With a cheerful smile on his face, it’s hard to imagine that 37-year-old Mr Chong Ee Jay was once a victim of cyberbullying.
The manager of Touch Family Services first experienced cyberbullying during his university days. He was impersonated on social media; the imposter created a fake account of him and went around posting nasty comments and spreading gossip about others in his name.
Mr Chong was unaware of what was going on until friends confronted him about being “two-faced”. After some investigation, he found that it was the doing of his close friend.
He said: “There were a lot of mixed emotions. I was very angry; (I didn’t understand) how could such a good friend be doing such a thing to me.”
According to a 2014 study conducted by the Singapore Children’s Society and the Institute of Mental Health, more than 10 per cent of 3,319 students aged 12 to 17 were victims of cyberbullying and some 40 per cent of victims have, in turn, cyberbullied others.
Mr Chong was among those who wanted an eye for an eye. Full of anger and hatred, he launched an online attack on his impersonator.
He confessed: “(I wanted) him to have a taste of his own medicine, wanted him to feel how I actually felt; the kind of anguish and turmoil that I was going through because people were labeling me and some even unfriended me online and in the real world.”
His impersonator retaliated and their online row was soon flagged to their student welfare teacher. Mr Chong said: “I remember one key statement the teacher made that caught my attention, he said that ‘just because you were bullied doesn’t give you the right to bully others back, and because you did that, you are not different as a bully yourself too.’”
It then struck Mr Chong that his actions were considered as cyberbullying too.
He said: “I felt really shameful. It never occurred to me that I would one day be labelled as a bully. Coming from a background where I was always known as the ‘Mr Nice Guy’, ‘Mr Friendly’, ‘Mr Sociable’ and to be labeled as a bully in that instant, and rightfully so, it really made me feel terrible.”
Determined to sort out their issues, both parties underwent counseling. They have since reconciled and stayed good friends over the years.
A victim turned cyberbully, Mr Chong said victims can “become daring and strategize a way to take revenge” when they lack support and help. With the increased prevalence of technology, he feels that it’s now also easier for cyberbullies to act under the cloak of anonymity.
Now a Media Literacy Council member, Mr Chong is actively helping to grow awareness of the Better Internet campaign, which aims to address issues such as cyberbullying, fake news and excessive screen use.
He said: “Having walked the journey as a victim and bully before, I can fully understand and empathize with the severity and impact of cyber bullying – not just affecting self and personal reputation but more often than not, the community and family around us. Through my personal experience with cyber bullying, I’ve learnt that it takes all rounded efforts from family, friends and the community at large to tackle this issue.”