Cyber bullying in South Africa: Impact and responses

posted by / Monday, 02 February 2015 / Published in Latest posts, RESEARCH PAPERS

Introduction

The considerable increase over the past few years in the use of mobile phones, text messaging, emails, chat rooms and social networks has altered our social environments and has in many ways directed our social interactions. Comparative data suggests that South Africans ‘are one of the highest users of mobile technology and mobile social networking on the continent’ compared to other countries such as Cameroon, Ethiopia, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Young people, who are known to acquire technological skills more rapidly than adults, lead the way in the daily use of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Recent studies show that nine out of ten (92.9%) 12- to 24-year-olds either own or have access to a mobile phone, which they expend for their personal use. A survey conducted in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg of learners aged between 13 and 17 years old found that 81% had access to a computer at home and 62% were able to use their home computers to access the internet. The  growing affordability of smartphones and data bundles has further decreased the number of youth in South Africa who have no access to the internet.

While there are countless benefits to this technology, including rewarding social connections, creating opportunities for academic and social support, identity exploration and cross-cultural interactions, this technology has the potential to expose young people to high-risk content and individuals they may not otherwise have had contact with. The often uncensored and unmonitored nature of the cyber environment can expose young people to pornography, violence, harmful information, sexual predators, disturbing images and, more alarmingly, has paved the way for new forms of aggression and victimisation to be perpetrated against the country’s child and youth population.

Cyber bullying, cyber violence, cyber aggression, internet bullying, electronic bullying, internet harassment or online harassment are terms used to refer to violence and aggression perpetrated through ICTs. Although studies make use of differing terms, these concepts generally refer to any discomfort or harm that is intentionally and repeatedly inflicted on a specific person or group.4 These cruel acts may include the sending of harassing emails or instant messages, posting obscene, insulting and slanderous messages on online bulletin boards or social networking sites, or developing web pages to promote and disseminate defamatory content.

Cyber bullying via mobile phones may take the form of sending malicious text messages or text messages of a sexual nature (known as sexting), or taking pictures and videos of someone with the intention of distributing the content to others via mobile phones or online. Individuals may also impersonate others online or create fake profiles with which to perpetrate cyber aggression.

 

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