Citizen Reporter
2 minute read
30 Mar 2017
5:31 am

Social media regulation could be the answer to cyberbullying issue

Citizen Reporter

Cyberbullying, similar to sexting, remains a global social issue with fatal implications on society, especially teenagers and youth.

AFP/File / Frederic J. Brown
A woman types on the keyboard of her laptop computer in Beijing on January 7, 2010

The advent of information and communication technologies and their influence on different spheres of human lives have been the topic of debate for decades. Such narratives have been echoing in academic, government, business, civic and political circles and the media worldwide.

The common theme for such debate centres around finding answers to how to keep up with the rapidly evolving new media and its inevitable influence on human communication.

It is true that the new media enables commercial institutions to become efficient with little cost implications on marketing communication on one hand and on the other, social media serves as a vehicle for citizen journalism and public participation in South Africa. But the abuse of such applications at grassroots level has resulted in a new order of global societal and psychological abuse. This abuse is committed and exerted as jests, but with devastating social trauma.

SA was recently been hit by a huge wave of social media bullying, or cyberbullying: an act where a perpetrator uses digital media to harass, mock and victimise another person. Cyberbullying, similar to sexting, remains a global social issue with fatal implications on society, especially teenagers and youth.

This is the group academically referred to as millennials – those born during the internet era.

The perpetuated abuse of the autonomy of social media also gained the attention of the SA government through the department of state security, headed by David Mahlobo.

The state security department has been reportedly considering possible ways to regulate social media in South Africa, as it is believed to be spreading fake news and scams. Mahlobo’s assertion received great criticism and ridicule as another government step towards dictatorship and an attempt to censor freedom of speech.

The criticism might have been relevant in the proposed context, but with cyberbullying activities trending on most SA-linked social media platforms, the call for social media regulation seems to be a necessity. However, the anonymity feature of social media interface poses difficulties on the effective regulation and the criminalisation of cyberbullying.

This is a harsh reality of social media that the world has to face. Taking into account the permissibility of anonymity and no cap on the creation of multiple accounts makes the quenching of the spreading of cyberbullying impossible.

Some users might be tempted to clone another person’s account by using real person’s name and picture.

The recent #Sesuthu video which roared through most SA social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, demonstrated the pervasiveness of cyberbullying in SA. Although some participants might have ignorantly indulged in the exercise as a means of entertainment and the spreading of the social media grapevine, the impact on the victim may only be imagined as traumatic.

Similar to other crime and health awareness campaigns, South Africans need education intervention to understand the concept of cyberbullying and its influence on individual social and psychological well-being.


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