Is the Internet – a place for meanies and bullies?
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‘Cyberbullying’ has been a buzz word in conversations about Internet safety in recent years, with much concern for the wellbeing of young users – children and adolescents.
If the results of studies conducted by UNICEF and other institutions are anything to go by, a lot of younger users of the Internet have experienced some form of insults/ harassment/ embarrassment while online:
• According to the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention study on cyber bullying in South Africa 37 per cent of children reported some form of cyber abuse. • In a UNICEF study into social networking site Mxit, also in South Africa, 26 per cent of respondents reported having been insulted while using the platform. A figure of 26 per cent was also reported in a UNICEF study on school violence in Serbia among older school pupils. • A study on bad online experiences with Facebook users showed that 26.7 per cent reported having a bad experience on Facebook . • Studies conducted by UNICEF in Vietnam revealed that 14 per cent of respondents in the urban study, and 20 per cent of respondents in the rural study indicated that they had experienced incidents where someone had ever used the Internet or phone to “bully, threaten or embarrass” them.
It is important to point out that there are a number of ways in which the term ‘cyberbullying’ is interpreted and most researchers do not use the term directly when they ask children about their online experiences. However, even though all these studies asked the question differently and looked across different social networking platforms, the Internet seems like it can be a pretty mean place for a lot of users.
Research into the reasons behind this is not as abundant as research on how many people it has happened to, but in some of the studies that have looked at this phenomenon the answers range from the anonymity offered by the Internet; the fact that an online bully doesn’t see the immediate reaction of the victim (making it harder to connect emotionally); and that in some cases those doing the bullying think that it is just in the name of fun, a joke.
I had an experience a few months ago when an innocent tweet of mine about preferring one city over another in my country left me with three messages from complete strangers calling me an 'uninformed' and 'deluded' 'little girl'. This was not a serious incident but I was shocked that people who did not even know me would even say such things. It got me thinking – are people generally meaner and nastier on the Internet than they would ever be face-to-face?
Tell me what you think.