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Bullying: from schoolyard to smartphone

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The phenomenon of bullying is nothing new – many adults can recall being bullied in their childhood. While “traditional” bullying can involve physical and verbal abuse in the playground, our growing reliance on the Internet and connected devices means bullying no longer stops when a child leaves school. Instead, it goes online in the form of cyberbullying.

While in South Africa, Children’s Day is recognised on the first Saturday of November, in many other countries, International Children’s Day is celebrated today, 01st June 2015, and with that, Kaspersky Lab wants to raise awareness around cyberbullying.

A global survey conducted by Kaspersky Lab and B2B International reveals that nearly a quarter (22%) of parents feel they cannot control what their child sees or does online, although nearly half (48%) worry that they may face cyberbullying.

With the rise in popularity of social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, life offline is becoming more interwoven with life online. Consequently, bullying becomes harder to leave behind when a child physically leaves the playground. The bullying can start offline, at school, and continue online via social media.

As well as teaching children security techniques, it’s no less important to teach them about the responsible use of technology. David Emm, Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab explains: “Children need to develop a sense of morality when they are interacting with other people online, just as much as they do when they are communicating offline. This will give them more empathy and reduce the likelihood of them opting to engage in cybercrime or cyberbullying. It’s also important so that they understand, from an early age, the potential dangers associated with some online activities.”

Although cyberbullying does not involve physical violence, there is evidence suggesting that online bullying is even more intense than traditional bullying for the following reasons:
* It is anonymous. As cyberbullying can remain faceless in an anonymous online setting it is harder to establish the bullies’ identities and to prove who is ultimately responsible. This also means that the bullies are less connected to the damage they cause and can take things further as a result.
* It is hard to escape. Most people today have access to the Internet and all humiliating information that is stored online can theoretically be accessible forever, by everyone.
* Online all of the time. It is more difficult to escape from cyberbullying because victims are contactable via computers or smartphones, anytime and anywhere.
* It is more invasive than face-to-face interaction. The bullies and the victims cannot see each other. Consequently, they are unable to see their counterparts’ facial expressions, gestures or spatial behaviour. Bullies become even more detached from the damage they are causing and as a consequence they become less concerned about the feelings and opinions of others.

A big part of the problem today is that parents are rarely aware of cyberbullying that may be happening to their kids – as often kids don’t speak up about it. The more that we learn about bullying, its causes and tactics in today’s society, the more we will be able to prevent bullies.