Cyber bullying in Africa

Posted on April 23, 2015 12:14 am

Africa research suggests that cyberbullying most commonly occurs in early and late high school, with one study stating that 13-17 year olds are the most common age group reporting cyberbullying to their friends and parents and was closely followed by 15-19 year olds. Other studies recorded the overall incidence of cyberbullying to be around 20% of all young people.In the high school age group cyberbullying usually focuses on physical appearances while in the senior secondary school years it tends to focus on relationships and the way people act, especially if they do not fit the norm.Children’s E-Safety programs are being set up in several countries to crack down on online bullying but the problem is worsening by the day.Researchers from a South African university said about one in ten older children in Africa have been bullied online.The authors recommend a commission be set up in their country which would receive complaints from parents and be able to force individuals to take down offensive posts or apologize.Individuals could be reported to police by the commissioner for material posted online.Cyberbullying is common in South Africa and across the continent and in some cases can be severe because it is covert in nature according to the report.

It has the potential to involve public humiliation or embarrassment across a wide viral audience and it is enduring in nature.In addition, the bullying behavior can be invasive as the bully can infiltrate the victim’s home and privacy through the use of the internet and mobile phone. Because the bully himself or herself is physically distant, they can be somewhat sheltered from their target’s response, and not realize the serious harm they are doing.Long periods of feeling scared, powerless, helpless, ashamed and other emotions as a result of victimization by cyberbullies, can have long-lasting effects on children resulting in poorer functioning in social and occupational roles and greater likelihood of repeatedly thinking about suicide right up into adulthood.The most frequent impacts of cyberbullying on children and young people in Africa include but not limited to anger, low self-esteem and loss in confidence, anxiety, fear sadness or depression,embarrassment.Others include decreased academic achievement due to difficulties the affected child has in concentrating or being in a classroom with bullies, truancy behavior to avoid the bullying behavior, poor mental health and persistent feelings of being physically ill.

Also under the same category is self harming or suicidal thoughts and behaviors as well as negative impacts on the quality of their relationships with family and peers.Internet companies like Google and Microsoft have in the past said existing laws already prohibit cyber bullying and they are opposed to the forced removal of material and fear there would be over regulation.Several governments are said to be having vigorous and continuing engagement with Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook,Twitter and other players to address the challenge of cyber bullying.However, African governments should be conscious of not imposing any more additional regulatory burden than is necessary to keep African children safe online. International organizations have also raised freedom of speech concerns about draft laws in several African countries, concerned the definition of cyber bullying material could be too broad and its important for the governments working on such laws to listen to feedback about people’s concerns.They certainly need to work through very carefully what the definition of cyber bullying material targeted at an African child is and more importantly strike the right balance.

Contador Harrison