked the bullies down on Facebook, expressed her displeasure on one of their pages and blogged about the incident, including screenshots of their comments. The line she drew? Publishing their real names and photos.

"Their Facebook pages showed that they are from the Philippines, and I reckon they probably came to know about me because the photos of my baby's photo would make it to Instagram's popular page occasionally," she says in a phone interview from Kuala Lumpur. Ooi explains that she wrote the blog post on them, titled "how two girls I don't even know harassed us and our prematurely born baby", to remind people that their actions may cause more damage than they think.

"Bloggers write about their lives and put themselves online, so some may say these attacks are a risk we take. But that doesn't give people the licence to say things that may be potentially very harmful.

"What if my baby had died, imagine the mental anguish I would have gone through, imagining he died because of what they said," she reasons.

Her blog post on the bullies attracted a deluge of support from her readers, which number between 8,000 to 10,000 every day. Netizens began tracking down the bullies and scolded them.

Ironically, the bullies, whom she says are close friends with each other, wrote to her asking her to stop the flood of hate directed towards them.

"Of course, I didn't tell my readers to stop. The bullies wrote those mean comments with their own accounts. People could decide what they wanted to do," she says.

While the traditional way of dealing with bullies may simply be to ignore the barbed words, Ooi says it is easier said than done.

"Everyone says you shouldn't let them (the bullies) know it affects you, but it's hard to do nothing when you're being attacked," she says, adding that there should be more accountability on the Internet.

Asked if she is more wary about exposing her baby to the online world these days, she pauses before saying "no".

"I've thought about it, and also talked to other bloggers who have newborns.

"The conclusion is that our babies are the biggest things in our lives right now... what makes us most happy.

"So why should we be scared?

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