Technological advancement throughout the years has led to the rapid increase of cyberbullying. Even though the development of technology has allowed humans to make great strides in many fields, it has also allowed forms of transgression to become equally varied. The availability, anonymity and accessibility of electronic communication has enabled traditional face-to-face bullying to translate into the online world, resulting in cyberbullying. The South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development defines cyberbullying as “acts involving bullying and harassment using electronic devices and technology” and is perpetrated through websites, blogs, chat rooms, social networking sites, and emails among many other methods., with the help of Claire K. Hall, a higher education attorney, sought to help students understand cyberbullying in college and identified different forms of cyberbullying which include flaming, exclusion, cyberstalking, outing, and masquerading.

Lesego Legobane “Thick Leeyonce”, walked the runway for Woolworths’ Autumn Winter 2017 collection at the South African Fashion Week. The photographer and plus-size fashion blogger was grateful for those who celebrated her achievement but was discouraged and disheartened by the negative comments littered all over social media after the event. In response to the fat-shaming comments, she shared an Instagram post showing the screenshots of the negative tweets with the caption: “The love is REAL! I feel it & I am ALWAYS grateful. Oh but the hatred? The cruelty? The malicious comments I have to deal with? EVERYDAY? […] It’s been 4 years, FOUR YEARS of online abuse and cyber bullying but yesterday? I got really sad. [sic]”

This is just one of many domestic examples of an issue being dealt with worldwide. On 16 November, Prince William in collaboration with leading tech companies including YouTube, Google, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter, announced an online code of conduct called “Stop, Speak and Support”. The campaign will start a trial programme to support victims of cyberbullying and implement safety guidelines for online users. “The technology company members of the [campaign] have agreed to adopt new guidelines to improve the process for reporting bullying online, and to create clearer consequences for those who behave unacceptably,” he said. An article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health titled “Adversity in University: Cyberbullying and Its Impacts on Students, Faculty and Administrators”, expresses that recent studies on cyberbullying among university students report mental and physical health impacts such as anger, sadness, embarrassment, hostility, loneliness, lowered self-confidence and self-esteem, social withdrawal, anxiety, loss of friendships, depression, a drop in school attendance and performance, strained family relationships, self-blame and suicidal thoughts. The article further goes on to articulate that victims often feel a sense of powerlessness to stop the bullying and a reluctance to report the behaviour.

Hall, is also the principal of Universal Education Compliance and Training (UECAT), says that “most colleges and universities have access to counselling services and other resources that can help a student understand and deal with cyberbullying. Also, if colleges and universities know that there is cyberbullying on campus, they can take measures to prevent it, which includes educational programmes at orientation, or in the residence halls”. The South African Police Services advices those affected by cyberbullying to not respond to the taunts of the culprits, not retaliate to avoid a cycle of aggression, save the evidence , however minor it is as cyberbullying can escalate, use privacy tools to block the person or people and report the abusive comments to the social media website administrators and reach out for help from a trusted friend or adult.

In terms of the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011, someone who has been bullied can ask the courts for an interim protection order that can be granted if the court is satisfied that the respondent has harassed, or is harassing, the applicant and that harm has or may be caused. The Act stipulates that electronic service providers can be required to hand in the name, surname, identity number and address of the person to whom the IP address, e-mail or cell phone number belongs. However, regulatory advisor of the Internet Services Provider ’s Association, Dominic Cull raised practical issues around implementing the law, such as how gather enough information to be incriminating, which internet service provider to approach and what would happen if someone were to be harassed on Facebook, which is outside of South Africa’s jurisdiction. “There is no way a SA court can force Facebook to release details’ he said.

The Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) indicates that South Africa does not have specific legislation that deals with cyberbullying, therefore, victims have to rely on remedies offered by criminal law and/or civil law however, the fragmented response to cases of online violence is not a South African problem as there is little case law that provides any precedent internationally, and states tend to carefully feel their way forward. According to CJCP, the perpetrator of cyberbullying may be charged with assault, criminal defamation, extortion, crimen injuria or harassment and these consequences and remedies are applicable to perpetrators and available to victims regardless of the ages of the perpetrator or the victim.

According to News24, the abuse of the autonomy of social media also gained attention from State Security Agency minister, David Mahlobo. In a parliamentary reply earlier this year, he expressed that his department could potentially regulate social media to isolate the “real threats” posed by cybercrime. He maintained that information-sharing via the electronic web resulted in amongst others, cybercrime activities, human trafficking, defamation, child pornography and the like. However, advocacy groups such as Right2Know maintain the view that social networks such as twitter already have regulatory measures to empower people to act against online harassment.

Image: Sally Hartzenberg

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