Cyber bullying growing in SA

2013-08-12 10:40
Cyber bullying is growing in SA. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Cyber bullying is growing in SA. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The extent of cyber bullying in South Africa is understated, but it is clear that the problem is growing, an academic has said.

"The full extent of cyber bullying (being broadly defined) in South Africa is unclear. It is however clear that the phenomenon is growing," Riaan Rudman, lecturer at Stellenbosch University told News24.

Cyber bullying is broadly defined as personal harassment via a digital platform, including SMS, e-mail and social media networks.

Few studies have been done in SA to clearly examine the phenomenon of cyber bullying, but anecdotal evidence indicates that young people in particular are exposed to cyber bullying.

A survey by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention in 2012 found high levels of aggression among youth in SA and the line between victim and perpetrator is indistinct.

Aggressive

"An important finding in the CJCP study is that the line between perpetrators and victims of cyber bullying is most often blurred; seven out of 10 (69.7%) perpetrators of cyber bullying had themselves been bullied," the study says.

South African youth are also aggressive, authors Maša Popovac and Lezanne Leoschut wrote and cyber bullying may reflect real-world bullying patterns.

"The statistics also demonstrate the high incidence of cyber aggression among South Africa's youth. Over a third (37%) of young people surveyed in the CJCP study admitted to having experienced some form of cyber aggression either at home or at school."

The issue of cyber bullying in SA is demonstrated by the chat portal outoilet where youth from various schools and universities are exposed to personally humiliating messages.

The platform is also extensively used to solicit sex and is grouped according to users' location and institution.

Users are also encouraged to rate submitted images as "Hot or Not" on the open site.

Rudman urged social media companies to do more to tackle the problem of cyber bullying.

"Social media companies are taking the phenomenon seriously. Mxit, as an example, has actively engaged this topic by means of research in conjunction with Unicef."

Complaints

For its part, Mxit said that it was proactive in engaging with role-players to limit the spread of bullying.

"Mxit assists parents and schools by offering tips in terms of prevention, having talks at schools, and in cases where an official case is opened, we provide information," Mxit vice president of Communications Sarah Rice told News24.

While Mxit said that there were not many complaints on cyber bullying on the platform, the study found a significant level of aggression.

"Cyber aggression via mobile phones also tends to occur via Mxit, with 26% of respondents experiencing insults, particularly race-based insults, according to a Unicef study."

In developed countries such as the US, an Associated Press-MTV poll of youth in their teens and early 20s found that 56% have been the target of some type of online taunting, harassment or bullying.

Rudman said that while cyber bullying was not his speciality, there was growing evidence that cyber bullying would increase with increased cellphone penetration.

"The studies suggest that SA is following international growing trends. It appears as cellphone and internet penetration in South Africa increase, cyber bullying will increase."


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