Cyberbullying or Cyberharassment(November 2017)

Published November 2017

When I write articles, I try to write to the person who is most likely interested in reading about the subject. To date, most of my articles are aimed at the people who work in companies and different levels of management.

For this article, I had to write to a demographic I am not used to.

Parents, young teens.

I myself am not a parent, yet, so it is hard to imagine the experiences they have or do go through. I have however been a son of a parent, and I know when I was growing up I was bullied at junior school. Randomly pushed around by a boy called Grant. I was in Sub B, (grade 2) and I remember watching him walk away after I was pushed to the ground on one of the school fields. HE didn’t laugh, talk, nor can I even remember if he had any expression in his face.

I have always been petrified of violence, and really try to avoid physical conflicts.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

I imagine nowadays, children get pushed around online, just as I was on the school field.

I think the difference is access and accountability online are more extreme.

It is simply easier to bully online and get away with it.

I do not believe that being bullied is restricted to the youth, and adults are just as accessible to bullies online. People online are normally seeking information… and therefore when you bump into an online bully, they normally have a foot in the door by exploiting interests, or working around influences that effect the victim the most which are not hard to work out because it takes only minutes to generate an internet social profile on a person.

So what is Cyberbullying or cyberharassment actually about, and how bad is it?

My previous article was about cybercrime, and Cyberbullying or cyberharassment in many ways is also a cybercrime. Our law has failed to define the actions related to this type of abuse by the attacker, and this creates challenges later on when a person wants to report or protect themselves.

I do imagine if Cyberbullying or cyberharassment was considered with national crime stats, we would see a balloon of grown for crime against children.

Cyberbullying is at its very raw state an intense form of psychological abuse, and the victims are more than twice as likely to suffer from mental disorders compared to traditional bullying.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist


Most attacks are on the devices we use every day, cell phones are the biggest door to victims. For all we know, the person we saw earlier today on their cell phone, walking and texting, was actually under attack. Odd to consider, but this is what is happening.

SMS, whatsapp and chat program and apps, online forums, social media chat rooms, dating sites, or even gaming which allows chat between players … they are all accessible to the attacker.

Some of the main categories are:

Harassment, (threaten, or maliciously embarrass. It can involve behaviours such as: Sending unsolicited and/or threatening e-mail)

Flaming, (hostile and insulting interaction between persons over the internet, often involving the use of profanity. It can also be the swapping of insults back and forth or with many people teaming up on a single victim)

Exclusion, (ecurrent and sustained verbal and/or physical attacks by one or more children towards another child who is unable or unwilling to deescalate the engagement using information and communication technology)

Outing, (Breaking into someone's account, posing as that person and sending messages to make the person look bad, get that person in trouble or danger, or damage that person's reputation or friendships. Outing and trickery: Sharing someone's secrets or embarrassing information online)

Masquerading, (elaborate form of cyberbullying where the bully pretends to be someone who they aren't. They might create fake email addresses or instant messaging names or they might use someone else's email or mobile phone to bully you)

What happens to the victim?

The effects of a victim of cyberbullying are proven and some of the main results are psychological, emotional and physical stress. These types of experiences over an extended period of time cause extreme damage which often manifest physically. Depression and anxiety are the main results which can effect just about every part of a person’s ability to live a full live.

Each person's response to being bullied varies.

When I was bullied, the main damage caused to me was not physical. I developed a long term fear of people who appear to be confrontational… and I would simply withdraw. I suspect, in some cases, I was not even at risk, but your mind does everything it can to avoid harm to you. If it was not for some positive influences later on in my life, I might very well have become very introvert and missed many opportunities for fear of having to deal with aggressive people.

For children, harmful effects that are common are use of alcohol and drugs, tendency to skip school, very apparent low self-esteem and sometimes deteriorating physical health or perhaps even eating and sleep disorders.

Currently, the stat is that 2-4 out of 10 children are or have been attacked online in one way or another. In a country where we have 30-50 children per classroom, that’s 6-20 victims per classroom. That is extremely high.

One of the most disturbing results of social media abuse and the trend for teenagers to broadcast is their suicides live on social media sites such as Periscope. This appears to be an extreme type of situation, and the Chambers in South Africa is reportedly only aware of a few isolated cases – however, I do believe the majority of online abuse is never reported and because it is not seen as a crime, there is no real record being kept. When there is no record, it’s easy to shun accountability and responsibility and this is one of the reasons why the attackers are so good at not being caught.

Unfortunately, the fact is, until law and the execution of the law catches up, the responsibility for protection is that of loved ones. The challenge is that the victim’s behaviour often changes over a long period of time.

I do believe that cyberbullying extends to groups of victims. For example, comments to a type of race, or demographic, or even a groups social standing or type of work. This week in South Africa there has been a huge social media trend on farm murders.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Not that it matters in context of this article, but the writer is correct. The reason for the post might however not have been to point out an error in execution of law. A result of this post might be more division of people based on race. Here are some posts related to the subject. The point of sharing this is to show a real time example, of social media, related to a demographic, who might suggest they are being bullied online.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Not all cyberbullying is in fact cyberbullying. Sometimes offence or harm is perceived and groups act on a perceived threat or attack.

Fact is, WORDS do not inflict physical harm to groups of people. We assign value to words, personally. Then, harm is done. Sometimes, the reaction is physical.

The effects of cyberbullying vary for individuals. Research illustrates that cyberbullying adversely affects youth to a higher degree than adolescents and adults. Youth are more likely to suffer since they are still growing mentally.

Some facts:

  • one in five South African teens have experienced cyberbullying first-hand
  • The global study surveyed almost 5000 teens aged 13 to 18 in 11 countries and found an average of 18% of teens were bullied online. In South Africa, the figure was 24%.
  • Vodafone (again this company pops up in my articles) did a study, and a stat I found alarming from the report was that 43% of participants said cyberbullying is a bigger problem for young people than drug abuse. The company must have taken the information seriously itself, they started the #BeStrong anti-cyber-bullying emoji initiative', which encourages the creation of "support emojis". Bearing in mind, Vodafone has a majority stake in South Africa’s Vodacom.
  • ‘Connected Dot Com: Young People’s Navigation of Online Risks’ offered a positive view. The study said evidence suggests young South Africans are aware of online risks, and that they have developed “appropriate response and protection measures of their own”.
  • Welcome to DoSomething.org, report:
    • Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online.
    • 81% of young people think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person. 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.
    • Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying.
    • 58% of children admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online.
    • Bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide.

A strong local example in South Africa would be the Sesuthu video which was adult in nature and involved a very young girl. This subject created a huge social media trend. The ripple effects of negativity no one can quantify.

There was even a report I found during my research of a woman killing herself after she caught her husband watching it.

It begs the question, should someone be able to leave a goodbye note on social media?

Should parents ever be faced with a note from their child saying “I love you so much, just remember that please, and I'm so sorry for everything.” This is an example of a text message from Brandy Vela sent to her siblings moments before she committed suicide. The 18-year used a gun on herself in front of her family at home in the States.

Brandy reportedly had enough of the abuse from her cyberbullies and decided to end her life.

What to do if bullied?

Unfortunately, a lot of what can be done, has to be done by yourself.

South Africa does not have specific legislation dealing with cyberbullying, victims of cyberbullying therefore have to rely on remedies offered by the criminal law and/or civil law. Depending on the nature of the acts of cyberbullying, the perpetrator may be criminally charged with the following criminal offences:

  • Crimen injuria
  • Assault
  • Criminal defamation
  • Extortion
  • Harassment

As you can imagine, to pursue a case of any of these will be costly and create more stress and therefore damage to a person. A good link to read is the Harassment Act:

It is my opinion that prevention is the best option.

To be aware.

What amazed me during the research I did for this article was nowhere did I read the suggestion or advice I am about to give, which would appear apparently obvious and as near full proof as one could get.

If you want to reduce risks of being bullied online…. Limit your time online… limit the time your children spend online. You cut off access to the criminals.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Here are some other tips:

  • Don't respond. Do not engage.
  • Save the evidence...
  • Report or talk to a trusted adult friend or family member.
  • Block if at all possible

Published November 2017


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