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Cyberbullying…The Upstanders

THIS is not the first time I have written about cyberbullying and I doubt it will be the last, given that it has been growing despite increasing calls for an end to this insidious practice.
While cyberbullying is thought to be a problem mostly of the developed world, it may surprise many to know that, along with the US, India and Brazil are the two other countries where it is most prevalent.
Of course, bullying is nothing new. Many of us know of instances of the strong preying on the weak, even if we have not been involved ourselves.

However, with the advent of the internet and social media, anyone with a cell phone or other similar device can either be a victim or a perpetrator. Indeed, the roles may even become interchangeable, where the predator may become the prey or vice versa.
What is beyond argument, and was pointed out many years ago by Monica Lewinsky – the former White House intern who became the central figure in the 1998 sex scandal involving then President, Bill Clinton – is that cyberbullying has taken the act to a whole new level.

Giving a TED talk – spawned from the annual technology, entertainment and design event – some 19 years after the scandal broke, Ms Lewinsky related in highly emotional tones her own experiences of being bullied, harassed and insulted on the internet.
This was the first time the information highway had eclipsed the mainstream media in divulging a major news story. It also heralded the beginning of the type of bullying now so widespread on social media.

While this talk, eight years ago, drew the attention of many to the advent of online bullying it has since continued, practically unabated, despite legislation enacted by many countries to curb the practice, the formation of anti-bullying groups and the general public outcry.
It is of growing concern in this part of the world as more and more children own cell phones, while use remains largely unmonitored by parents.

More alarming still is, as Ms. Lewinsky then warned, what appears to be society’s growing numbness to cyberbullying and failure to treat it with the gravity it deserves. She further observed that huge profits are being made off the shame and humiliation of vast numbers of people, especially the young.
The worse and more detailed the harassment, the more clicks the post receives and the more clicks the more advertising dollars generated. This is truly a sad indictment of any society which allows cyberbullying to prevail.

Some of the disturbing statistics for this year reveal that 32 percent of youth across the globe experience cyberbullying online; 70 percent of students with a physical disability report being bullied; girls are 1.3 times more likely to be bullied and 38 percent of people experience cyberbullying on a social media platform daily. sums it up this way: “Standing up to bullies was once a brave act that defied social norms. Today, the landscape is not so clear-cut Enter: cyberbullying. Adolescents are forced to endure online harassment from peers at any given hour of the day – often without even knowing the identity of the bully. The prevalence of digital devices has created a pressing health problem for the world’s youth that is not limited to school grounds.”

The problem is further compounded by the fact that social media companies are private and online bullying is difficult to track and regulate. Nonetheless, statistics have been able to reveal which platforms are most guilty, with Instagram topping the list.
What Ms. Lewinsky called for back in 2017 and is even more vital today, is for people to become Upstanders – standing up to the bullies, though this cannot be done as in days of yore, where physical confrontation was usually all that was necessary.

Today, parents need to exercise greater vigilance when it comes to their children’s use of cell phones and other digital devices, teachers need to be able to recognise the signs of both the bullies and the victims and the general public should not hesitate to report instances of online bullying to the authorities.

In an article on human trafficking three months ago I quoted the words of Edmund Burke – a British statesman and philosopher. I am compelled to do so again: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
And, particularly to the bullies, singer/songwriter, Demi Lovato had this to say: Sitting behind a computer gives people a sense of anonymity, but everyone needs to realise that words – even the ones they write online – have a strong power to hurt people.”