Cyberbullying or Cyberharassment (November 2017)

Published November 2017

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

To bring this article into creation I had to write to a demographic I am not used to…Parents and teens.

I, myself, am not a parent...yet. So it is hard for me to imagine what parents go through when their children are bullied…online or otherwise. I am, however, someone’s son and I was bullied in junior school. I was randomly pushed around by a boy whose name is irrelevant now. I was in grade two and I remember watching him walk away after I was pushed to the ground. He didn’t laugh or talk and I can’t remember if he even had any expression on his face.

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

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

Nowadays children get pushed around online, just as I was on the school field. I think the difference is that access and accountability are more extreme online. It is simply easier to bully online and get away with it.

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

So what is Cyber-Bullying or Cyber-Harassment actually about and how bad is it?

My previous article was about cybercrime, and cyber-bullying or cyber-harassment is, in many ways, also a cybercrime. Our law has failed to define the actions related to this type of abuse, and this creates challenges when a person wants to report or protect themselves.

However, I do imagine if cyber-bullying or harassment were considered with the national crime stats we would see a balloon of growth in crimes against children.

Cyber-bulling is, at its core, 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


Our cell phones are the biggest door to get to victims. For all we know, the person we saw earlier today, walking and texting, was actually under attack. Odd to consider, but this is what is happening.

Common bullying arenas can be any online or communication platform; SMS, WhatsApp, chat programs, 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 as follows:

Threaten or maliciously embarrass someone. It could involve behaviours such as sending unsolicited and/or threatening emails…to name a few.

Hostile and insulting interaction between persons over the Internet, often involving the use of profanity. It could also be an exchange of insults or many people teaming up against a single victim.

Recurrent and sustained verbal and/or physical attacks by one or more children towards another child who is unable or unwilling to de-escalate the engagement using information and communication technology.

Breaking into someone’s account, posing as the rightful account holder and sending messages to make that person look bad, get them in trouble, in danger or damage their reputation or friendships.
Outing and Trickery:
Sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing information online.

Elaborate form of cyber-bulling in which the bully pretends to be someone he/she is not. They might create fake email addresses, instant messaging names or use someone else’s email address or mobile phone to bully you.

What happens to the victim?

The effects on a victim of cyber-bullying are proven and some of the main results are psychological, emotional or physical stress. These types of experiences over an extended period of time cause extreme damage, which often manifests physically. Depression and anxiety are the main results, which can affect just about every person’s ability to live a full life.

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 were 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.

Harmful effects that are common in children as a result of bullying may include drug and alcohol abuse, tendencies to skip school, apparent low self-esteems, deteriorating physical health and even eating and sleep disorders.

The current statistics show that two to three in every ten children either are or have been attacked online, in one way or another. In a country where we have twenty to fifty children in a classroom, that statistic corresponds to six to twenty victims per classroom. That is extremely high.

One of the most disturbing results of social media abuse and the ever-growing trend for teens to broadcast is that their suicides live on social media sites, such as Periscope. This seems to be an extreme situation, and the Chambers in South Africa are reportedly only aware of a few isolated cases. However, I do believe that the majority of online abuse is never reported and because it is not considered a crime, there is no real record being kept. When there is no record it is easy to shun accountability and this is one of the reasons the attackers are so good at getting away with it.

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

I do believe that cyber-bullying extends to groups of victims. For example, comments to or about a certain race, demographic or even groups of a certain social standing or type of work. In South Africa this week there was a huge social media trend on farm murders.

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

Not that it matters in context to this article, but the writer is correct. The reasons 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 about the 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 cyber-bullying is, in fact, cyber-bullying. 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, and then harm is done. Sometimes the reaction is physical.

The effects of cyber-bullying vary from individual to individual. Research illustrates that cyber-bullying adversely affects youth to a higher degree than adolescents and adults. Youths are more likely to suffer since they are still growing mentally.

Some Facts

  • One in five South African teens has experienced cyber-bullying 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 that I found alarming from the report was that 43% of participants said cyber-bullying is a bigger problem for young people than drug abuse. The company must have taken the information seriously as they started the #BeStrong anti-cyber-bullying emoji initiative, which encourages the creation of "support emojies". 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 that 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 to be victims as boys and perpetrators of cyber-bullying.
    • 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 cyber-bullies and decided to end her life.

What to do if bullied?

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

South Africa does not have specific legislation dealing with cyber-bullying. Victims of cyber-bullying, therefore, have to rely on remedies offered by the criminal law and/or civil law. Depending on the nature of the acts of cyber-bullying, 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 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 that 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.

To reduce the risk of having your kids bullied online, limit their online time. You cut off access to 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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