Cyberbullying and how to deal with it

Cyberbullying continues to spread at an alarming rate, and many children fall victim to it. Unfortunately, this form of harassment and its effects are often invisible to anyone but the victim. Help us stop the spread and offer substantial support and closure to victims.

What is cyberbullying

Cyberbullying, also known as online harassment or abuse, can occur in various forms and is often hard to recognise, track and report. It involves sharing, posting, or sending harmful, false, or negative content about someone else online. This harassment can occur on various platforms, including texts, social media apps, online forums, email, and gaming platforms.

Cyberbullying can be recognised by its harmful intent. Suppose a well-meaning friend shares a picture of you on social media, and other users post hurtful comments based on this picture. In that case, the friend is not necessarily a party to cyberbullying. Here, you can ask the friend to remove the image. If they refuse to do so, then they are party to cyberbullying.

Unfortunately, the technology available to children and teens makes it easy for cyberbullies to remain anonymous. They can create multiple accounts using various identities and different devices for their online activities. As a result, they can effectively hide behind a façade from which they carry out this form of harassment.

Potential effects of cyberbullying

The adverse effects of cyberbullying are far-reaching. Research shows that cyberbullying often happens simultaneously with abuse at school.  Children who suffer from online abuse, often suffer physical and emotional abuse from the same perpetrators in their school setting.

Victims of harassment often feel isolated, depressed, scared, and even suicidal. Because of this, all forms of bullying can lead to mental health issues.

The relentless nature of cyberbullying means that children are constantly aware of the situation, even at home. The bullying continues after the school bell rings. This means that they never experience relief, often making them feel trapped.

Cyberbullying tends to be far harsher than traditional bullying. People will mention things online that they typically wouldn’t say in person. These messages are also more far-reaching than traditional bullying since they can quickly and easily be shared across multiple platforms, reaching large communities. In these cases the victim feels helpless, leading to further depression and sometimes even self-harm.

In many cases, the victim retaliates, physically or online, usually escalating the situation. Unfortunately, this rarely solves the issue.

How to deal with cyberbullying

Since cyberbullying and traditional bullying in a school setting often coincide, schools must pay equal attention to both. One way to help prevent or stop bullying is to raise awareness. Children and caregivers can learn how to recognise and deal with cyberbullying and traditional bullying.

Schools should deal with all forms of bullying decisively. They can do this by updating anti-bullying policies constantly to keep pace with technological developments. As part of anti-bullying campaigns, they can encourage a “telling” atmosphere. Here, students should report bullying when they see it, even when they’re not the victim. It should be made clear that bullying in various forms, is wrong and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

If someone you know falls victim to cyberbullying, there are specific steps you can take to support the victim and stop the abuse. These steps are to provide support, keep evidence, stop the cycle, don’t retaliate and investigate the situation.

Where to get help

Fortunately, there are various ways to get help if you or someone you know falls victim to cyberbullying. The first step is reporting the perpetrator on online platforms. This would typically result in that platform blocking their profile. 

If this does not end the abuse, another option is to contact Childline South Africa’s toll-free number (0800 055 555) or the Legal Aid Advice Line (0800 110 110).

MFM Attorneys, Unathi Mbebe is the lawyer involved in the above case at Curro School in Somerset West. MFM Attorneys prides itself on offering exceptional legal service, without prejudice. We recommend getting legal aid from attorneys experienced in resolving cyberbullying cases. Take action now to stop cyberbullying. Contact us for more information.