Cyberbullying, Social Media and the Youth.
We’ve all seen the typical high-school bullying scene in a lot of Hollywood films. It usually starts off with the typical popular high school jock picking on the not so popular high school nerd in front of a group of people. There is usually a plethora of insults, some physical assault on the not so popular nerd and then a sympathetic fellow student lends their helping hand after the ordeal is over… Sometimes this good Samaritan intervenes during the harassment.
Bullying is unfortunately not just Hollywood make-believe but an innate culture in almost every educational institution around the world. We have all experienced it in one form or another, whether it was aimed at us or as a witness to it, and in some cases as the perpetrator. The thing about bullying is that it’s effect on the victim usually carries on well into the individual’s adulthood. Children who are bullied can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues. children who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. It can lead to physical injury, social problems, emotional problems, and even death. Those who are bullied are at increased risk for mental health problems, headaches, and problems adjusting to school. Bullying also can cause long-term damage to self-esteem. Long-term bullying can lead to depression and feelings that you are worthless. Some of these effects can last for a long time, even into adulthood. A person who is bullied may become an adult who finds it hard to trust others, has problems making or keeping friends and lacks in confidence or self-worth. Bullying is a serious problem for all children involved. Kids who are bullied are more likely to feel bad about themselves and be depressed. They may fear or lose interest in going to school. Sometimes they take extreme measures, which can lead to tragic results.
The unfortunate thing about bullying is that it has always been around and it will be around for some time to come. During my schooling years bullying was almost considered a norm, the unwritten subject in the curriculum in social studies. A right of passage into adolescence, society and the world at large. A gauntlet that everyone has to run whether as the victim or as the antagonist. The only difference between bullying then and bullying now is that the victim (and bully) got a break from it after school when everyone went to their respective homes. As the world progresses and technology becomes accessible to everyone, more young people are on social media and the adverse result of that is bullying becomes constant even after school/classes in the sanctity of their homes.
What is the influence of social media on the youth of today?
Social media is great for a lot of things. It makes people feel like they are a part of something, even when they feel like an outcast in society. It connects people, it helps keep loved ones in touch with one another but there is another side to social media that society takes lightly and that is cyberbullying.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.
A very important cause for cyberbullying is the perceived anonymity possible on the Internet. The bully typically creates an alter ego online and harasses his/her victims. According to Stopbullying.gov, two kinds of people are likely to be cyberbullies — the popular ones and those on the fringes of society; the former resort to such activities to stay popular or to feel powerful, while the latter troll to fit into a society or to get back at a society that excludes them. However, according to The National Council on Crime Prevention found from a survey that about three out of four victims of cyberbullying eventually trace the identity of the cyberbully, and so the anonymity may not be as safe a net as the bully believes. The cyberbully is often a friend (if they can be called that without insulting the word or sentiment), or someone they know from school or outside. Only 23 percent of the victims reported to have been bullied by someone they don’t know.
So, what about Cyberbullying amongst the South African youth?
The 2012 CJCP National School Violence Study show that four out of five (81.1%) secondary school learners have access to a mobile telephone (cell phone), while more than one in two (54.3%) have access to a computer, laptop or some form of tablet computer such as an iPad.
- 3% of young people admit to having lied online about their age.
- One in five (20.9%) secondary school learners have experienced cyberbullying or some form of online violence.
Examples of Cyber Bullying in South Africa:
- In Springs, Gauteng, the mother of a 16- year-old girl obtained a peace order in terms of section 384 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1955 against another 16-year-old girl at her daughter’s school. This happened after the other girl apparently regularly humiliated the woman’s daughter on MXit. The daughter’s name also appeared on a Mxit ‘slut list’, which contained the names of girls from various schools in Springs, including their addresses, telephone numbers and schools.
- A 16 year-old-girl from Durban tried to commit suicide after her name was put on a “slut list” that went viral on Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger. After she found her name on the list she tried to over-dose on household detergents and petrol. She recovered in hospital and was released a few days later.
- A 15-year-old girl from Gauteng was harassed by four fellow pupils. They allegedly mocked her, called her fat and threw diet pills at her. They then took it further by posting nasty comments and threats on Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger. They then allegedly hit her over the head with a glass bottle, which was filmed by a fellow pupil at the attacker’s request. The assailants were suspended, returning to school a week later.
Cyberbullying appears easy to the bully because they usually do not see their victims’ reactions in person, and thus the impact of the consequences is small. In reality, however, the consequences can be life altering to the extent that the victims could go as far as taking their lives or become psychologically distressed enough to require medical intervention. The ironically individualistic nature of social networking activities makes it difficult to recognize a victim of cyberbullying, but tell-tale signs include avoiding or being anxious around the computer or cell phone and sudden change in behavior patterns.
In some cases cyberbullying can come from the person you trust the most and in some instances someone you are romantically involved with. There is a current trend amongst the youth called sexting. Sexting is the action of sending sexually revealing pictures of one’s self or sexually explicit messages to another individual or group. A nationwide survey by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found a shocking 20 percent of teens participating in sexting. While teenage boys resort to sending sexually explicit or suggestive messages, teenage girls are more likely to send inappropriate photos of themselves, mostly to their boyfriends. However, the permanence and pervasiveness of the internet makes it a fertile ground for spreading such information to the extent of getting viral — 17 percent of sexters admittedly share the messages they receive with others, and 55 percent of those share them with more than one person. sexting may cause personal trauma and humiliation to the victim.
Other risks of extensive social networking among youth are loss of privacy, sharing too much information, and disconnect from reality. The digital footprint is a permanent trail that users of social media, indeed of the Internet itself, leave the moment they sign into any service. The digital footprint, by its permanence, can have serious repercussions in future, in both professional and personal areas of life. It is important to know that every activity online — posts on social media accounts, comments left on various sites, tweets, retweets and +1s through years can contribute to the digital footprint. Another serious risk is the amount of information shared on social network sites. What is worrying is the fact that 44 percent of victims of cyberbullying believed that the information they posted on sites like Facebook, Instagram or twitter were being used against them.
Adolescence is the time to spread wings and take the cautious first flight out into the world, and parents and caregivers must be part of the process. In the realm of social media and social networking, this requires parents to become more educated involved about the advantages and disadvantages of social networking and themselves joining social network sites, not to hover, but to be aware of the activities of their teenage wards. The internet is a dark abyss full of wonder and terror and it is the parent’s prerogative to offer solace and guidance for the youth as they navigate this world-wide web. It is essential that parents are aware of and monitor privacy settings and online profiles of their children. Open discussions about social network protocols and etiquettes would go a long way in establishing global digital citizenship, accountability and a healthy behavior.