At some point in our lives, we have had to face an intimidating person who wanted to show they are better than us. It isn’t necessarily that we were very weak or had no way to stand up for ourselves, no, it is only that the other party saw vulnerabilities in us and wanted to exploit them for their own pleasure. Yes, you got that right! I am talking about bullies.
Now, bullies have few things in common. Before a bully approaches you, they always make sure that they have a weak spot to hit on you. They always start with the obvious: clothes, looks, voice, skin colour, body shape, make-up… anything close at hand. From personal experience, we the shy kids, have suffered the most!
Then, experienced bullies know this better than anyone: they need support. Bullies have support groups! They can be a group of friends with a leader to intimidate the weak, and the group acts as a supporting cheer to motivate the leader to do more. They know for a fact that without a supporting group they can likely be overcome by someone who is ready to stand for them.
That was probably way back when we were kids. We are now adults and civilized, we rarely get bullied. Yes? No, that’s not true! What about on social media?
A joke or a bully?
There is usually a thin line separating a joke from a bully, but that thin line matters. It works the same way! Bullies use the same techniques to prove their point. You can easily identify a bully from a joke. When someone uses your old pictures, the date you joined social media, typing errors and the likes of appearance just to prove a point in a conversation (or comments), you know that is beyond jokes.
Statistics widely vary, but it is a fact that 7 out of 10 young people have experienced cyberbullying by the time they were 18 years old. That is a lot of internet users. I believe you would not like to be called a bully, but at one point, you have seen or participated in cyberbullying. You have laughed at and or liked a mean comment, screenshot and post it on status or shared it with a friend, commented on that picture that was shared on the group you’re in or simply tag a friend to see. In Tanzania there is even a name for it, it is now baptized “SPANA.” It is all fun until it turns on us!
A bully’s chief aim is to drain confidence out of you, make you feel insignificant and use the support around them to prove their point to you. All that might be happening in the background, sugarcoated by the funny or nasty comments you see. To those cheering up a bully, you are nothing but a supporting pillar to help them achieve their goal. In fact, they may turn back on you anytime. A bully is a wild animal you cannot befriend, and a wild animal they remain. Remember Marius Els’ hippo?
But who cares, anyway?
The most important question here is, whose responsibility is it to stop cyberbullying? Many digital platforms have put in measures to moderate content, including monitoring digital bullying. At times, these measures do not really prove effective: they function after the content has been reported. The damage has already been done. Stopping cyberbullying is beyond dealing with the effects, it should be more about preventing it from happening. The bullies are not from outside this world, we are the bullies, our friends, family members, colleagues, etc. It is, therefore, my duty, your duty – our collective duty – to ensure that we grow to respect each other, and politely disagree on each other’s thoughts without necessarily making each other useless or inferior. A bully doesn’t become a bully overnight, they gradually develop to be who they are, over-watched and groomed by us, the supporters!
What should you do?
When the heat is not facing you, it is easy not to be concerned. Sometimes, it is difficult to deal with bullies because they hide behind fake identities online, so you never know who is exactly attacking you. We have some of them amongst us – our friends, even our family members. Nevertheless, a bully should be treated as a bully.
There is a famous saying, that a bully should be ignored. I believe it is time we disagree with this. You have several options at hand to deal with cyberbullying. Just as you wouldn’t let someone punch you in the face without protecting your face or fighting back, you shouldn’t let a bully get away with it as simply as that. It is also a fact that ignoring the bully gives them a mixed feeling that they are not achieving what they aimed for, but silent treatment is not always the best option.
You have an option to report the post or a particular comment, block the user and – most importantly – tell the others politely about the incident. If the bully is meant to threaten your safety, you should report it to the cybersecurity authorities. If you know the bully’s real identity, you can raise the matter to their family members, employees or friends to let them know what is going on and if they agree with what the other party is doing online.
There is nothing wrong with showing dissatisfaction about a post or a comment online. Social media can be a cruel space. Never let a bully win, not on you only, but on anyone you see being bullied. If you feel that you cannot handle it, or if it becomes too much for you, it is good if you take some time off of social media or find psychological advice.