Cyberbullying victims 'twice as likely to attempt suicide'
UK researchers call for school anti-bullying policies as local experts warn the phenomenon is an epidemic
Victims of cyberbullying are twice as likely to self-harm and display suicidal tendencies.
A recent international study found that the bullies themselves are also at risk of contemplating suicide and other harmful behaviour, although reasons for this were not explored.
Cyberbullying – which social media law experts in South Africa say has reached “epidemic proportions” – is the use of social media platforms to send intimidating, threatening or unpleasant messages.
The review study, led by Swansea University Medical School in collaboration with researchers from the universities of Oxford and Birmingham, looked at more than 150,000 children and youngsters across 30 countries.
Their findings, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, highlighted the significant effect that cyberbullying involvement, as bullies and victims, can have on children and young people.
“Prevention of cyberbullying should be included in school anti-bullying policies, alongside broader concepts such as digital citizenship, online peer support for victims, how an electronic bystander might appropriately intervene, and more specific interventions such as how to contact cellphone companies and Internet service providers to block, educate or identify users,” said researcher Professor Ann John.
The research also found that youngsters who were cyber-victims were less likely to report and seek help than those victimised by more traditional means.The Johannesburg-based Digital Law Company, experts in social media and law, says cyberbullying has reached epidemic proportions locally.
Sarah Hoffman, who specialises in reputation and crisis management at the firm, said they were seeing more teens being threatened with nude pics by mainly anonymous cyberbullying.
“Sometimes they don’t threaten, they just disseminate via social media platforms.”
Aside from raunchy pictures, bullies are also using social media platforms to say offensive, harmful and hurtful things about their victims.
They often use platforms where their identities remain anonymous, such as Qhoo.me, Facebook and Instagram.
“Our message is loud and clear, that there is no value to be obtained from apps like Qhoo.me.
“There are a few others that are similar to this site, where the whole premise is to post something anonymously. In my opinion, it is just asking to be bullied,” said Hoffman.
“There’s the most horrific content on these anonymous platforms ... it’s nasty, malicious and vindictive.
“The greatest challenge with the anonymity is finding out who is behind it. We’ve had no success in establishing the identity of people behind bullying on Qhoo.me.”
All the platforms work in the same way: when it comes to sharing user information – even if it is used for terrible purposes – they are not very forthcoming with information.
“Social media is around the clock, especially with kids sleeping and waking with their phones and parents having little control,” Hoffman added.