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 takes place in the virtual realm, allowing perpetrators to target victims relentlessly across physical boundaries and time. The anonymity, permanence of content and viral nature of social media amplifies 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 harmful 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.
To combat cyberbullying and ensure online safety, collaboration between public and private organisations is crucial. Internet providers, regulators, and educational institutions play vital roles via policy formation, legislation, and ensuring strict mechanisms for accountability. Private entities also need to contribute through prevention initiatives, technology investment, and promoting digital literacy among users.
Some ICT sectors organisations in Pakistan such as Telenor have started actively addressing the grave issue of cyberbullying. Its flagship initiative, ‘SAFE Internet’ program has imparted meaningful trainings to nearly a million girls and boys across the country, while 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. In the next three years, it plans to train 750,000 children, caregivers, and educators through a hybrid training module. It also plans to engage with key stakeholders for creating 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 resulted in the production of 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 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 impacts. Victims often experience a decline in mental health, including increased anxiety, depression, and even 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, regulatory and public institutions must actively engage in discussions surrounding digital safety and responsible online behavior to ensure a safe digital space for every individual.
Tayyaba Shoaib (the author is an educationist and freelance writer)