The reality of cyberbullying in South Africa – trends, warning signs and consequences

Cyberbullying in SA: Trends, signs, impacts . Picture: File

Cyberbullying in SA: Trends, signs, impacts . Picture: File

Published Mar 16, 2024


Candice Toprek, Underwriting Lead: Personal Cyber at iTOO Special Risks, explains that cyberbullying in South Africa poses a significant threat to the well-being and safety of the country’s youth.

Toprek says that by staying informed about its trends, recognising warning signs, and understanding the consequences for victims and perpetrators, proactive steps can be taken to combat destructive behaviour.

Social media and digital communication channels have facilitated the spread of cyberbullying, with platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and gaming chat rooms serving as rife breeding grounds for perpetrators to launch their attacks.

“Our youth are increasingly exposed to tools and apps that make it very easy for them to produce fake videos, manipulate photos, create memes, or use text to engage in cyberbullying,” Tropek said.

“Adolescents and teenagers are particularly vulnerable, with incidents ranging from online harassment to the malicious sharing of private information or images without their consent. The anonymity afforded by the internet supports perpetrators, exacerbating this problem even further.”

High levels of anxiety, despair, and low self-esteem are common among cyberbullying victims, and these conditions can have an adverse effect on their mental health and general wellbeing.

This type of abuse has a profoundly negative impact on a child's identity and sense of worth. It also frequently has long-term detrimental effects like making it difficult for the child to build meaningful and lasting relationships, developing trust issues, and having mental health problems.

"Often, parents are completely unaware that their child is being cyberbullied, as the victims feel a sense of shame and isolation and believe that the situation will never end. While the consequences of cyberbullying can be profound and long-lasting, affecting both victims and perpetrators, as parents, guardians, or educators, it is essential to remain vigilant and attuned to potential signs of cyberbullying among children and adolescents,” said Toprek.

Some warning signs that may indicate that a child is experiencing cyberbullying include:

Emotional distress: sudden mood swings, anxiety, depression, or withdrawal from social activities

Change in behaviour: noticeable changes in behaviour patterns, such as reluctance to use electronic devices, avoiding certain social media platforms, or secretive behaviour regarding online activities

Academic decline: a sudden decline in academic performance or concentration levels

Physical symptoms—complaints of headaches, stomach aches, or difficulty sleeping—without any underlying medical cause might be indicative of the psychological toll of cyberbullying.

Saturday Star