It used to be that you could escape a school or work bully at the end of the day. Remember that moment of relief as you jumped into a car and left the bully behind until tomorrow? Technology allows us to be connected more easily, more readily and quicker than ever before. However, this means that instead of being able to escape bullies, they are with us all the time. They ride in our pockets, come into our bedrooms and accompany us to happy, safe gatherings.
So how do we protect ourselves and those we love? Particularly our children from cyberbullying? A simple, yet completely unrealistic solution, is to ban phones and all social media engagement from our households. But, going done this road merely creates another bully within the cyber landscape and places this bully in your home. It will also isolate family members from healthy and loving relationships that rely on online platforms to keep in touch.
The seriousness of cyberbullying and its long-term mental, emotional and even physical negative impact, means it can’t be ignored. There is an urgent need to establish digital wellness within our households. And to continually be active in trying to prevent cyberbullying of children.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place online. Usually via an app (or online platform) like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok. Aside from actual text, and even verbal messages, bullying can take place via viewing, participation or sharing of content. Content is either real or “deep fake” which is intended to cause distress to a victim. Deep Fake content usually starts as genuine content then doctored to seem legitimate and real but actually portrays something that never happened. For example, photos or video clips where faces are swopped from the original person to an intended target. Increasingly, due to the prevalence and sophistication of free apps, deep fakes are harder to spot and easier to make.
Why is Cyberubllying so Easy?
The nature of cyberbullying means that it is easy to be the bully and easy to be bullied. Cyberbullying is much more covert than traditional bullying. As a result, victims aren’t obviously spotted and perpetrators can remain anonymous. Cyberbullying is often more intense than traditional bullying. This is because, bullies are braver when they can hide behind the safety of a screen. In addition to this, they are also completely removed from their victim’s reaction. Thus, they seldom can see the vulnerability of their victim and the harmful reality of their behaviour.
What makes Cyberbullying so Harmful?
Aside ease of engaging in cyberbullying, it’s potential reach and ongoing impact has no limits for those that are humiliated or bullied online. Harmful and humiliating content can be passed on extensively such that the actual reach of a bullying episode can’t be measure. Worse still, while bullying on the playground might have led to bruises, bullying online lasts for years to come. Photos, videos and comments can be dug up and “re-found” years later for recirculation.
Legality of Cyberbullying in South Africa
While authorities are trying to assist the public in this area, it’s not easy. This is because of the nature of cyberbullying. It’s largely anonymous, can take place at any distance and literally can be from anywhere in the world. It is also easy and quick to do across numerous platforms that are continually evolving. Currently, South Africa does not have specific legislation dealing with cyberbullying. This makes prosecution very difficult as cases tend to fall under harassment legislation. This is a challenge for legal systems across the world.
Protecting Yourself and Loved Ones from Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is not restricted to age, gender, demographic, socio-economic background or location. If you have a cellphone, or any connection to the internet and/or email, you are at risk. However, it’s important to remember that children and teens are particularly vulnerable. While some apps have age restrictions, these aren’t regulated and there’s no real way for a developer to restrict who downloads apps. Thankfully, there are ways to better protect children and yourself.
- Normalise talking about your and your family’s “digital day”. In the same way you’d ask and share about a work or school day, incorporate asking about cyber interactions into catchup conversations.
- Have a central digital device charging spot. Most bullying happens later at night (aka prime time). By keeping phones and digital devices out of bedrooms, you minimise exposure and risk. Yes, phones have alarms but an old-fashioned alarm clock with snooze functions works just as well.
- Activate phone and app filters for everyone in your household. Even as an adult there’s no reason to not add a layer of protection to your cyber world.
How to be a Survivor of Cyberbullying
When you’re a victim of cyberbullying it’s normal to feel isolated, hopeless, stressed and/or depressed. You begin to wonder if the situation will ever improve as you desperately search for a way out. It’s important to remember that you are not alone. You have to repeatedly remind yourself that you will be okay. In the meantime, here are ten tips to help you cope:
10 Tips to Help Combat Cyberbullying
1. It’s not Your Fault
This is not your fault, there’s nothing wrong with you and you are not to blame for what’s happening. A Bully’s actions say much more about their insecurities, fears and need for acceptance than you.
2. Ask for Help
Talk to someone you trust and who is willing to empathetically listen. Cyberbullying can cause anyone, of any age, to feel depressed, anxious and even suicidal. Breaking the silence of cyberbullying is an important part of looking after your mental health.
3. Be Password Wise
Change your passwords regularly and don’t use the same one on multiple platforms. The only time someone should know your password for anything is if you share an account. Or if they supervise your online activity.
4. Know and Use Privacy Settings
Customise your privacy settings and never leave them on default. Check them regularly, especially after system and app updates.
Blocking doesn’t make you a “bad” person – it shows wisdom! Don’t be afraid to hit block (and report) on social media, WhatsApp and phone numbers. Remember – it might look good to have lots of followers but your happiness is worth more.
6. Go dark
Take a break from Social Media or at least from the accounts that you are being harassed through. It may seem unfair that you are the one taking a break. But, giving yourself time to regroup and gain some perspective will help you more than staying active.
7. Don’t Retaliate
Your reaction that drives the bully and nothing is less satisfying than no reaction at all.
8. Be an Upstander
Stand up to cyberbullies – if you know someone who is being bullied, help them report it. Don’t by a bystander. A simple message to let them also know that they are not alone will make a difference to them.
9. Stay off anonymous sites
If someone must hide their identity to say something, what they have to say is not worth hearing. Anonymous sites are playgrounds for bullies, don’t go there.
10. Keep the evidence
The one advantage of cyberbullying is that it leaves a trail. Take screenshots of offensive posts or messages and save them off the platform they happened on. These will come in handy if at any time you decide to report the bullying.
1. What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the viewing, participation or sharing of content. It has the intention of drawing attention to an individual in a hurtful, harmful or humiliating manner.
2. Who can be a target of Cyberbullying?
Anyone can be a target of a cyberbully. However, children and particularly teenagers are the most vulnerable.
3. Why is Cyberbullying so Harmful?
Cyberbullying content has an untraceable reach and long lifespan. A cyberbully can easily remain anonymous and bully someone from anywhere in the world. The content they create (messages, photos, videos) remains online and is not limited in who or where it can be sent. It can be “found” at any time for recirculation.