TikTok: Safe haven for cyberbullies

TikTok: Safe haven for cyberbullies

I turned to the short video platform, TikTok during the pandemic since speculation and misinformation have become mainstream. As a journalist, I was thinking my role will be to clear speculation-based information sharing and also to counter negative content on the platform.

As time passed, I observed that people take half conversations and turn them into horrendous fabricated stories. Misinformation became the staple for Tik Tok users.

In recent times, I witnessed how a wrong detail or misheard word can blow out of proportion and creates a huge viral conflict on Tik Tok. Harassment and bullying are the new norms.

Instead of researching further, most react to videos by stitching their own videos in a bid to increase their followers. In doing so, they spread false information and hurt people online.

My daughter and I became a victim of cyberbullying and online harassment on Dec 9. A video clip featuring my daughter, my profile picture, and several other video clips of mine were manipulated and misused to create fake accounts on Tik Tok.

The perpetrators made false allegations that I was a single mother. There were clips stating that there are rooms available at my residence and a Bangladeshi lover. A clip featuring my three-year-old daughter meditating was manipulated with the Muslim prayer song, “lagu selawat”.

I panicked as I realised that the issue can escalate into racial tensions and endanger me and my daughter.

I lodged a police report on Dec 9th but they told me that the case was under the jurisdiction of the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission and TikTok. I emailed TikTok and one fake account was removed within two hours.

It was not the end of my nightmare. The harassment continued with 5 more fake accounts surfacing with the same content around 3 am. The fake account holders also sent me friend requests.

I was dumbfounded and helpless to see clips depicting me as a missing person and another of my daughter with lewd elements and degrading hashtags.

Traumatised, I called the police but they told me that only the MCMC can act on this case but since it was already the weekend, I had to wait for Monday. Unfortunately, Monday was also a public holiday.

I lodged another police report on Sunday at the criminal investigation department as there saw criminal elements in the video. This was followed by an online report to the MCMC.

Copies of the report was also sent to TikTok as they found no violation of community guidelines regarding the manipulated videos that featured my daughter. It appears that TikTok doesn’t take their guidelines seriously.

During a live session on Tuesday, I requested my audience to report against the fake accounts and requested them to help me trace the perpetrators. I also went to MCMC in Cyberjaya where I was told to file a report online. I was told to wait for 15 days as they needed police involvement in the case.

It is somewhat strange that I am required to face online bullying and harassment for another 15 days. There were about 5 fake accounts now – defaming, harassing and bullying me and my daughter online.

That night, I reached out to Communication and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil via Twitter. He responded and my message went viral.

MCMC informed me that there were missing details in my report which they did not inform me of previously. A MCMC staff then contacted me and assured me that the videos on TikTok would be taken down.

At the time of writing, there are still two more fake accounts impersonating me on Tik Tok.

The TikTok time bomb

Some of my followers are also facing cyberbullying. I managed to trace some of the suspects who appear to be involved in wrongful activities. Their account handle names are gang names. They are fond of uploading women’s pictures online and they troll the victims to the point of suicide.

Even business accounts are not spared. They troll victims and use the reporting feature as a weapon to make the kill.

Malaysia ranked 2nd in Asia for cyberbullying among youth as of 2020, states a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report. Popular social media platforms such as TikTok have become the breeding ground for cyberbullying and toxic behaviour involving adults too.

As I write this, I am appalled that they are no mechanisms in place to trace the perpetrators.

They are many people out there clueless on how to face cyberbullying and they suffer from depression, traumatised and ultimately commit suicide.

TikTok content creator – Shashikala Nadarajah, 44, was found dead at her home in Subang Jaya, Selangor. The mother of three endured months of cyberbullying before passing away on Aug 7.

In Los Angeles, parents of two young girls are suing TikTok after their daughters died as a result of a “blackout challenge”. The suit was filed on the grounds that TikTok’s algorithm intentionally served dangerous content to children that led children to their deaths.

The girls aged 8 and 9 died after taking up the challenge to choke themselves until they passed out. The parents, in their suit, stated that TikTok should have known that the content was harmful to children and failed to protect children as it did not act on the videos.

I am lucky today that I am still alive. My daughter has no knowledge about this episode. TikTok definitely is a dangerous platform as it lacks proper safety measures for its users.

If anyone can take my content, pictures, and videos of my child and create cloned accounts to defame me, this can happen to all of us. It is detrimental to mental health.

I appeal to the government for institutional reforms and solutions in dealing with TikTok. The security of Malaysians is at stake.

Hema Subramaniam is Editor in Chief at The Leaders