Johannesburg - Almost two-thirds of South African teenagers think cyber bullying is worse than face-to-face bullying.
This is according to a Vodafone study that surveyed 503 South Africans among a total worldwide sample size of 4 720 teenagers aged 13 to 18.
The Vodafone study has highlighted how cyber bullying is an emerging problem in 11 countries, ranging from the UK, the Netherlands and South Africa.
According to the study’s global findings, one in five teens are cyber bullied - a fifth of whom also felt suicidal.
Also, 43% of participants said cyber bullying is a bigger problem for young people than drug abuse.
“Of the 11 countries surveyed, children aged 13-18 surveyed in the UK are the least likely to think cyber bullying is worse than bullying face to face (35%), whereas over six in 10 (64%) of the children surveyed in South Africa would agree that cyber bullying is worse than bullying face to face,” said Vodafone in a statement.
Meanwhile, in terms of dealing with cyber bullying, the study found that South African teens felt better handling the situation with a combination of words and emoticons.
“The majority of children surveyed in South Africa (60%), the Czech Republic (58%) and New Zealand (54%) said they found it easier using a combination of both emojis and words,” said Vodafone.
The study further found that children aged 13-18 surveyed in South Africa would be most likely to share an emoji that has been created to show support or compassion for people who are being cyber bullied (90%), followed by Italy (83%) and Greece (77%).
As a result, Vodafone said it has launched its ‘#BeStrong anti-cyber-bullying emoji initiative', which encourages the creation of "support emojis".
The emojis are intended to raise awareness of the problem and encourage support for those being bullied online.
Vodafone also said the emojis were chosen by the 4 720 teens surveyed.
Vodafone has a majority stake in South Africa’s Vodacom.
Meanwhile, a study released in 2014 called ‘Connected Dot Com: Young People’s Navigation of Online Risks’ also revealed risks that South African children face online.
The study - which was conducted in 2012 through focus groups in 93 schools - was a joint initiative between the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) and Unicef.
And the research highlighted how one in five secondary-school learners have experienced some form of cyber bullying or other violence online.
This is amid the study’s claim that four in five children in South Africa have access to a mobile phone, and that almost half of them use mobiles to access the internet.
“The findings show there are risks and potential harms online, but also that children are more resilient than we think,” said Thierry Delvigne-Jean, chief of communication and partnerships at Unicef South Africa.
The study said evidence suggests young South Africans are aware of online risks, and that they have developed “appropriate response and protection measures of their own”.
Unicef also said that while cyber bullying warrants concern and attention, it “remains less common than bullying in the physical world”.