The advent of technology and the internet has undoubtedly brought us closer together, revolutionising our lives and connecting us in ways previously unimaginable. Yet, with progress comes a dark side. Cyberbullying and online abuse are regrettable consequences of this interconnectedness, impacting individuals, particularly vulnerable groups like women and children. On this significant occasion of Stop Cyberbullying Day, it is imperative to raise awareness about the prevalence of cyberbullying, its consequences, and the urgent need for collective action.
Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying occurs virtually, allowing perpetrators to target victims relentlessly across physical boundaries and time. The anonymity, permanence of content and viral nature of social media amplifies the frequency of attacks and the humiliation and trauma experienced by victims. Understanding the unique nature of cyberbullying is crucial in developing effective strategies to combat and prevent this increasingly deadly form of harassment.
Cyberbullying is a growing concern in Pakistan due to the rapid expansion of internet access and social media platforms. In 2019, Digital Rights Foundation’s cyber harassment helpline received 2,023 monthly cases, accounting for 45% of complaints in the past three years, indicating a significant rise in cybercrime. The report highlights that 57% of complaints were from women, while 30% were from men. Additionally, 70% of respondents expressed fear of misuse of pictures, and 40% reported stalking and harassment on messaging apps. These statistics emphasise the need for urgent action and a safer digital environment for all.
Collaboration between public and private organisations is crucial to combat cyberbullying and ensure online safety. Internet providers, regulators, and educational institutions play vital roles via policy formation, legislation, and providing strict mechanisms for accountability. Private entities must also contribute through prevention initiatives, technology investment, and promoting digital literacy among users.
Some ICT sector organisations in Pakistan, such as Telenor, have started actively addressing the grave issue of cyberbullying. Its flagship initiative, the ‘SAFE Internet’ program, has imparted meaningful training to nearly a million girls and boys nationwide. At the same time,e its digital skills partnerships have reached over a million learners and teachers nationwide.
Additionally, its partnership with UNICEF aims to support the government by developing localised policies and regulatory frameworks on child safety online. It plans to train 750,000 children, caregivers, and educators in the next three years through a hybrid training module. It also intends to engage with key stakeholders to create a suitable legal and policy environment with an evidence-based, consultative, and coordinated approach towards children and young people’s protection in the digital world. Moreover, its partnership with Unicorn Black produced a special Burka Avenger episode on cyberbullying, highlighting dangers for unsupervised internet users.
In recent years, there has been a surge in the formation of helplines and platforms like the FIA cybercrime wing, DRF, and CPLC to enable reporting of harassment, cyberbullying, and abuse. While progress is evident, more action is needed to combat cyberbullying and its grave consequences for individuals and societies.
The impact of cyberbullying extends beyond the virtual realm, with far-reaching societal, social, and psychological effects. Victims often experience declining mental health, including increased anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Moreover, cyberbullying adversely affects academic and professional performance, as victims may find it challenging to concentrate and excel in their studies and careers.
Stop Cyberbullying Day serves as a reminder that the fight against cyberbullying requires the collective efforts of multiple entities and stakeholders. Parents, educators, and regulatory and public institutions must actively engage in discussions surrounding digital safety and responsible online behaviour to ensure a safe digital space for every individual. (by Tayyaba Shoaib (the author is an educationist and freelance writer).