Cyberbullying is the utilisation of electronic communication to harass a person, typically by calling or sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature. It can ruin lives, damage self-confidence, and permanently slander someone’s reputation.
I have read cases around the world where people have committed suicide as a result of incessant and mean-spirited cyberbullying.
Just like physical bullying, cyberbullying often happens between people that know each other, like students in universities or school learners in high school, work colleagues or neighbours.
Sending nasty or insulting texts, picture messages, emails or instant messages on social pages like Instagram, Facebook or WhatsApp is cyberbullying. Posting disgusting things on websites or in chat rooms about someone else (using their name) is also a cyber slap.
As a student at Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), this issue has also affected me.
Students in one of my classes agreed to create a group on WhatsApp, where we can exchange information concerning our programme of study or update each other on what is happening. Shockingly, my ‘group’ has suddenly turned into a home of bullying as members started name-calling and throwing shade to each other.
Some members use other people’s screen names to pretend to be them and set up fake accounts or use other people’s passwords to access their accounts or intentionally exclude others. This is cyberbullying and it should stop!
The internet should be a free and open space for new ideas and healthy debate. It should never be reduced to a minefield of pain for anyone.
One other thing that is a major issue on social pages is sending or forwarding sexually explicit portraits, what we call “sexting” or emojis that represent male and female genitalia.
People must STOP posting any photos of themselves in uncomplimentary poses or state of undress. The guy who is your beloved boyfriend now, can be your vengeful cyberbully ex when that relationship ends and he has those photos! Think about tomorrow before you post.
People must not post or repost nasty photos of others. That must be an internet no-no forever. Before sending along something about someone else, just think about walking a minute in their shoes.
What if that information or that photo was of YOU? Would you want yourself to be exploited, insulted and joked about in such a way? Do unto others…
I believe that there are many detrimental outcomes associated with cyberbullying that can reach into the real world.
Most victims of cyberbullying report feeling depressed, sad, angry and frustrated.
I believe that cyberbullying makes a huge and negative contribution to people’s lives as it can cause low-self-esteem, social ills, family problems, academic difficulties, and school violence.
Alarmingly, cyberbullied youth also report having suicidal thoughts.
I think we should utilise school liaison officers or other members of law enforcement to thoroughly investigate reported incidents of cyberbullying.
Our country needs to be aware of ever-evolving internet technology, language, and expanding usage. Guidelines concerning online behaviour should be widely debated with inputs and possible solutions offered by affected communities and then action can be taken.
I think that young people using the internet should develop a relationship with trusted elders (a parent, teacher, social worker or psychologist or church leader) to talk about any experience they had online that makes them upset or uncomfortable.
If possible, young people should ignore minor teasing and focus on the cyberbullies that are consistent, escalating in negative actions or those who seem to take joy in causing pain.
While cyberbullying is terrible and need to be stopped, I would never accept the government limiting or ‘censoring’ the internet. One person’s freedom of speech is another person’s insult. There is a delicate line between freedom of expression and regulation of the internet. We cannot allow the few in power to dictate what all of us should read, see, or hear.
Still, there must be some internal supervision or self-control imposed. We must learn to manage this new reality in our world called ‘the internet.’ Changing ourselves, designing regulations that fit the ever-changing high tech scope of the net, and shifting our expectations of the anonymous world out there are the keys to address problems.