Cyber bullying is real, and it could happen to you. The probability that one is more likely to be cyber bullied than hit by a car is high. But what exactly is cyber bullying, and is it a case that we as Zimbabweans should be concerned about? Matter of fact it is your concern. As long as you belong to the +48% of the Zimbabwean population online and are connected to social media platforms, e.g Facebook and Twitter and online media communication tools such as WhatsApp, you are directly vulnerable to cyber bullying.
Cyber bullying is defined as the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature. Simply put, cyber bullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumours sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles. Therefore, as long as you have an online presence, it is, therefore in your best interest to read on.
The case of Tafadzwa Mushunje (model)
In February this year, there was a lot of media attention on the model named, Tafadzwa. In the story that went viral, Tafadzwa was accused of infecting her boyfriend’s son with HIV. She spent two nights in the cells, was assaulted by her lover’s ex wife and harassed online by the media and the public. All for a crime that in the end she had not committed. But obviously the unverified story was already trending by the time she could clear her name.
I admittedly, shared this story too without verifying it; thus indirectly feeding into damaging this model’s image. Tafadzwa was a victim of cyber bullying. Even though she was later proved innocent and her lover’s ex-wife charged with defamation of character, the damage to her reputation had already been done. In a video, a traumatised Tafadzwa shares on how this online bullying incident damaged her emotionally, psychologically and physically, and how this might take a very long time for her to recover from. However, she is taking her power back through activism against cyber bullying.
The case of Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave (musician)
Fungisai is also a victim of cyber bullying. When Fungisai shifted from singing gospel music to singing dancehall, brutal name calling followed, as some fans did not receive the news well. Memes making fun of her were circulated on social media platforms, which almost pushed her to the decision of quitting music. Again many of us contributed in damaging Fungisai’s image through posting and sharing these posts on social media.
By being part and parcel of the social sharing of these memes and jokes, what are we condoning really? In most cases we not aware that we have become parts and particles of the cyber bullying discourse, thus have become perpetrators too. We are oblivious to the damage we cause to an individual images under the name of innocent online entertainment. It is time we stopped laughing and had genuine introspection on cyber bullying, and how to stop it.
Cyber bullying on WhatsApp
The WhatsApp platform has become a basic app for most Zimbabweans who use smart phones. The app, through direct messaging between individuals and groups, allows for relatively affordable communication between individuals across the globe. One way or another, most of us have experienced a form of cyber bullying even on personal platforms such as these! I know I have. I have become a silent participant on certain groups, due to the fact that my opinions are either out rightly thrown out the window or I become a victim of name calling. Emoticons and text messaging abbreviations (eg kkkkkkk that represents laughter) are often used as tools to diminish someone’s opinion on this platform. The result for the victim is a lack of confidence, anxiety and feeling left out. One then tends to isolate themselves from any discussion. It took me a while to realise that this was cyber bullying, a problem that in fact was common yet ignored.
Fighting against cyber bullying
Cyber bullying therefore is and should be a reality to everyone, and everyone should play a part in addressing it. I recently listened to Dj Munya and Danny that Guy (ZiFM radio personalities) discussing cyber bullying. The Social Media Anxiety Disorder (SMAD) was given interesting mention in this discussion, and it was highlighted that stats show that some people even resort to suicide or withdraw from society, due to the information they read about themselves online. BBC News reports that women and teenage girls are more likely to suffer from these anxiety disorders. Low self-esteem, withdrawal from family, spending a lot of time alone, reluctance to let parents or other family members anywhere near their mobiles, laptops etc , losing weight or changing appearance to try and fit in , change in personality i.e. ,anger, depression, crying, and withdrawing from social events are also other effects of cyber bullying. Fungisai and Tafadzwa’s story prove all these realities.
There is hope for change,however. Initiatives such as African Internet Rights, parliament lobbying for cyber laws, media agenda setting around the use and abuse of social media , social awareness programs and alerts concerning cyber bullying are all ways on which various organisations are tackling cyberbullying.
In an era where our online and offline lives are slowly but surely morphing into one hyper reality, it is important to understand how to protect yourself from cyber bullying. First step is standing against it by refusing to be part of it. Don’t like, share or repost any online material that defames someone’s character, no matter how funny it is. Secondly, don’t repost or share any material whose author has not been signed. These may be small resolutions, but at least they are an effort to minimising online character damages. It is time both you and I took a stand against cyber bullying. What will you do differently, in an effort to stop cyber bullying?
Written by Samantha Tatenda Majoni, a media and communication professional who enjoys analysing society through the mediated lens
Main Image: Tafadzwa Mushunje and Boyfriend. Image taken from www.youtube.com