By William Alexander and John Harvey
CYBER bullying is rampant at Eastern Cape schools with pupils abusing cellphones and social media to torment their peers – some of whom are being treated for depression as a result.
Pupils spoken to this week said cyber bullying had become so ruthless that the faceless bullies are even drawing “inspiration” from violent social media videos like the notorious viral video of a mentally-ill girl being gang-raped in Johannesburg.
Psychologists say the level of cyber bullying at schools is now critical, mainly because there is little defence against it.
The rising concern about escalating abuse of cellphones and social media to terrorise and ridicule other children comes in the wake of a call by the National Association of School Governing Bodies earlier this month to place a blanket ban on cellphones at schools.
While pupils interviewed said such a ban would not be practical as cellphones were now an integral part of everyday life, all believed it was important that education authorities – and parents – were made aware of just how serious cellphone bullying had become.
“Parents don’t have a clue how bad this situation is, because the person being bullied is only known to those invited to a specific Facebook or BBM [BlackBerry Messenger] group” said one 16-year-old girl who attends a top school in Port Elizabeth.
The bullying tactics employed by users of BlackBerry – the most popular smartphone from Grade 6 to matric, pupils said – and Facebook at Eastern Cape schools include:
Posting a picture of someone deemed “ugly” on a profile and opening him or her up to ridicule by way of group comment;
Vilifying a girl who may have wronged another girl or boy by posting their picture and identifying them as a “slut” or “slag”;
Hacking into a peer’s Facebook account and making use of that person’s profile to make disparaging remarks about others, thereby making the victim unpopular;
Boys stalking girls who have refused their advances. They then bully them out of spite by posting derogatory remarks about the girls.
Another 16-year-old said the proliferation of cellphones among schoolchildren had sparked a ruthless “culture of ridicule”.
“Parents don’t know about these things because their kids never tell them about it. That comes from peer pressure” she said.
“I know of guys who read the news on websites and what to most people is a horrific story they see as funny. It’s like they draw inspiration from it and think about how they could do the same to hurt someone.”
While Eastern Cape principals’ reaction to the National Association of School Governing Bodies call has been mixed, most agree cyber bullying is extremely difficult to police.
“I don’t think banning them is an option but they definitely need to be controlled and age-related rules need to apply,” said Woodridge College principal Craig Neave.
“When cells first came out most schools banned them. Now they’ve become part of a person’s identity and a lot of parents rely on cellphones for security for their children.”
Neave said verbal bullying has always been difficult to curtail and “cellphones are just another medium” to do it. “But we need to be educating children on cellphone etiquette. We’ve got to learn to deal with this.”
Although bullying did occur at Walmer High School, policing the theft of cellphones was proving most problematic.
“The pupils fight when their phones are stolen,” said principal Lunga Dyani. “I had to go out and mediate because a young boy had his phone taken at knife-point. There’s even been a case where a boy in Walmer was stabbed to death over a cellphone.”
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday May 12, 2012.
Article source: http://theweekendpost.com/2012/05/14/cyber-bullying-scourge/