McCoubrey was surprised by students coming forward and admitting they had no idea of the extent of cyberbullying. Picture: Supplied

South Africa showed the highest prevalence of cyberbullying in a recent report by Ipsos Global, based on research in 28 countries. 

The report showed that more than 80 percent of South Africans said they were aware of cyberbullying and almost three-quarters of South Africans believe that the anti-bullying measures that are in place are insufficient. 

A Vodafone survey from 2018 ranked South Africa fourth for teen cyberbullying out of 13 countries, and Dean McCoubrey, founder of MySociaLife, a South African in-school Digital Life Skills Program teaching digital life skills programme for schools, says that it’s likely even more prevalent, based on student feedback.

Anti-Bullying Week 2019 (November 11 - 15) is a good time for schools to pay attention to the extent of cyberbullying, and for parents to get a handle on what they can do to avoid and deal with it.

"The challenge with cyberbullying is that parents can’t permanently monitor their child’s devices," explained McCoubrey, whose programme teaches thousands of students, parents, teachers and psychologists to help children feel safer and behave smarter online.

"Parents and teachers need specifics - not just the broad term of ‘cyberbullying’ - as this is a broad and elusive form of ‘warfare’ on these devices – and parents will definitely find it difficult to track or understand what’s actually going on."


He shares the five faces of cyberbullying:

  • Children can use negative, harmful, false images or text, chat, apps or social media posts to embarrass or threaten someone.
  • The sharing of personal or private information that may cause the victim to feel embarrassed or humiliated. This can surprisingly hail from a friend (a practical joke) or a former friend, turned enemy. In that event, the controlling of a person’s account, posting photographs, starting rumours, or changing profile photos can also occur.
  • Faking profiles, known as ‘catfishing’, when bullies create new accounts and borrow profile photos and names and pretend to be a person to create a false relationship – sometimes sharing the personal and confidential declarations made in confidence.
  • Sexting or sextortion is the sharing of nude photographs either within group chats, or on social media sites, or websites (although less likely due to the possibility of tracking the source of the publisher). Sextortion is focused more on the threat and bribery associated with publishing photographs, rather than the act itself.
  • Video shaming is the sharing of videos of someone being embarrassed, threatened or hurt, and then publishing these to allow the content to go wider, or even viral, compounding the psychological harm.

In conducting MySociaLife’s interactive social media and safety programme, which includes a module about cyberbullying, McCoubrey was surprised by students coming forward and admitting they had no idea of the extent of cyberbullying, the different sensitivities of human beings, and how different images, social media posts, chat forums and messages can hurt people, and impact them long-term. 

McCoubrey explained that of the ten modules they teach; cyberbullying is the #1 problem followed by mental health and self-esteem, then privacy and security and sexuality online.

"These are kids, and because they look savvy online, it doesn’t mean they have the maturity to handle the device.

"Four out of 10 kids don’t want to share their concerns. We need to find a way to engage, a safe platform to discuss these concerns, without withdrawing them from their community, unless of course that's a necessity to keep them safe.

"Parents and teachers can use Anti-Bullying Week to make children aware that it’s everyone’s responsibility to make the online and real life worlds a safe place," said McCoubrey. 

"Anyone can be an upstander by reporting a bully, flagging a cruel comment, or even just choosing not to forward or share cyberbullying content. Doing so will stop a cyberbullying episode from escalating, and will reduce or even remove the bully’s power.

"It’s also important to have open paths of communication with everyone and to continue talking about how to prevent cyber bullying from happening. That is why every school should have a digital life skills programme in place," he concluded.