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By Sarah Hoffmandirector at the Digital Law Company. She is passionate about  digital communication, and about educating others in using social media most effectively and safely. She writes for Impaq Education, a curriculum provider for home, tutor and school education. 

 Bullies have always existed. However, in the digital age, the cyberbullying we are seeing is worse than ever before for 2 main reasons:

  1. Before we all had smartphones, a victim of bullying could go home from school and have some sort of break. Now the bullying we are seeing is round the clock.
  2. The type of content being shared is worse than ever before as people say things behind a screen that they would never say to someone’s face.

Cyberbullying Meaning

Cyberbullying is when someone, typically teens, bully or harass others on social media

Anonymity is the root of all evil – people seem to think they can get away with saying whatever they want when they hide behind the veil of online anonymity. We are seeing the worst kinds of bullying taking place on anonymous apps such as Qooh.me or through anonymous profiles created on apps such as Instagram. We are seeing a lot of naming and shaming, direct personal attacks, slut shaming, fat shaming, pressuring others to send nudes, and revenge pornography

Cyberbullying Effects

The consequences of cyberbullying in South Africa are more prevalent. We are seeing increased incidences of depression, anxiety and behaviour related to self-harm and even suicide as a direct result of cyberbullying.

Pre Teen Girl Being Bullied By Text Message

What can we do?

If YOU are being bullied:

  • Tell a trusted adult (a parent, guardian or teacher).
  • Take screenshots to keep as evidence.
  • BLOCK the bully.

If you are aware that someone else is being bullied:

  • Don’t join in (this includes commenting and sharing harmful content) and leave a WhatsApp group that hosts abusive content.
  • Report bullying to a trusted adult (a parent, guardian or teacher).

What legal options are available if you are being bullied?

  • If you know the identity of the bully, and the bullying serious enough to cause you mental, emotional or psychological harm (or inspire the belief that harm could be caused), one mechanism available is to apply for a Protection Order under the Protection from Harassment Act.
  • Almost all social media platforms have a reporting function that allows the possibility for damaging content to be removed.
  • Finally, the Cybercrimes Bill, which will hopefully become law soon, has codified a lot of crimes relating to online activities. Specifically, a section that criminalises the creation or distribution of “a data message” that incites the causing of any damage to property belonging to, or violence against, a person or group of persons which is harmful or intimate in nature, and which is distributed without the consent of the person involved. This would include a lot of content that we are loosely defining as cyberbullying.

So lets hope it gets passed and in the meantime, please be diligent and be aware that any online platform can be abused whether anonymous or not.

Most importantly, keep the conversation going about how to combat this damaging behaviour.

This article was supplied by Impaq Education which provides all the products, services and tools you need to educate your child at home from Grade R to Grade 12.

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