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Cyberbullying and How to Deal with it

News
14 March 2021
Being at the receiving end of cyberbullying can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, angst, depression, sleeplessness, isolation, fear and shame. It has a significant impact on self-esteem, self-confidence and the ability to deal with life in general.
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Most people deal with a form of bullying at some point in their lives. It happens to kids and adults, and nobody is immune to bullying. However, bullying has become far more pervasive than ever, thanks to rapidly advancing technologies, mobile devices and social media platforms.

Traditional bullying used to take the form of nasty words on the playground or around the coffee machine at work: a push or shove on the playground and sending gossipy notes around. Cyberbullying, however, is happening behind the screens of mobile devices, video games and social media. The screen gives the bully the perceived freedom to be as nasty as they wish to be while staying at a safe distance. The most significant difference between cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying is that the internet is available 24/7 and connected technology is highly pervasive.  

As a result, cyberbullying means hurtful comments, images and videos can reach a vast audience in a short period, be repeatedly shared, cannot be deleted and can be anonymous.

The different ways cyberbullying takes place

  • Stalking.
  • Rumour-spreading.
  • Harassment including the creation of websites and the posting of online comments with the intent to harm or embarrass.
  • Password theft.
  • Using text messages or chat apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat to threaten and harass.
  • Humiliating a target by creating malicious websites, Instagram accounts, Facebook pages.
  • Doxing in a bid to exact revenge, threaten or destroy the privacy of individuals by making their personal information public, including home address, phone numbers, links to social media accounts & other private data.

Impact of cyberbullying on the victim

The effect can be devastating, and it can leave both physical and emotional scars. Being at the receiving end of cyberbullying can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, angst, depression, sleeplessness, isolation, fear and shame. It has a significant impact on self-esteem, self-confidence and the ability to deal with life in general. Cyberbullying can also be life-threatening. According to Yale University, 7-9% of bullied people are more likely to consider committing suicide than those who hadn't been bullied.

Cyberbullies are wreaking havoc on the internet, leaving their victims often feeling powerless and desperate. Here are some valuable pointers on how you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

Tips to help your children

Parents have the massive task of safeguarding their children, helping them become independent and self-reliant and sharing life-skills and information with them. But where do you start?

  • Be preventative. Have open conversations with your children about cyberbullying when they have access to the internet and all the platforms that can be used for cyberbullying.
  • Be an approachable parent and use teachable moments. For example: when you hear about someone who has been cyberbullied, use this to teach your children about it. Encourage your child to talk to you if they ever become the target of cyberbullying. Assure them that you will do whatever it takes to help and protect them.
  • Help your kids to learn “judo for the mind.” When your child gets physically bullied on the playground or sports field, you look for solutions to empower them physically. You consider sending them for self-defence classes. Now is the opportunity to help your child to learn “judo for the mind.” This refers to life skills and using the power of the mind. It is learning to say “no” to unacceptable behaviour targeted at you.
  • You can say "no" by deleting, blocking, reporting the posts. You have the most significant chance of stopping the cyberbullying by reporting it to the social networks where it's been posted. Saying "no" is also asking for help from adults and people you trust. 
  • Enlighten your child to know they are not responsible for the cyberbullying act. They are not guilty, and the cyberbully is the coward, hiding behind anonymity. The shame and guilt belong to the bully, not to the bullied.  
  • Assist your child to learn to stand up for him or herself. It is a life skill that will serve them for life.

Tips for the adult who has been cyberbullied

  • Keep all evidence of the cyberbullying: messages, posts, comments.
  • Report the cyberbullying. You have the best chance of putting an end to the cyberbullying by reporting it to the social networks where it's been posted. 
  • Do not respond to any of the cyberbullying. “No audience” will lead to no performance by the cyberbully. 
  • If the threats or comments are detrimental to your health, you might want to consult with a lawyer who specializes in harassment, defamation of character and emotional distress. It can be a costly step, but it might be the last step you feel you can take.
  • Invest in your mind power and learn skills to deal with the pain, challenges and negativity of the actions against you. Read blogs, books, articles, watch YouTube clips on life skills and self-empowerment. Use this as your opportunity to invest in the growth of your mind.
  • Speak to people close to you. Do not carry this burden by yourself. Ask for help if it gets too difficult.
  • Learn to stand up for yourself and own your self-value.

Quick Tips

The best way to stop cyberbullying is to recognise it when it starts. Educate yourself and your friends! Learn what cyberbullying is and how you can help others who are dealing with it.

  • Check your privacy settings. They are there to help you manage your online experience in a positive way.
  • Stay safe online: Make sure you are the only one who has access to your passwords. Yes, even your best friend shouldn’t know them! Make sure you log out of public computers as well.
  • Be careful what you post. If it goes on the internet, it’s accessible in some form forever, even if you think it’s deleted!
  • Disable unwanted location services. You don’t really want the world to know where you live or play.
  • Finally, don’t open messages or emails if you don’t know the person who sent them. They could be inappropriate messages or even a virus!

For more answers to some of your burning questions and advice on how to handle bullies, we've reached out to a psychologist and a lawyer for guidance.

Sources: Ilze Alberts; Psychologist and Life Strategist |  Wolfpack Information Risk (Pty) Ltd