Bullying and cyberbullying: A law student’s perspective

29 July 2021 | Opinion

RIPUREE MBWALE

Bullying is the repeated aggressive behaviour by someone to another person. It can take different forms; it can be physical or verbal or occur online. Bullies are often mean; in most cases they bully their victims over long periods of time causing their victims to live in state of constant fear of where and when the bully will strike next. Examples of bullying include harassment, physical beatings, humiliation, name calling, teasing and insulting, spreading of lies or rumours and threats. Bullying can leave you feeling depressed, humiliated, helpless and often times even suicidal.

Today we will be discussing cyberbullying.

What is cyberbullying?

With the advancement of technology and the popularity of social media, bullying is no longer limited to the school yard or street corners. Cyberbullying can now occur anywhere and to anyone, it can happen at home, at your workplace and especially on social media.

Cyberbullies use digital technology to harass or humiliate other people. Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying doesn’t require face-to-face contact and it also doesn’t require physical strength.

Cyberbullies come in all ages. Anyone with an internet connection and a smartphone can cyberbully, often without having to reveal their true identity. With a few clicks the humiliation can be witnessed by hundreds or even thousands of people online.

Methods of cyberbullying

· Sending threatening or taunting messages via email, text or social media.

· Hacking into someone’s social media account or stealing your online identity to hurt and humiliate you.

· Creating a website or social media page to target a person.

· Forwarding messages, pictures or videos of a sexual nature of someone.

· Spreading lies and rumours.

· Exposing secrets.

Because cyberbullying is so easy to perpetrate, a person can easily change roles, going from cyberbullying victim at one point to cyberbully the next.

The effects of bullying and cyberbullying

· Make the victim feel hurt, afraid, helpless, ashamed and even guilty that the bullying is somehow your fault.

· Feel suicidal.

· Physical health is likely to suffer.

· Great risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety.

Cyberbullying can be witnessed by potentially thousands of people. Messages can be forwarded to many people, while social media posts or website comments can often be seen by anyone. The more far-reaching the bullying, the more humiliating it can become.

Why am I being bullied?

While there are many reasons why bullies may be targeting you, bullies tend to pick on people who are “different” or don’t fit in with the mainstream. It may simply be that you are new to the school or neighbourhood and haven’t made friends yet. Other reasons why kids bully may include: To become popular or to gain attention, jealousy, to look tough or feel powerful, sometimes because they are being bullied themselves or to escape their own problems.

Whatever the reasons for you being targeted are, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Many of us have been bullied at some point in our lives, about 25 percent of kids experience bullying of some sort and as many as one third of teenagers suffer from cyberbullying at some point, but you don’t have to put up with it.

Tips for dealing with cyberbullying

Dealing with cyberbullying is rarely easy, but there are steps you can take to cope with the problem. It may be a good time to reassess your technology use.

Spending less time on social media and more time interacting with real people can help you distance yourself from online bullies. It can also help to reduce anxiety and feelings of loneliness.

Don’t respond to any messages or posts written about you, no matter how hurtful or untrue they are. Responding will only make the situation worse and provoking a reaction from you is exactly what the cyberbullies wanted in the first place, so don’t give them the satisfaction. It’s easy to want to retaliate, but try not to seek revenge on a cyberbully by becoming a cyberbully yourself. Again, it will only make the problem worse and could result in serious legal consequences for you.

It’s important to save the evidence of the cyberbullying, keep abusive text messages or a screenshot of a webpage and then report them to a trusted adult or the relevant authorities. If you don’t report the incidents, cyberbullies tend to become more aggressive. Report threats of harm and inappropriate sexual messages to the police; that type of cyberbullying can be prosecuted by law.

One of the easiest steps to take is to report their activities to their internet service provider or to any social media or other websites they use to target you. The cyberbully's actions may constitute a violation of the website’s terms of service or may even constitute criminal charges.

Prevention is better than cure. Try to prevent cyberbullying before it starts and the best way to do it is by not sending messages when you are angry or upset and always be as polite online as you are in person.

* Ripuree Mbwale a final-year law student at the University of Namibia, wrote this piece in support and contribution of her final-year community impact group (Firm Locke) currently running an awareness campaign aimed at educating the youth about cyberbullying.