Management & Leadership

What young adults need to know about cyberbullying in South Africa

Nov 01, 2018

South Africa has the 4th highest rate of cyberbullying in the world. What does this mean for young adults and what can they do about it?

Key takeaways

  • The rise of the digital age has brought about a new type of bullying known as cyberbullying.
  • Cyberbullying is any form of bullying that takes place online.
  • South Africa has the 4th highest rate of cyberbullying in the world.
  • The effects of cyberbullying can be devastating.
  • There are certain steps that young adults can take should they find themselves the victim of a cyberbully.

Sadly, there is nothing new about bullying. It has always been around, and it probably always will be. Social media, however, has transformed the landscape. So much so that what was traditionally reserved for the schoolyard is now following us home. The digital world lets the bully into your bedroom. A reality that for many young adults is both terrifying and debilitating.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place anywhere online (SMS, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, email, etc) where people can view, participate in, or share content. Content is generally harmful in nature and visible to others, thus causing great distress to the victim.

Cyberbullying is much more covert than traditional bullying and, as a result, victims are hard to identify and perpetrators, should they wish, can remain anonymous. Cyberbullying is often more intense than traditional bullying as 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, seldom can they see the vulnerability of their victim and the damage being caused because of their behaviour. Currently, South Africa does not have specific legislation dealing with cyberbullying. As a result, when bullying turns into unlawful or criminal behaviour perpetrators are prosecuted, often unsuccessfully, under the category of harassment.

How is cyberbullying different from traditional bullying?

When comparing the motives behind cyber and traditional bullying, very little has changed. The psychology of the bully remains much the same, but his means and opportunity has increased tenfold and the consequences are devastating. Research shows that bullied teens are nine times more likely to commit suicide. In South Africa, suicide accounts for 9.5% of unnatural teen deaths and, according to The National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey, 17.6% of teens have attempted suicide and 31.5% of these attempts required medical attention.

Although Cassey Chambers, the Operations Director at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) doesn’t feel that cyberbullying is currently playing a major role in teen suicide in South Africa she stresses that it very easily has the potential to do so when saying that, “I don’t think cyberbullying is playing a major role yet in teen suicide in the country, but it has the potential…What we’re seeing is more teens using social media to bully other teens…The internet can have devastating results for those that are humiliated or bullied online. While bullying on the playground might have led to a bruise, bullying online now lasts for years to come. It also has a bigger reach; so many more people are exposed to the picture, comment or video.”

Cyberbullying in South Africa, is it happening?

South African young adults have sadly not escaped the reality of cyberbullying. According to a global survey by YouGov in 2015 South Africa has the 4th highest rate of cyberbullying in the world. The survey found that one in five South African teens have experienced cyberbullying first-hand and 84% know someone who has been a victim of cyberbullying.

The results of the survey revealed that cyberbullying is a global problem. Of those surveyed 43% felt that cyberbullying was a bigger issue for young adults than drug abuse. Across the 11 countries involved, 41% of teens reported that cyberbullying made them feel depressed, 26% felt completely alone and 18% experienced suicidal thoughts. Almost 40% admitted that they had not informed their parents about the abuse. When asked why 32% said they felt ashamed, 40% were scared that their parents would get involved and 36% were worried about what their parents might do. More than 60% of children surveyed in South Africa agreed that cyberbullying is worse than bullying face-to-face.

Help for victims

When you’re a victim of cyberbullying it’s normal to feel isolated, hopeless and depressed. You begin to wonder if the situation will ever improve as you desperately search for a way out. You must remember that you are not alone. You have to repeatedly remind yourself that you will be okay and that this too shall pass. In the meantime, here are nine tips to help you cope:

1. It’s not about you

Bullying is never about the victim and always about the bully. It is their insecurities, fears and need for acceptance that motivates their behaviour. Their actions say much more about them than you. It is widely accepted that hurt people hurt and while this may offer little comfort at the time you need to know that there is nothing wrong with you and that this is not your fault. You are not to blame for someone else’s actions.

2. Get to know your privacy settings and use them

Be sure to keep your passwords safe and don’t share them with anyone. Check the privacy settings on your social media accounts as sometimes the standard ‘default’ is not enough. No amount of likes or followers is worth your happiness. Ever.

3. Keep the evidence

The one advantage of cyberbullying is that it leaves a trail. Be sure to keep all evidence of bullying. Take screenshots of offensive posts or messages and keep them safe. These will come in handy if at any time you decide to report the bullying.

4. Block, block, block

Don’t be afraid to hit block or report on social media and WhatsApp. These options are there for a reason. Use them.

5. Go dark

It might be a good idea to take a break from social media for a while or at least the accounts that you are being bullied on. A break can effectively give you a time out, a space to regroup and gain some perspective. It is hugely unfair that you have to take the break and not the bully, but it could help you and at the moment it is about keeping you safe rather than keeping score.

6. Try not to retaliate

As tempting as it may be, try not to retaliate. It’s your reaction that drives the bully and nothing is less satisfying than no reaction at all.

7. Show your support

If you know someone who is being bullied reach out or report it. Many of us are so relieved that we’re not the target that we find ourselves saying nothing or even taking part in the bullying. You have been there. You know how much it hurts. Don’t participate in the hurting of others. Instead, try to reach out. You don’t need to make a huge public declaration, but a simple text to let them know that they are not alone will make the world of difference.

8. Stay off anonymous sites

Anonymous sites are not for you. 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.

9. Ask for help

If at any time the situation is getting too much. If you feel depressed, helpless or anxious, you need to ask for help. The impact of bullying can quickly spiral out of control and the consequences can be devastating. Before this happens, please speak to your parents, an older sibling or a teacher. If you don’t have anyone to talk to contact SADAG on 0800 12 13 14 or on 0800 567 567 (suicidal emergency contact) they are skilled and there to help.

In a recent survey young adults were asked what the worst thing about cyberbullying is and the majority spoke about how alone and helpless it made them feel. Please know that you are not alone, help is at hand and this too shall pass. The world is waking up to the realities of cyberbullying and it couldn’t happen any sooner.

Interested in learning more about counselling? SACAP offers a range of courses, including part-time and full-time as well as distance learning options. For more information, enquire now.

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