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Where the cyber bully lurks

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In the first of a series of articles on cyber-bullying, which will look at causes, effects and management of the situation, LAURENCE SEBERINI focuses on the act itself and the victims at the receiving end of harassment.

Cyber bullying, according to Wikipedia, is the use of the Internet and related technologies to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner. Back in the day a bully would wait for you outside the school gates and steal your lunch, pull your hair and push you down, in front of a laughing audience of 50. He/she would possibly swear at you and call you a few ‚terrible‚ things, like fat, ugly, or stupid, and then move on. The teachers would usually get involved, as would the parents, and in most instances the bullies got some payback.

The trauma suffered by victims back then was, sadly, downplayed, and did not receive the attention it deserved. Not much has changed in this regard, yet the acts of bullying in a technological world have the power to obliterate a young person’s psyche, resulting in depression, self-harm and even suicide.

The truth of the matter is, not only do kids today have to deal with the more traditional styles of bullying with which we adults had to cope, but they have the added threat of dealing with ‚traditional‚ bullying gone viral ‚ cyber-bullying.

What acts would be classified as cyber-bullying, and how far would a cyber-bully go to humiliate his/her victim? A few examples from recent incidents:

1. A school changing room: a group of teenage girls/boys are changing after sport. The bully whips out a cell phone and takes a few pictures of the victim semi-clothed or worse. Within 5 minutes, the photo has been forwarded to 30 other kids and has been uploaded on a variety of social networking sites.

2. A video of a teenager in a compromising position is passed around from phone to phone and PC to PC with the click of a button. 3. A video is uploaded onto sites like YouTube, showing a group of high school (or primary school) pupils cheering a bully on as he kicks, beats and punches a hapless victim, half his size. 4. Initiation practices at various institutions are filmed, photographed and distributed via social networking sites. 5. Unflattering photos of victims are posted on the bully’s various online profiles/walls/message boards ‚ e.g. Facebook. The bully will invite all his/her friends to make unflattering comments. 6. The victim is ‚trapped’ into making certain statements about other people in front of the bully. The bully records these statements and distributes the recording. 7. A teenage girl who happens to be dating someone the female school bully likes, will suddenly find threatening posts on her Facebook wall. This quickly turns into mob bullying, where friends of the bully join the attack, and the messages and comments become brutal as a typical mob mentality takes over. 8. Certain websites will be used to post the most vicious abuse. In a recent saga involving a web site that was blocked thanks to intervention by Gadget’s publisher (How Outoilet was taken out), children found themselves harassed in the crudest possible ways, without any recourse to parents, teachers or even the law. 9. Bullies often resort to instant messaging (SMS, BlackBerry Messenger, etc) to harass, threaten and attack their victims. 10. An ex boyfriend or girlfriend will resort to humiliating the victim online. There are numerous other examples both on the record and off the record. Regardless of the modus operandi, the after-effects and trauma remain the same. One does not need to be a mental health professional to work out what the damage to a child’s/teenagers emotional, mental and physical wellbeing will be.

Next in this series: Parents – how do you know your child is a victim?

To read more of Laurence Seberini’s views and advice, visit http://www.cellphonesafety.co.za

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