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Earlier this year, a 13-year-old girl from Pretoria North took her own life after being bullied on WhatsApp for over a week. And this tragedy is not an isolated incident. 

According to a 2015 Vodafone global survey, one in five teens has experienced cyberbullying and 43% believe cyberbullying is a bigger problem than drug abuse.

But there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

How to avoid being bullied in cyberspace

  • Keep inappropriate or embarrassing messages, photos, text and videos to yourself. As soon as you post something online, it’s not private. So if you wouldn’t show it to your parents or teachers, don’t share it with the digital world.  
  • Use privacy settings on all your social media accounts. Remember that restricting who can see your posts is still not 100% secure.
  • Be discerning about who you choose as an online friend. You don’t have to accept every invitation.
  • If an online friend makes you feel uncomfortable, judged or attacked, block or defriend them immediately.

How to cope with cyberbullying

If you become a victim of cyberbullying, there are steps you can take to empower and protect yourself. Remember that it is normal to feel anxious and isolated. The situation is not your fault and this hurtful behaviour has more to do with the bully’s sense of insecurity and his or her need to feel accepted.

  • No matter how difficult it might seem, tell someone you trust about what is going on.
  • Take screenshots of any offensive messages. Don’t keep the nasty emails or texts where you can see them all the time. Rather ask your parent, teacher or school counsellor to store them on their computer. If you or your parents decide to take the matter further, all evidence will help.
  • Don’t retaliate. Getting into a virtual argument will only escalate an already sensitive situation.
  • Switch off for a bit. Spend time doing things you enjoy that don’t involve technology. The more time you spend on hobbies, sports or hanging out with real-life friends, the less impact cyberbullying will have on your life.

Need someone to talk to? If you believe you are being bullied, contact Childline South Africa on 0800 55 555. The most important step you can take is to tell someone.

Header photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

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