There were some 30 million cases of cyber bullying in Israel in the first 10 months of this year, victimizing about 387,000 people 20 or older, according to a survey by the Public Security Ministry. This works out to 63 cases of cyber bullying every minute.
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Yet the police have opened an average of only 712 cyber-bullying cases a year over the past four years, accounting for a mere 0.19 percent of all police cases opened during this period. This is the situation even though a police source said the force assumes that “cyber bullying causes much more severe damage than physical bullying, and its ramifications are deeper and broader.”
The ministry’s survey dealt only with men and women over 20, so the numbers don’t cover cyber bullying targeting minors. But in a survey of thousands of students aged 13 to 18 earlier this year, 65 percent said they had been the victim of cyber bullying at least once.
The police define cyber bullying as repeated, deliberate attacks committed via computer, cellphone, camera or any other digital device. Cyber bullying can include harassment, disseminating rumors, humiliation, mockery, defamation, impersonating someone, misleading someone, disseminating someone’s personal information, ostracism, intimidation, threats and extortion.
The survey found that one reason the police open so few cyber-bullying cases is that relatively few such crimes are ever reported. Only 16.5 percent of victims turned to an agency such as the police, the welfare authorities or the Communications Ministry.
But 61.4 percent do tell someone – usually a relative or close friend. About 9 percent report the bullying to either the website involved or their Internet service provider.
The survey found that slightly more women than men are cyber-bullied; of the 386,500 victims, 190,800 were male and 195,700 were female. More than half were age 25 to 44, but even the elderly weren’t immune; some 25,000 people over 65 have been cyber bullied this year.
Slightly more than half the victims, 53.5 percent, said they had suffered harassment, threats or humiliation. Another 15.5 percent said personal information had been stolen and published online, while 19.6 percent were the victims of either impersonation or identity theft.
The remaining 22.2 percent suffered some other type of cyber attacks.
In the survey, the organizations cited as the biggest harassers were religious groups making robocalls asking for donations, companies, direct-marketing firms and conductors of corporate surveys. Respondents also cited cases in which entering a website led to a takeover of their computer or the acquisition of bank-account data.
The police, far from being able to cope with the plethora of cases, have been expanding their online crime division.
But they still devote most of their resources to fighting street crime. Their online fraud and computer crime units have only a handful of policemen, and these units focus on fighting crime rings that do business via the web, along with pedophilia and scams that target large numbers of people.
Thus last year, police opened only 724 cyber-bullying cases, of which only a few dozen produced indictments. And that’s a 9 percent increase over the number of cases opened in 2012.
The Public Security Ministry, for its part, said it tries hard to prevent cyber bullying via three other ministry-run organizations – Mezila, the Community Crime and Prevention Division; the Israel Anti-Drug Authority; and City Without Violence – as well as via special projects, dissemination of explanatory material and other efforts.