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  • Andisa Matlala

“Bullying Beyond the Classroom: Cyberbullying a Growing Threat in the Digital Age”

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

Q & A Session with the Director of Cyber Defence at Lockdown IT.

In today’s world, social media and technology have become an integral part of our daily lives. While it has many positive aspects, it also has its negative downsides, one of which is cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is a growing issue that affects people of all ages, particularly today’s youth, and its impact can be devastating. It not only harms the mental health of individuals but can also affect their social life and academic performance.

1. What is Cyber Bullying?

“Cyberbullying is using technology, such as mobile phones and other personal computing devices, by individuals or groups that repeatedly communicate negative or aggressive messages intended to embarrass, threaten, blackmail, or target another person”.

“In an educational environment, cyberbullying can take many forms, including harassing, threatening, or humiliating messages or posts directed toward a learner, spreading rumors or false information online and sharing inappropriate or compromising photos or videos of learners without their consent”.

“Cyberbullying can have serious negative consequences for people, including anxiety, depression, decreased academic performance, and even suicidal thoughts or attempts”.

‘Cyberbullying can be particularly damaging and upsetting because it’s usually anonymous and hard to trace”.

2. How does cyberbullying differ from traditional forms of bullying?

“Cyberbullying differs from traditional forms of bullying in several ways”.

“Cyberbullying occurs through electronic communication and technology, such as social media, email, text messages, and online forums. Cyberbullying can occur at any time and place and can be more difficult for victims to escape than traditional bullying, which normally stops when the intended victim is at their home”.

“Cyberbullying can involve a larger audience than traditional forms of bullying. A single post, picture, message, or video can be shared or forwarded to many people, amplifying the impact and distribution to a wider audience almost instantly, with greater potential to cause more harm and embarrassment to the intended victim than traditional bullying”.

“Due to our connected world, cyberbullying can be more damaging to a victim’s mental health and well-being, as constant exposure to negative and hurtful messages can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts or attempts. Cyberbullying can be anonymous, making it more difficult to identify and hold the bully accountable for their actions”.

“Compared to traditional bullying, cyberbullying presents unique challenges and requires specific strategies to prevent and address it effectively”.

3. Do you find that there is an increase in Cyberbullying ?

“Yes, we have noticed that there has been an exponential increase in reported cases of cyberbullying in South Africa and other regions in recent years. According to a study conducted by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), 56% of South African children have experienced bullying, with cyberbullying being the most prevalent form of bullying. That is an astonishing statistic.”

“In addition, the South African Police Service (SAPS) has reported an increase in cyberbullying cases being reported to them”.

“Our team has seen that cyberbullying incidents, especially post-covid, can be attributed to the increasing use of technology and mobile devices, social media platforms, and common online collaborative meeting platforms, particularly among young people”.

“As the access to technology continues to grow, especially with access to mobile communication devices such as mobile phones and tablets, our team has forecast that the prevalence of cyberbullying will exponentially increase, and the situation will get worse.”

“One particular area of concern in the future our cyber defence team has highlighted is the metaverse.”

4. Can you explain what the metaverse is?

“The metaverse is a virtual world that exists on the internet. It’s a virtual place where people can interact with each other and digital objects in a three-dimensional environment, similar to a video game.”

“In the metaverse, users can create their own avatar, which is a digital representation of themselves, and explore virtual spaces that can be created by anyone, from individuals to businesses.”

“Africa already has its own first metaverse called Ubuntuland. The early “settlers” in Ubuntuland, includes many large South African organisations, that have already purchased “land” in this virtual world.”

“Even Facebook, has changed its company name to Meta in October 2021, which reflects its shift in focus on building the metaverse, which Facebook has pinned its hopes on to develop and be a major player in the future.”

5. What advice can you give to a victim of cyberbullying?

“Cyberbullying can be a traumatic experience, but you don’t have to face it alone”.

“First, don’t blame yourself. Remember that cyberbullying is never the victim’s fault. No one deserves to be bullied, harassed, or threatened online, and you are not alone in your experience”.

“Next, take action. Consider reporting the cyberbullying to your parents, family, school administrators, or social media platforms. Save any evidence of the cyberbullying, such as screenshots, messages, or emails, to use as evidence”.

“Seek Support. Talk to someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, or counselor, about what you’re going through. It’s important to have a support system to help you deal with the emotional impact of cyberbullying”.

“Also, limit your online activity and practice self-care. Consider taking a break from social media or other online platforms where cyberbullying occurs. This can help reduce the frequency and intensity of cyberbullying. Engage in activities that make you feel good, such as exercise, meditation, or just spending time quality time with loved ones”.

6. What advice can you give to parents on cyberbullying?

“As a parent myself, we all know how difficult it is to raise children in this day and age, which is even more challenging with the advent of a connected world with mobile devices, various social media platforms, and other external influences and social pressures our children are exposed to.”

“New technological advances have brought about significant changes in how our youth grow up and interact with the world around them that we were not faced with when growing up.”

“While advances in technology and mobile devices offer many benefits, such as increased access to educational resources and greater communication with family and friends, they also present many challenges for children.”

“One of the key things parents can do to prevent and address cyberbullying is to stay involved in your child’s life and to maintain open communication with them about their online experiences. Taking proactive steps to identify cyberbullying in its early stages can help them stay safe, physically and mentally healthy, and happy online.”

“Educate yourself and learn what cyberbullying is, how it affects children, and how to recognize the signs that your child may be a victim.”

“Talk to your child and have open and honest conversations about cyberbullying, the importance of responsible online behavior, and how to stay safe online. I remember my parents teaching me how to cross the road when I was younger, first to look left, then right, and then right again, well now as parents in this new digital age, we also need to teach our children how to navigate and be safe online in this new virtual road in cyberspace.

“It is also helpful to monitor your child’s online activity and the posts on their social media accounts. Often these are the first signs of cyberbullying being picked up. Use parental control software, if necessary, to limit access to inappropriate content or social media websites.”

“Encourage responsible online behavior, teach your child to be kind and respectful online, and think twice before posting or sharing anything that could hurt or harm others.”

“Take action if necessary if you suspect that your child is being bullied online, talk to them about it and take steps to address the issue. This may include reporting the bullying to the appropriate authorities, contacting the school, or seeking counseling or support for your child.”

“Setting boundaries, establishing rules and guidelines for your child’s online behavior, such as limiting screen time, not sharing personal information online, and not engaging in cyberbullying themselves or other negative behavior, will help you prevent cyberbullying.”

7. How can educational institutions like schools help prevent cyberbullying from occurring?

“Preventing cyberbullying requires a multi-faceted approach involving parents, teachers, educational administrators, and students themselves; this is not only the educational institution’s responsibility. There are many tactics that educational institutions, like schools, can use to prevent cyberbullying from occurring, as these situations can, at most times, go undetected.”

“We can educate students about cyberbullying and its impact on victims. This education on cyberbullying can be provided through classroom discussions, assemblies, or guest speakers. We can also encourage responsible and respectful online behavior, emphasizing the importance of treating others with kindness and empathy and to think twice before posting or sharing anything online. Students should be encouraged to speak up if they see someone being a cyberbully victim, and stand up for those being targeted, and to report the behavior to the appropriate authorities or persons.”

“Reporting cyberbullying should be encouraged; learners should feel safe and free to report cyberbullying incidents to teachers or administrators, and the institution should provide a safe, anonymous, and confidential reporting mechanism. The institution should provide support such as counseling services and resources to victims of cyberbullying to create a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment for all students.”

“Educational institutions should also establish clear rules and guidelines regarding online behavior, including policies against cyberbullying and consequences for those who engage in it.”

“Cyberbullying can be a pervasive and devastating issue” concludes Pillay.

8. How does a company like Lockdown IT, which specializes in this area, assist and help victims of cyberbullying?

Our company deals with many different incidents and severity of cases related to cyberbullying,

Our first responders in any cyberbullying case are from our cyber incident response team, which plays an important role in investigating any cyberbullying case.

Their most important call to action is to identify the perpetrator as quickly as possible, which will involve using advanced cyber techniques, electronic and manual investigative methods, combined with our vast experience in this area, to trace the source of the cyberbullying messages and identify the person responsible for the cyberbullying.

Some of these processes will include digital forensic analysis on electronic devices, such as computers, smartphones, and tablets, to collect and preserve evidence related to the cyberbullying incident. Another key aspect is interacting with law enforcement and various service providers, such as mobile operators, internet service providers, and social media platforms, to gather and correlate certain information to triangulate the location and identify the cyberbully.

Our cybersecurity experts are also often called upon to provide expert testimony in court or other legal proceedings, presenting their findings and analysis to help support the case against the perpetrator.

However, the most important person in all of this is the victim of cyberbullying; we see many instances where victims and their families are not equipped to handle this type of situation.

We help victims, and their families establish a clear understanding of the situation, provide guidance on how to address the issue, and provide our own counselors for emotional support and guidance, especially for young victims and their families.

We have seen the impacts of cyberbullying can be far-reaching and long-lasting, affecting the victims’ mental health, academic performance, professional careers, and social relationships.

Victims of cyberbullying must realize that they don’t need to remain silent sufferers of this new pandemic.

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