As with most things, technology is changing the face of the bullying and the traditional bully
Returning home from school with a black eye, ripped clothes or without a lunch box were tell tale signs a child was being bullied in the playground.
The ‘cyberbully’ is now what we’re up against – a coward behind a tablet, mobile phone or computer screen who deliberately targets someone, usually through a social media platform.
Don’t let the lack of a good right hook fool you. The severity and consequences of the stories, as well as the statistics to back them up, are alarming.
Recently a 14-year-old girl jumped from her family apartment near Turin, Italy. She was being targeted and mocked on a website and is the third Italian to have taken her own life as a result of posts on the site.
In 2013 Hannah Smith hanged herself after being bullied on a social media platform - she was targeted and incessantly harassed to the point where she felt the only way out was suicide. She too was just 14 years old.
Unfortunately the UAE is not without victims.
Young children, teenagers and even adults are experiencing the cruelty daily and while no deaths have been reported as a direct result of cyber bullies, many believe it’s only a matter of time.
A study by the International Computer Driving Licence (ICDL) GCC Foundation, revealed nearly half of the country’s teenagers have been a victim of online threats. The survey questioned 883 UAE youths between the ages of 14 and 18 and one in every two said they had encountered cyber bullying, identity theft or harassment.
Barry Lee Cummings launched Beat The Cyberbully in the UAE, an initiative already in the UK, in a bid to increase awareness and education around the subject locally.
“The worrying trend at the moment, is the release of Apps for mobile devices for anonymous communication - making it easier to send abusive messages and the receiver not ever knowing who it came from,” said Cummings, 35, originally from the UK.
Examples of cyberbullying at the school level can be criticising someone’s profile or continual taunting on their Facebook page. It can go as far as setting up ‘Anti (students name) groups, pages, accounts on social media platforms.
Cyberbullying is by no means a new phenomenon. In the UAE, school counsellors and school kids, many of whom have experienced varying degrees of cyberbullying, report it going back as far as 2007, according to Cummings.
“Tragedy around the world is exactly why the Beat The Cyberbully campaign is so important right now,” says Cummings. “We want to try everything we can to prevent any child feeling the only way out of their current situation is to take their own life. For us that is just unacceptable.”
What is Cyberbullying?
The use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to single out, harm and harass other people in a deliberate, often repeated hostile manner.
“In it’s simplest form it is targeting an individual, usually on a social media platform or an App, degrading them or taunting them, starting rumours about them, defaming and humiliating them,” said Cummings.
Kehkashan Basu (actual name), 13, is an Indian on a mission. Born and bred in the UAE, Basu is a Global Coordinator for Children and Youth , Youth Ambassador World Future Council, Global President of Children’s Board - Plant-for-the-Planet, Founder President of Green Hope UAE and A World at School Global
Youth Ambassador. No title has kept her safe from the cyberbully.
“Malicious mails are sent to organisations I work with to discredit me,” she says. “Anonymous posts are made on my YouTube videos with degrading comments. I try to ignore it but it does bother me. I’m scared it may escalate to something physical.”
Basu is encouraging children to “speak out” against the cowards hiding behind screens saying the best way to handle it is to talk openly which exposes the perpetrator and shows you’re not afraid.
“Bullies are basically cowards and the best way to beat them is to confront them. Some people who don’t know me may believe the contents, but in the long run my work speaks for itself and truth always prevails.”
Daniel, 12, a Dubai school pupil, says cyber bullying stopped him going to school for three days last term.
“I woke up in the morning and told my mum I had been sick in the night,” said the youngster, originally from the UK. “People I thought were my friends started spreading rumours about me on Facebook and lots of people were making comments.” Daniel told Timeout Kids it took less than 24 hours for children he didn’t even know to start laughing and mocking him in the school corridors. “It’s horrible because you don’t know what to do and it makes you feel very scared. I didn’t tell my parents because I didn’t want them to worry about me.”
Luckily, Daniel had the confidence to face his so-called friend, Jonathan, 12, who admitted it was supposed to be a joke and they didn’t realise it would get out of hand.
“I am not a bully,” said Jonathan. “I have never bullied anyone but all of a sudden I became one overnight and it was horrible. I am Daniel’s best friend and I didn’t want to upset him. It was a silly joke but I didn’t think about what could happen.”
Jonathan went on to explain how easy it is to get caught up in the popularity that being seen as a bully can bring.
Ahmed, 9, originally from Egypt, has been bullying a classmate for more than six months. “He was very mean to me so I posted a nasty picture on Twitter and it went from there. Other people started doing it as well. Then he started telling teachers and our parents got involved and I didn’t want to get into trouble so I deleted everything. Now I am leaving pictures where he can’t find them.”
Ahmed says the reason he continues is because his friends will think he isn’t “cool” if he stops. “It was a game but now I think about it everyday. I don’t think he really cares because he still comes to school.”
Jessica, 15, a Dubai student, says cyber bullying has ruined her life. “The ex-girlfriend of my boyfriend told the entire school I was pregnant and the consequences haunt me everyday,” said the Dubai teenager. “ I know she now says it was just a joke but I will always be the girl may or may not have got pregnant at 14 (at the time of the incident).
My parents got involved and even the teachers questioned what had happened. My father made me go to a clinic to prove it wasn’t true and now some children even think I was pregnant and I was forced to get rid of the baby. The worst thing is that everyone talks about you and I hear rumours and whispers saying bad things about me. The words “slut” and “slag” are used quite often. It’s changed my parent’s view about me and I know they are more strict because of something that didn’t even happen. Children should think about their actions before ruining someone else’s life.”
Cyberbullying in numbers
• Nearly 35 per cent of kids have been threatened online and almost one in five have had it happen more than once.
• 21 per cent of kids have received mean or threatening e-mails.
• 56 per cent of cyber-bullying takes place in chat rooms.
• Girls are twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber-bullying.
• 58 per cent of kids admit someone has said hurtful things to them online.
• More than four out of ten say it has happened more than once.
Beat The Cyberbully, in conjunction with Maximum Net Gain, provide education, awareness and training online and free resources for those suffering. Mobile sessions are also available for schools to promote safe, responsible and inspiring online communications.