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Cyberbullying, mental health and the price of fame

Actress and social media influencer Teboho Thobejane’s life was turned upside down by cyberbullying. Picture: Supplied

Actress and social media influencer Teboho Thobejane’s life was turned upside down by cyberbullying. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 20, 2023


Cyberbullying has become a much-talked about phenomenon among social media users. The effect of cyberbullying knows no bounds as it affects the young, the old, the ordinary and the extraordinary among us in society.

The world of celebrities both locally and internationally has seen its fair share of well-known personalities who have suffered humiliation and ridicule at the hands of bullies whose abusive social media antics destroy lives and sometimes livelihoods.

Actress and podcaster Tebogo Thobejane is among the influencers who has suffered cyberbullying at the hands of a person whom she called a friend, Inno Morolong, after she was called a scammer, a slut and a drug user on social media.

“Imagine you wake up one day and your name is on social medial for all the wrong reasons. As a mother, how do you even explain to your son why you are trending,” she said.

Thobejane who spoke to Independent Media this week from the place where she has been hiding, shared how social media had become toxic and unsafe for her.

“When I experienced cyberbullying, I was harassed and defamed on social media. I then decided to open a case of crimen injuria at Douglasdale police station and filed a protection order at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court. I did this so that people can learn a lesson that cyberbullying is a crime, you must report it to your nearest police station. Although the process is tedious, cyberbullies can be criminally charged when they unlawfully and internationally impair the dignity or privacy of another person,” she said.

On Thursday, Morolong and Thobejane’s representatives appeared at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court and the matter was postponed to Tuesday (November 21).

South Africa’s Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2022 (Ecta), contains provisions prohibiting the use of electronic communications to harass or defame another person.

In 2012, despite being part of One Direction, one of the biggest boy bands of all time, Zayn Malik was targeted by cyberbullies, who attacked him because of his race.

South Africa has also seen celebrities such as Lady Zamar, Khanyi Mbau, Kelly Khumalo and Pearl Thusi being the talk of social media trends, sometimes at the hands of fans and at other times, their haters.

Thobejane indicated that she had lost not only millions in endorsements, acting gigs and other economic opportunities, but nearly her life and sanity as well.

“My friend who was with me during last month's targeted shooting at my car in Morningside is still in hospital, fighting for her life. The saddest part is that I cannot be with her as I have decided to once again pack up and leave as I fear for my life,” Thobejane said.

The former “Muvhango” actress said the past two years had been tough on her.

“It has been terrible. The past two years have been hell on earth for me and my family as well as those I work with. I have lost millions in potential gigs and business opportunities due to being bullied on social media and being shot at in what looks like a hit ordered against my life,” she said.

According to a YouGov global survey, South Africa has the fourth highest rate of cyberbullying worldwide.

The survey indicates that one out of every five teens falls prey to cyberbullying and 84% of classmates know of someone who has been victimised. What is even more alarming is that on social media, bullying is not only directed at children but at adults as well.

Kerry-Lynn Thomson, director of the Nelson Mandela University's Centre for Research in Information and Cyber Security (Crics), in a recent article published by Independent Media, said cyberbullying often led to emotional distress.

Thomson said “victims experience fear, anxiety, depression, anger and sadness, and it can erode a child's self-esteem and self-worth, causing them to doubt their abilities and self-image”.

Thobejane said: “I want all of this to end because I have suffered extreme humiliation.This whole experience has caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety to the point that I am now dependent on antidepressants. I am tired and want this ordeal to end.”

Saturday Star