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Protect children from cyberbullying

Written by Kgaogelo Letsebe

CSIR experts use technology to try and eliminate cyberbullying.

The cruelty and devastating effects of cyberbullying on children have been laid bare in recent months.

In a recent case of cyberbullying, Grade 10 learner Lufuno Mavhunga, from Mbilwi Secondary School in Limpopo, died by suicide after being beaten by another learner. Mavhunga overdosed on prescription pills after the video of the beating was shared on social media.

Cyber security experts from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) say cyberbullying is extremely harmful to children and can lead to depression, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety and fear.

“It can also lead to low self-esteem, delinquency, school violence, family problems and suicidal thoughts,” explains CSIR senior researcher Sipho Ngobeni.

Cyberbullying occurs when someone uses electronic communication to intentionally harass, threaten, embarrass, intimidate, stalk, humiliate or make fun of another person.

Ngobeni says research shows that 41% of children develop social anxiety after experiencing cyberbullying, 37% develop depression, 26% have suicidal thoughts and 25% engage in self-harm.

“These findings show that cyberbullying is a serious issue... Getting everyone involved – youth, parents, educators, law enforcement and social media companies – is the key to dealing with this problem,” he adds.

Most cyberbullying, 42%, occurs on Instagram, 31% on Facebook, 31% on Snapchat, 12% on WhatsApp, 10% on YouTube and 9% on Twitter.

CSIR expert Rofhiwa Netshiya says there is a need for public education about all forms of cyberbullying.

“We need to educate children that cyberbullying can lead to serious consequences,” she says.

To tackle cyberbullying, the CSIR team is working on a platform that detects bullying in chatrooms.

“The platform will automatically detect cyberbullying on chat groups and block users who continue to send hate speech. It will give the user three warning messages and, if they persist, it will block them,” says Netshiya.

She advises parents to install basic internet monitoring software on their children's devices to monitor their activities.

“There are low-cost products that can invisibly monitor the activities of your kids and privately email you the results as often as you like. These are very important to track internet sites visited, downloads, chatroom conversations and instant messaging.”

The CSIR offers the following tips for parents who suspect their children are victims of cyberbullying:

  • Ensure the child feels safe, show unconditional support.
  • Work with your child to arrive at a course of action that you both agree on.
  • Discuss the cyberbullying matter with the relevant school.
  • Contact parents of the aggressor to investigate the matter and remove offending material.
  • Report the issue to police in the case of physical threats or extortion, stalking, blackmail and the sexual exploitation of minors.
  • Educate your child about appropriate online behaviour.
  • Reinforce positive morals and values.

For help on cyberbullying, call Childline at 080 005 5555 or Lifeline at 011 728 1347