What is cyber bullying?
We at Bidvest Insurance define cyber bullying as a form of harassment conducted using electronic means. This includes invasion, infringement or interference with your rights of privacy or publicity, which consists of being portrayed in a false light, unauthorised public disclosure of private information or intrusion as a result of cyber harassment.
How to tell when cyber bullying is happening:
Cyber bullying isn’t all that different from being bullied in person. It’s the method or manner of bullying that changes. Like with in-person bullying, cyber bullying features:
- Name calling or labelling (humiliation)
- Framing someone for something that they didn’t do or say (defamation of character)
- Threatening physical harm or violence
- Withholding access to someone’s rightfully owned possessions (account access, for example, in the digital world)
- Theft and/or extortion
- Coercion (threatening people to actually do things that are wildly unethical or out of character)
- Impersonation/impostering someone
- Spreading rumours and/or disclosing personal information about someone, especially information that the person wouldn’t ordinarily share
- Social media posts or publicly accessible comments, en masse, that include images, drawings, comparisons, competitions, words and references made to people whom a targeted victim cares for
- Fake, often impersonated profiles, that either have hardly any or unnaturally high numbers of friends/connections, without a rich range of media like shared articles, posts, tags and image variety in the profile’s history and/or library
- All of this behaviour happening over a lengthy period of time, between weeks, months or even years.
The impact of bullying can be far-reaching, especially over time. It can lead to drastic turns of events like the development of Depression, or suicidal thoughts and tendencies. It’s so important that you know how to identify and respond to it, so that you or the victim (if it’s someone else) can live your best life, the way you deserve.
How do cyber bullies target you?
Cyber bullies present the behaviours listed above, in a number of ways:
- Direct text messages to you (the victim) or text messages about you being sent to other people
- Images and video clips
- Phone calls
- Chat room interactions
- Instant messages across multiple services (eg. Skype or WhatsApp)
- Website or web portal interactions
- Blog posts and interactions
- Social media platforms
- Online gaming
What is sexting and how is it related to cyber bullying?
Sexting is a term used to refer to the circulation of nude or semi-nude images and/or videos of individuals. It’s strongly related to cyber bullying, blackmail and other cyber crimes because often hackers will access such data on someone’s personal device, and threaten the owner of the device with publication of that data if he/she doesn’t do exactly as instructed.
Can cyber bullying happen to adults?
Yes. If you take another look at the list of identifiers for cyber bullying in the section above, you’ll notice that each of those things are not exclusive to just children or teenagers. Adults can be bullied, and they are bullied, and most times cyber bullying is not spoken about because society is quick to dismiss it as a real personal threat. This is exactly why we’ve committed to covering cyber bullying in our new product called Cyber Rescue.
Is cyber bullying a problem in South Africa?
Yes. South Africa is ranked fourth in the world, in relation to the prevalence of cyber bullying. Having one of the world’s highest rates of domestic and gender based violence means that young people are exposed to acts of bullying far too often.
With a shortage of community counselling services in outlying areas, this behaviour gets perpetuated into all spheres of life as previously exposed children become adults. Mobile Internet access is also increasing exponentially in South Africa, and most households have access to more than three mobile phones . Exposure to in-person bullying and violence while growing up, coupled with access to more modes of communication, has amplified the cyber bullying challenge in our country.
It’s one of the key reasons we cover cyber bullying through our Cyber Rescue product.
Does South African law protect cyber bullying victims?
While there are no specific laws that directly confront cyber bullying yet, in South Africa, perpetrators of cyber bullying may be charged as follows:
- Crimen injuria: defined as unlawful, intentional and serious violation of dignity or privacy of another person.
- Assault: any unlawful and intentional act or omission which results in another person’s bodily integrity being directly or indirectly impaired or which inspires a belief or fear in another person that such impairment will be carried out.
- Criminal defamation: unlawful and intentional publication of a matter concerning another person, which tends to seriously injure his/her reputation. This includes both verbal or written defamation.
- Extortion: when a person unlawfully and intentionally obtains some kind of advantage, usually financial, from another person, by subjecting the latter to pressure, which induces him/her as the victim to hand over the advantage.
Specific laws, such as The Protection of Harassment Act, can be tied to cyber bullying but it’s not a direct match. There is a lot that depends on the specific context of each act of cyber bullying, before it can be confirmed whether or not this law can be relied upon for a victim’s relief.
What should you do if you notice cyber bullying happening?
What to do if you’re a cyber bullying victim:
It’s important to understand that it doesn’t matter how old you are: if you’re a victim of cyber bullying, you have a right to take action and you absolutely should. Your first step is to tell someone about it, and if you’re a Cyber Rescue client, that means you can reach out for advice, on our IT Helpline as a first point of contact. You have a right to use the Internet through any of your devices without being bullied, so if you do try to avoid certain platforms where you’re being bullied, it is more a solution for a symptom than a root problem.
Depending on the nature of the bullying acts, you can also speak to your local police department about it for advice. There are concepts like harassment, intimidation and life endangerment that laws revolve around, and it may be possible to open up criminal charges. This may be an effective solution if you know who it is that’s bullying you, and you can share those details with the authorities.
Can you report cyber bullying when you don’t know the bully?
Yes. This also related strongly to the nature of the cyber bullying activity, so we encourage that you make full use of every resource available to you, to report incidents of cyber bullying.
What to do if you know someone else is being cyber bullied:
Just like bullying in person: victims appreciate having friends who understand, and take action to protect them. Do the right thing by at least reaching out to support the victim, and offering to be present through the process of taking action, whether that means accompanying him/her to the local police department or encouraging the use of the IT Helpline, if he/she is a Cyber Rescue client. If you’re a parent and the ‘someone else’ who’s being bullied is your child, it can be a very delicate situation, so here’s our advice:
- Of course we recommend getting Cyber Rescue so that you have a dedicated IT Helpline on call, for such situations. You can call for help and advice on your child being cyber bullied through a personal device.
- First do no harm. If your child is already being bullied online, taking a hard or stern approach is likely to increase his/her anxiety, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
- Have compassion. Before launching into an emergency response plan, show your child compassion. A long hug or embrace can work wonders, and inviting your child to talk about the issue can help him/her vent, too. This brings us to our next point…
- Be considerate and patient when asking questions. It’s good to get information, but remember that your child could have a bruised sense of self esteem so tread carefully. Accept and respect when he/she feels uncomfortable with talking about something and offer support by either allowing him/her to speak to a therapist about it or jump onto a call with the IT Helpline if you have Cyber Rescue – sometimes an independent listener is all a young mind is looking for.
- Suspend judgement. Sometimes it’s hard for children to talk about cyber bullying with parents because they assume that they’ve triggered the bullying and that parents will chide them for the trigger instead of helping them solve the actual problem of cyber bullying.
- Get down to your child’s level. Use vocabulary and analogies that you know your child will understand, and break things down into manageable chunks of conversation to avoid your child being overwhelmed. If you need to break up the conversation over a few days, do that, but make sure that your child is not in any physical danger first – this should always be your priority.
- Know what to report, to whom, and when. Legally and ethically, if your child is being cyber bullied and the nature of the activity is extreme or threatening physical harm or violence, you’re obligated to report the matter to authorities. This may be challenging if your child is so petrified of the cyber bully that he/she insists this isn’t an option, but it’s a must: it’s the right way to respond so that your child and your family can be protected. If you’re unsure of who to speak to about such matters, it’s worth getting Cyber Rescue so that you can always start by contacting the IT Helpline for further advice on reporting cyber bullying.
- Accrue evidence. Open and healthy communication in a family setting is important, but in terms of cyber bullying it also helps if your profile is connected to your child’s, be it on email or social media. This way you can take screenshots to be used as evidence of cyber bullying.
- Teach your child that he/she has the right to stop responding to messages and/or comments that appear as acts of cyber bullying.
- Be mindful of your own conduct online, and that your own children may be impacted by any actions you take to cyber bully other people. Leading by example is one of the most effective ways to prevent cyber bullying from taking hold of your child’s life.
- Address difficult subjects in the family setting, such as blackmail, sexting and other behaviours associated with cyber bullying, as we mentioned earlier in this article.
- Talk about technology as a family, and new features that get introduced. This is a great opportunity to educate your child and yourself about privacy settings, rights and responsibilities all associated with managing an online presence.
Could you be cyber bullying someone else?
Even if this isn’t your intention, it’s completely possible to behave like a cyber bully. This is why it’s so important to state positive intentions or be clear in ambiguous situations that you’re not holding an intention to threaten anyone. While you can’t control how anyone else is going to react, you can control your own actions and that’s a great place to start confronting cyber bullying overall.
The most common space today where people get bullied online is usually in comment threads on social media. For example, a news article is posted and shared by a news brand page, and what people call “Internet trolls” start to surface with extreme and often polarising points of view, crossing lines of expression by attacking others with different views. It can escalate really quickly, but there are some ways you can avoid getting caught up in all this.
Is there an appropriate response to cyber bullying?
Not to sound too philosophical or anything, but we always have choices. It can be challenging to make the right choice, but the first thing you can do is make sure you’re not bullying anyone, yourself. The second thing to do is always to take action when you notice it happening, especially to other people. When it comes to responding to any form of cyber bullying directed at you, here’s what we recommend:
- State your positive intentions in your comments and/or posts, especially where your content can be taken in a number of different ways.
- Thank people for contributing to a discussion, even when their views are different from yours, and acknowledge how they feel and/or what they think.
- Being polite doesn’t mean automatically changing your mind or your opinions. This is absolutely important to remember.
- Stand up for others who are being attacked: without being polarising in your response, use gratitude and acknowledgement to de-escalate any heated remarks when you can.
- Know when to turn the other cheek. Social media accounts, especially, have a function you can take advantage of: mute notifications for specific content or posts. When you’ve done all you can, and you’ve communicated with respect but the ‘trolls’ keep at it, it’s perfectly okay to just mute the notifications. You’re not obligated to respond to anything you see online.
Can you prevent cyber bullying?
You can take a break from the channel through which you may be targeted, and choose never to retaliate to instances of it. For specific case-by-case advice on what to do, we recommend getting Cyber Rescue so that you can reach out to IT experts when you need to, and never need to play guessing games when it comes to staying safe online.
How does Bidvest Insurance cover cyber bullying?
We’ve mentioned it a few times in this article, so let’s break it down in detail. Bidvest Insurance offers Cyber Rescue clients unlimited telephonic advice through the IT Helpline. This means that whenever you feel like you’re being bullied online, all you need to do is pick up the phone and call our team of experts.
Beyond telephonic advice, you can claim up to twice per year, on this benefit, to receive support with mediation. We don’t cap or limit your mediation services per claim, because some situations are more complex and require more than just a single phone call, letter or email to a cyber bully. This being said, bullies usually know that when their victims call for backup, it’s time to stop.
Is there any cyber bullying not covered by Bidvest?
If someone who lives in the same house as you gets into a disagreement or dispute with you and starts to express that through your online channels, it won’t be covered by Cyber Rescue. Most of the time, even when things get heated at home, it’s easily resolved and you don’t need to go to the lengths of getting mediation into the mix. Other scenarios not covered by Bidvest Insurance include instances when the cyber bully/bullies cannot be traced and identified, or if the cyber bully/bullies don’t reside within the borders of South Africa.
South African law applies to South African citizens, which means that while we can advise you on the cyber bullying situations you may face, it’s not always possible to formally lodge a claim and receive mediation assistance.
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Johannes, L-A. 2018. 25% of SA parents say their child has been a victim of cyberbullying. News24. Article online. 28 November. Available at: https://www.news24.com/parent/Family/Parenting/25-of-sa-parents-say-their-child-has-been-a-victim-of-cyberbullying-20181128 [Accessed 20 November 2020].
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