In the booming era of the digital world, cyberbullying emerges as the dark side of our interconnected world. Simply put, it’s the art of using electronic channels to intimidate or threaten individuals. From hurtful messages to sharing embarrassing secrets, cyberbullying takes many forms, creating a virtual battleground where negativity thrives.
The easiest targets of these bullies are women and children. The increased prominence of cyberbullying, particularly in Pakistan, can be attributed to various factors associated with the widespread adoption of digital technologies and the internet. The internet has become an incredibly important part of our lives, from toddlers to teenagers to adults; it has been incorporated in every aspect of our lifestyle. Technology, specifically the internet, has been integrated in our education system, our entertainment and has even become a source of income for many.
In today’s era, everyone has a cell phone and a social media account from an early age. Although there are positive uses of the internet like communication, connectivity, education, awareness and entertainment, there is a dark side as well. Adolescents and adults are equally vulnerable when they don’t know how to navigate through a vast space where everything is present at the touch of their fingertips. One such disadvantage is bullying on the internet; as children especially are in pursuit of exploration from identity and self to finding their place in the world. This can cause them to overlook the negative side. They get involved in these gadgets and in this exploration, they access these devices and chances are they get in touch with people who can easily take advantage of them.
The anonymity offered by online platforms and social media platforms has empowered individuals to engage in cyberbullying without immediate accountability for their actions. Other than that, the evolution of technology has introduced sophisticated methods of harassment through fake accounts, trolling, memes and hate groups. Additionally, there may be a lack of awareness about the consequences of negative online actions and what constitutes as cyberbullying.
It has been observed that bullying someone for fun, their own satisfaction has become quite a norm. The youth tend to enjoy these activities for a number of reasons, one of which may be to look better in front of their peers but they can’t foresee the consequences, this is where lack of empathy is shown.
In the case of children, the first thing that a child feels when they are being bullied is feeling threatened. They feel insecure and as if they are being watched all the time. This causes them to feel helpless and that they do not have a support system that they feel comfortable in. The worst part is that the victim is unable to talk about it with anyone. When a child or person feels like they cannot talk about this with anyone, especially their parents or siblings, matters only worsen. They ignore the problem, which causes the bully to have more power over them, in return the problem only augments. The lack of social support causes the person being bullied to feel frustrated, angry and helpless. “99 per cent of the time, parents are not aware that their children are being bullied, whether it is physically or on the internet,” informs Sidra Shoaib, a psychologist, MPhil and PhD scholar and Senior Lecturer at Bahria University.
“If they aren’t conscious of physical bullying, cyberbullying is a farfetched thought. Once they are informed of it, rather than having their children trust them, or allowing their children to feel safe with them and making them realise that everything could and can be dealt with, parents react in a manner that is extreme, taking their devices away, not allowing them to use the internet anymore or punishing them by taking away certain privileges. These practices only break and shake the trust between the child and the parent, and cause the child to hide and conceal whatever is happening with them from the parent,” she adds.
But cyberbullying doesn’t just limit to children, it exists, and visibly so, among adults as well. In the rising digital space, the creators on these platforms face it first-hand. “I feel like in today’s age, everyone has been cyberbullied in one way or the other. If you have a public profile, the chances are you’ve gone through it more than others. When you choose to make your profile public, some people feel there’s a certain duty upon them to comment whatever they feel like and spew hatred all over,” reveals Laraeb Zulfiqar, or more popularly known as ‘TheConfusedHedonist’ on Instagram, who shares her struggles and coping mechanisms against cyberbullying.
Laraeb shares a large chunk of her life on the internet, her passions, likes and dislikes. A person cannot share their life on the internet without being at least a little vulnerable; the ups and the downs of their life. Although this is a part of her life that she has chosen to acclaim this lifestyle, it does not imply that anything can be said to her or anyone on the internet who chooses to share their life or themselves. “Naturally, I also receive rude messages and belittling comments about my personality and appearance. Comments like “why is she pretending to be so fun?” or “why is she so ‘shokhi’?” “why can’t she talk normally?” and many more. What people don’t understand is that there is a whole human being on the other side of the screen. A person who has real feelings. When they comment or message, what they don’t realise is that I am reading those and it is affecting me mentally,” she expresses.
Educating and creating awareness are crucial in addressing this prominent issue. In Pakistan, there are limited regulatory frameworks and enforcement mechanisms and addressing cyberbullying may be particularly challenging. A comprehensive approach is necessary to tackle cyberbullying, involving elements such as education, legislation, and the active participation of individuals, communities, and authorities. Promoting digital literacy, responsible online behaviour, and cultivating a culture of respect and empathy are essential steps in mitigating the impact of cyberbullying. “Every time you want to comment something negative or message someone an unsolicited opinion, just imagine for a second that you have to do it face to face; that I am or anyone for that matter is standing in front of you. Would you still be able to say it? Would you still be able to comment the same way? If the answer is no, then it should not be sent as a virtual message either,” points out Laraeb.
To control the situation from the beginning, it is important to put an end to the communication, blocking the other party is where it stops it from even beginning. “If someone has tried to leave an aggressive comment on my appearance or personality, I have always made it a point to respond kindly, with whatever I feel is correct, and to my surprise they have then responded with an agreeing tone (less aggression as compared to the initial comment). I do feel it can be a two-way street sometimes. Nevertheless, there are people who just spew hate around social media for no apparent reason; it might be their own unhappiness and emptiness. I simply block such accounts instantly, without even engaging in something that is not worth my time and energy. I also feel it’s important to know how to react to these comments and how to process your own emotions,” imparts Laraeb.
There has been some sort of awareness in schools, colleges and universities now; they provide a safe space and have counsellors to deal with bullying of all kinds. “We have to create a secure environment, where bullies are not only identified but are also punished, however, it is imperative to note that certain kinds of unresolved issues can and do come up in the future of the person, resulting in hurting themselves and the people around them,” elucidates Sidra.
People should have the acceptability that they need help in regard of empathy, compassion and sensitivity; these aspects should be developed from an early age if we want to stop oppression of one another. “First and foremost, there should be identification of what is bullying in this day and age. Many times people are not even aware that what they’re going through is considered bullying. They see these actions and words, and assume that it happens to everyone. There is a clear identification of when a person is being bullied and how they are being damaged at an emotional and cognitive level and at some point, their functioning will also be affected.
The next step is reporting and complaining about the bullying issue and on the grass root level how we can stop bullying. Always find someone; a close friend, a family member, a teacher who you can talk to comfortably and can share your trauma with.
Lastly, and also a crucial step that most individuals miss out on is: therapy. It is vital to talk to a mental health professional and for them to figure and devise a plan of action and recovery,” advices the scholar.
FIA has provided a helpline where you can report any harassment, bullying or crime. If one chooses not to go through FIA, then there are helplines available on social media where you can report them or the option of blocking the person directly to control the communication between the victim and the harasser.
It is time that we learn to set boundaries. People tend to tease, joke or make fun just for the sake of their own gratification. But there should be a distinct limit that should be drawn between playful, funny and harmful, negative energy. In this digital era, countless resources are available which demonstrate how bullying in all its forms can be controlled or dealt with, individuals who are going through this can utilise these sources and get help.