Cyberbullying in South Africa: The Newest Plague
I spent the past month cleansing myself from the demons of social media, and took a week-long break from which I emerged refreshed and re-energised. On 09 August, Women’s Day in South Africa, which is a public holiday, I found myself in the midst of a cyberbullying tragedy – and that is really the only word I can use to describe the degradation that social media caused in my society a month ago; a tragedy of grave proportions. Note that South Africa has some of the highest rates of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in the world. It goes largely unnoticed in the Indian/Tamil society we live in because victims are fearful of being shamed, and being the minority population, there is hardly any news attention drawn.
My responsibility to my own social structure is to positively impact communities both in action, and through words. This responsibility translated into a message to my own network intended to draw awareness of the misuse of platforms by self-appointed influencers and asking them to make more conscious choices about whom they choose to follow. The consequence of having an open profile is that the awareness reached a wider audience than ever intended and this then stirred the wrath of a few narcissistic ‘influencers’ who needed to reprimand me by attempting to shame me, along with a few others, online.
Influencers barely have a strategy, and often have no accreditation as this space is largely self-appointed. A specific paid-for ‘campaign’ drove an agenda resulting in an influencer victim shaming someone who was abducted and raped, and this subsequently led to an onslaught of cyber aggression targeted against anyone who disagreed with the victim shaming narrative put out by a group of keyboard thugs – and gangsters is exactly what they are. They may as well be held accountable for the moral genocide of today’s youth. Excuses brought forth to justify actions were western artists provided as examples to glorify derogatory language mostly against the Shaktis of our society. Throughout my conversations about this topic I have been absolutely embarrassed at how some of these ‘influencers’ are connected to many people we know and respect in the general South African Indian population – and it makes me, and many others, wonder why their spouses, parents or friends are not guiding them towards better content creation.
I thought about writing about this fragile topic many times, intending to highlight the dangers of the cyber world and that of blindly liking, following and sharing online content. I also felt somewhat overwhelmed from being bullied myself or by trying to get the authorities to act and put this article off until something sparked my flame. I had just finished watching ‘The (Our) Social Dilemma’ on Netflix and it motivated me enough to finally pen this article.
· Some South African readers of TamilCulture follow and befriend cyberbullies; defending them without any moral conscience and doing so openly on multiple social platforms.
· South Africa’s Indian society is so fragmented on influencer credibility that it has resulted in real online wars. Team Ethics is currently in the lead having reported inappropriate content due to heightened awareness around moral judgement and a call to take a social stand, resulting in cyberbullies’ platforms suspended.
· South African Indian celebrities who are authors, activists, journalists, thought leaders and philanthropists are victims of cyberbullying to the extent that they are afraid for their own and their families’ safety and therefore have reluctance to take a public stand on the matter.
· Women, many of whom are wives and mothers, are blatant supporters of these cyberbullies. The question begs to be answered…’But why?’
· Open threats against personal safety are made and cyberbullies are largely ignorant of the consequences of their actions. It is beyond my understanding how anyone can support that and continue to endorse so-called influencers who make active threats
· South Africa is yet not ready to fully criminalise cyberbullying but the movement has begun and legislation will be forced by civil society to take this more seriously. For the interim there are protection orders and defamation judgements which can be sought. South Africa’s constitution is one of the more sophisticated in the world yet consequences for cybercrimes remains fairly low – this will change very soon as civil society mobilizes against the attacks using channels such as the Commission for Gender Equality and the SA Human Right’s Commission.
· Offenders use Tamil and other indigenous derogatory words to avoid being recognised by western social media platforms as offensive.
· Strangers with strong moral values can come together and fight for a common cause without making threats against another human being, nor breaking the law.
In the month since the first cyberbullying incident reared its monstrous head in my world, I have met and connected with amazing women of Indian origin in South Africa’s diaspora and I am deeply saddened to say that one of every two women is a survivor of GBV and/or rape. Most, if not all survivors, know their perpetrators as once being intimate partners, family members or family acquaintances.
Readers here must recognise that South Africa’s Indian society (largely Tamil but also including other ethnic groups) is facing a plague in our society. I urge readers to collectively mobilize against the unregulated use of social media platforms and challenge ourselves to make more informed decisions about the content received. I encourage readers to remove fear as a motivation to remain silent on damaging behaviours which have the potential to destroy and stain our near perfect contributions toward a democratic and better South African society.
If you are a victim of cyberbullying in South Africa please obtain a protection order immediately and consult an attorney:
Commission for Gender Equality: http://www.cge.org.za/
South African Human Right’s Commission: https://www.sahrc.org.za/
Attorney on Cyberbullying: https://rr-inc.co.za/
I am aware of how this is a global issue. Trolls and cyberbullies exist in all parts of the globe but we, as civil society, have a responsibility to ourselves and our communities to stop its momentum. Only we can halt it by making better choices and influencing our own network in ways that inspire positive action instead of supporting or merely observing cyberbully acts of abuse. Report all cyberbullying to the relevant platforms and force these platforms to recognise the seriousness of its impact on society.
Lastly, if you are a cyberbully and you seek change then reach out to people around who can help you with your addictions to social media.