2020 sped up the adoption of digital technologies exponentially throughout the globe. Not least of all was the increased use of the internet and other connectivity tools by a world that, almost overnight, had to shift from public to private spaces for work and study.
Associate Professor Ts. Dr Choo Wou Onn, Dean of the Faculty of Information Technology at INTI International University has close to 20 years of research and academic expertise in Smart Education Systems, Interactive Multimedia Courseware, and Internet Technologies, among others.
In an article by 27Group this year, it was reported that an average Malaysian internet user spent 7 hours and 57 minutes online every day, which equates to more than 100 days a year. This is greater than the global average time spent per user, with the most visited websites including Google, Youtube, Facebook, Whatsapp and Maybank2u1.
Unfortunately, while online platforms and the internet helped individuals keep up with social connections and daily commitments, the increase of cyberbullying, especially among young people, also saw an increase.
In its report in June, L1ght, a company dedicated to eradicating online toxicity and improving the use of the internet in driving humanity forward, shared that there was a 70% increase in hate speech between kids and teens during online chats.2
Associate Professor Ts. Dr Choo Wou Onn, Dean of the Faculty of Information Technology at INTI International University said: “Isolation and being away from friends and peers, as well as increased screen time for studies and leisure, are factors that can lead to cyberbullying. Beyond social media, online gaming platforms, chat apps and forums, which became even more popular during lockdowns, have also become spaces for these toxic tendencies.”
With Malaysia rating among the five highest countries for social media bullying3, Dr Choo’s research dives into a more vulnerable group of internet users – Malaysia’s visually impaired youth.
A Gold Award and World Intellectual Property Organization Award winner in the 2008 Seoul International Invention Fair for his Voice Recognition Browser and Marking System for Visually Impaired Learners, Dr Choo explained:
“We often think of cyberbullying as something visual – nasty comments and trolling using texts and chats. But cyberbullying also happens via voice messages. Youth with visual impairments can also experience cyberbullying as they too spend time online. Instead of seeing text, they will hear voice messages online – which can be even more personal and damaging as they hear the tone and emotions of the ones bullying them.”
Instead of seeing text, youth with visual impairments hear voice messages online – which can be an even more personal and damaging form of cyberbullying.
Expanding on the vulnerabilities this group may face online, he added, “As e-commerce is on the rise, our youth today, including those who are visually impaired, spend more time browsing for items. Without the ability to view products, visually impaired youth are even more vulnerable to online scams and fraud.”
A collaborative effort with Sunway University, University Putra Malaysia, Quest International University and the Free University of Berlin in Germany, the research stemmed from an initial campaign organised by DIGI Telecommunications to create awareness on cyberbullying. The research has also been funded by the Malaysian government, through the Ministry of Higher Education’s Fundamental Research Grant Scheme – emphasising its importance to improving knowledge and information, as well as awareness building in the country.
Touting close to 20 years of research and academic expertise in Smart Education Systems, Interactive Multimedia Courseware, and Internet Technologies, among others, Dr Choo shared:
“Studies involving those with visual impairments have found that this group has lower self-esteem and higher rates of developing depression. Young adults under the age of 25 who were victimized by cyberbullying were found to be twice as likely to commit suicide.”
He added: “In a study in Norway that included visually impaired and partially blind participants, researchers found that four in ten individuals have experienced bullying. Unfortunately, in Malaysia, there is scarce data on the subject – which makes this study all the more important in addressing the development of our communities.”
Providing his expertise in systems, software, and analytics for the research, Dr Choo emphasised that the study was very timely with the increasing shift to digital platforms during the pandemic.
With little access to help if they encounter cyberbullying, the plight of those within this under-researched group could be brought to light and garner better support in efforts such as the 2019 Malaysia Zero Reject Policy, emphasising that everyone has a place in the nation’s efforts, irrespective of their abilities.
“The Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 has also been an underlying motivator for this journey, because it sets the foundation for efforts to provide those with disabilities equal access to information, communications and technologies that are par with those who are able.
“Our data will be able to provide a more in-depth view on the extent of access and frequency of technological usage by this community. This could help enrich internet studies by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and serve in making informed policy decisions for all Malaysians,” Dr Choo enthuses.
Dr Choo’s research will provide a more in-depth view on the extent of access and frequency of technological usage by the visually impaired community in Malaysia, informing better policy decisions
Closer to academic home, the research will help produce one Masters student who is specialised in special needs, and support two undergraduate students in their final year project. Additionally, the research findings could be used as the basis for the future development of a mechanism and/or Masters project that could detect cyberbullying victims among minorities, spread awareness about how they are affected and eventually be able to extend assistance to them accordingly.
“While we speak of nation building, the advancement of businesses and all the efforts for digital transformation, at the crux of our collective development is the wellbeing of each and every member of our society. It is equally necessary to bear in mind those who face massive challenges and consider their needs,” Dr Choo shared.
“As researchers, beyond our citations and h-indexes, research is about meaningful and impactful ideas that can change the world, or at least segments of society. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the link between each of us is closer than we think. When even one individual is at risk, the ripple effects are tremendous. Likewise, if we are to progress, the wellbeing of differently abled individuals must be addressed. It is our hope that this study achieves that,” he concluded.
1 27 Group 2020: https://27.group/a-quick-assessment-of-malaysias-internet-usage/
2 L1ght 2020: https://l1ght.com/Toxicity_during_coronavirus_Report-L1ght.pdf
3 CompareCamp 2020: https://comparecamp.com/cyberbullying-statistics/