Time to reflect: Are you a cyberbully?
As a little girl, I remember my mother would ask us to look at our own hands the first thing in the morning and thank God for another day of our life. Not sure how many of you relate to this now, as most people when they wake up now look at their phones – to first check what time it is, then to either look at any messages on social media or emails, sometimes also to get an update on the day’s news.
Early morning waking up time used to be a moment of quiet reflection, that kept one fresh, energetic and positive through the day. But these days we wake up to the noise of multiple messages from work, friends or even strangers and, of course, photographic memories via social media content; this last one I have cherished in the last few years.
Slander and abuse
Imagine waking up to unpleasant messages, slander and abuse on your social media and personal messaging with screenshots of harassing content, character assassination by people who you’ve known well or, worse still, people who you don’t even know existed! Sounds like what you’d relate with a celebrity’s life?
An ugly argument or disagreement turns into a spectacle for the social media community. Screen shots of ‘he says, she says’ are plastered all over online groups and the same content is forwarded in private messages. With often no pretext or context to the disagreement, many others join in adding to the already heated sentiment. Phone calls are made to rally support and very soon it’s a street fight gone wrong. If you are in the middle of something like this, I want to say: STOP!
Social media abuse and cyber bullying is becoming increasingly common and often the abused and the abuser don’t realise they are both party to this crime. According to the National Bullying Helpline, “Cyberbullying is bullying or harassment using technology”.
A few examples as quoted from their website of what forms cyberbullying:
* Spreading malicious and abusive rumours and gossiping
* Emailing or texting you with threatening or intimidating remarks
* Mobbing (a group or gang that target you)
* Harassing you repeatedly
* Intimidation and blackmail
* Stalking you on-line and continually harassing you
* Posting embarrassing or humiliating images or video’s without your consent.
* Posting your private details on-line without consent
* General Bullying or Stalking
* Grooming (enticing or goading you on-line to self-harm or commit a crime)
* Setting up a false profile, Identity fraud or identity theft
* Using gaming sites to attack or bully you
* Theft, Fraud or deception over the internet
Cyberbullying can be reported to the social media platforms and to the police; though in absence of a stronger piece of legislation, e-crime punishment is still reliant on the discretion of the authorities.
Organisations and pressure groups are urging the government to enforce a stronger law on e-crime and Cyberbullying.
It may be useful to know the current set of legislation that govern such crime:
* The Protection from Harassment Act
* The Malicious Communications Act 1988
* The Communications Act 2003
* Obscene Publications Act 1959
* Computer Misuse Act 1990
* Cyberbullying in the Workplace.
* Health and Safety and Duty of Care laws
In the past few months, there has been a focus on mental health, well-being and mindfulness. While we witness such online abuse being inflicted on another person, what is our locus standi? Ask yourself at least once, are you a participant to this increasing ugliness? Did you add to it by sharing these screenshots with your friends, even if discreetly? If you are an administrator of a group, did you encourage or discourage bullying? Did you report it? Did you in the name of sympathy and standing up, actually make things worse and take the law in your hands?
The internet boom and social media explosion has given us a Freedom of Expression. We often forget that responsibility precedes freedom, always. No matter what content you wish to share online, one ought to be careful as the moment you share anything or comment on anything, you take personal responsibility of that content and are a party to it.
Remember, anything you send to anyone is not private anymore; so make sure whatever messages, emails, pictures and comments you share or write are done with utmost caution and a sense of responsibility. Don’t do anything that might later be embarrassing or compromising for the safety and well-being of your loved ones.
Social media is a great platform to create and share content. It’s a great tool to deal with loneliness and build a community. Lets keep it that way, shall we?
Lakshmi Kaul is the London-based UK Head & Representative at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and an active Indian diaspora campaigner. In this regular Talking Point column for ‘iGlobal’, she will focus on issues that deserve spotlighting within the Global Indian community, referencing her personal experiences.