Menace of cyber bullies

By Time of article published Apr 11, 2012

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The ever-increasing trend of cyberbullying almost ended in the death of a Durban teenager who tried to commit suicide after her name was put on a so-called “sluts list” that went viral on Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger.

She found her name was on the list last month, and tried to overdose by drinking a cocktail of household detergents and petrol. The girl recovered in hospital and was discharged four days later.

This is yet another example of cyberbullying in schools.

In January a 15-year-old Gauteng schoolgirl was harassed by four fellow pupils.

It is alleged they mocked her, called her fat and threw diet pills at her. They then went on to Facebook and BlackBerry’s BBM chat service, making a series of threats and nasty comments.

And if that was not enough, they allegedly hit her over the head with a glass bottle. The assault was filmed by another pupil, allegedly at the attacker’s request.

The assailant was suspended, but was back at school a week later.

The mother of the victim, who may not be named, filed a complaint of assault with the police. She said she was angry because the school had not told her the alleged attacker would be back at school.

She said her daughter had been friends with the group, but they had drifted apart – and that’s when the cyberbullying began.

In the Durban incident, the list was started earlier this year by an anonymous person who, using the BBM service, gave the names and details of 10 teenage girls from Wentworth.

As the list went viral and was passed from one user to the next, more names were added to it.

None of the parents have reported the incident to the police.

Provincial police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane, however, urged parents to report the cyberbullying to police.

“They need to go to their nearest police station where they must open a case of crimen injuria. We have not received any reports, but if we do we will investigate,” he said.

Commenting on the Gauteng incident, Izabella Little-Gates, an internationally published author and parenting expert from LifeTalk, said: “Cyberbullying is something that is escalating and should be taken seriously.

“It has to be addressed, and parents must discuss it with their children.”

In the weeks following the incident, psychologists and experts said cyberbullying was under-reported and the country would see more cases as access to technology increased.

A study on cyber aggression was carried out among young people in four provinces by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention in 2009.

The research found that just under half the 1 726 youngsters interviewed had been victims of cyber aggression.

One in three had been a victim of cyber aggression at school and 42 percent had experienced it outside school.

In the survey, a quarter of the youngsters said they had experienced bullying by SMS.

One in five admitted to having bullied someone else by SMS.

According to the survey findings, nearly 70 percent of those who had bullied others by SMS had themselves been bullied.

In order of frequency, voice calls, SMSes, instant messages, e-mails, videos and photographs were the most common media used in the bullying.

The problem of bullying, whether cyber or conventional, has attracted the attention of one of the world’s entertainment stars.

Pop diva Lady Gaga recently took her star power and some of her famous friends, including Oprah Winfrey, to Harvard University in the US to launch a foundation aimed at empowering young people and stamping out bullying.

“If you have revolutionary potential, you must make the world a better place and use it,” Gaga said as she launched the “Born this Way Foundation”, named after her 2011 hit album and single. “This is about transformative change in culture.”

The singer has often been a voice for people she believes lack representation in the media, and she formed the foundation to address issues like self-confidence, well-being, bullying and the need for mentoring.

“I believe that humankind, as a whole, can change the world,” said Gaga.

“The goal is to challenge meanness and cruelty by inspiring young people to create a support system in their communities.”

Winfrey said she had joined forces with Gaga’s foundation because it shared some of her core beliefs, including the need to show kindness, compassion and care for others.

Gaga said the three pillars of her foundation were to promote “safety, skills and opportunities” for young people.

“Once you feel safe in your environment and you acquire the skills to be a loving, accepting, tolerant person, the opportunities are endless to be a functioning human in society.”

Gaga’s foundation is expected to include specific outreach to young lesbians and gays.

Born This Way quickly became an unofficial anthem for gay empowerment and pride.

The singer said that releasing the song had helped propel the dialogue between her and her fans, which had became a calling of sorts.

“After I put the song out, the conversation ignited even further … I never wanted this conversation to end. I thought how I could keep it going. And if anyone knows how to get a message out there, it’s me.”

Gaga has also put her “Born Brave Bus” on the road, as a kind of drop-in centre for young people.

“The more kids that I can get to come and eat hamburgers and talk outside my shows, (the better). I feel that it will start small, but over time will be very big.”

She knew there was “no one answer” or single law that could be passed to stop bullying and hatred or to mandate acceptance, Gaga said.

“I wish there was because, you know, I would be chained naked to a fence to try to get one passed.” – Staff Reporters and Reuters

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