Cyber bullying might be rampant, causing great psychological and physical harm, but you can disable its toxic intrusion effectively and lawfully. Yasmeen Maqbool is in virtual combat with the bullies online
Susan Adam*, now 14, was 12 when it all started. Cyber bullies on Facebook posting threats of death deemed her ugly. It took a big toll on her self-esteem and self-image. Of course self-loathing followed self-mutilation. That is when the alarm bells rang that cyber bullying is not just virtual, it is for real.
Former model Mona Zaid*, at 28, was working with a large finance company when she had to bear the brunt of envious colleagues who couldn’t accept that she was a former model. They created a Wikipedia page describing her life and some extremely embarrassing and untrue stories. Bullying worked, and she was forced to quit.
But some people have fought and changed the game. To combat hateful comments made towards women and their facial appearances, former model Em Ford decided to post makeup-free pictures on her Instagram account. She decided to fight what is called ‘makeup shaming’. As a response to the hateful comments, Ford created a video titled ‘You Look Disgusting’ where she exposes the truth behind having acne and wearing makeup. Em begins the video with photos of her face makeup-free, baring her natural look, acne and all.
As she shows her makeup-free face, flashes of negative Instagram comments appear on the screen, giving people a glimpse into the bullying that she endured when she posted her photos. As the video progresses, Em begins to apply makeup, showing all of the positive Instagram comments of her makeup-clad face. She ends the video stating, “You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Not even yourself.” With over six million views, the video has impacted young girls and hopefully changed their lives.
Internet trolls can instantly become cyber-mobs. They can multiply in force to take you down emotionally and financially with just a few vicious and malicious comments about you or your business, and soon you can be facing personal and professional devastation. “Cyber-bullying can push victims to reactions from embarrassment to absolute hopelessness,” says Dr. Iram Ahmedi, Psychological Counselor and Clinical Hypnotherapist. “The experience of being bullied is intensified as the perpetrator can hide behind a screen and can continue to act without fear and immediate repercussions,” she says. “Even hours after the event, victims feel violated, sad, upset, helpless and powerless. And the perpetrator is at liberty to freely write and post things about the victims. Suggesting that the victim avoid cyber messages is not the solution since we live in a connected world. At times, girls who have experienced online harassment feel helpless and use the same mechanism to retaliate as a coping mechanism.”
The youth is not educated about the repercussion of their online actions. Many don’t understand that what they say and share online with each other could be unsafe and, in many cases, since they hide behind online personas they believe they are untraceable. “They feel invincible and believe there are no consequences. This is the main message we are trying to convey, that there are very real consequences in the offline world for your online actions,” says Barry Lee Cummings, Chief Awareness Officer, Beat the Cyber Bully. He adds, “The fight against cyber-bullying has a long road ahead. With that in mind, we need to start increasing our awareness and education levels around cyber-safety, cyber-bullying and online reputation. Bullying doesn’t really take gender into consideration. Both, men and women, boys and girls are being bullied. Having said that, a research from dosomething.org showed that girls are almost twice as likely as boys to be both victims and perpetrators of cyber-bullying. This is in part because boys tend to steer towards more physical bullying. Girls go towards more of the emotional attacks which lend themselves to the cyberspace, as they can hide behind the screen as well.”
Understanding the importance of the situation, two Emirati girls, Laila Al Barkat*, 22 and Nada Ibrahim Ali Ahmed Hassan, 24, have taken up the Herculean task by initiating a project to create awareness about cyberbullying against women in the UAE. Joining hands with them are their friends: Maryam Al Maazi, Jawaher Ibrahim Ali Ahmed Hassan and Yasmeen AlBaloushi. Along with them is Seda Mansour, who runs an education advisory firm in Ras Al Khaimah, and is assisting the girls with her insight, advice and by being their soundboard.
Seda says, “The project is a response to the need of the hour, and one that the girls realized wasn’t being addressed. It is a community problem-solving project using contextualized interventions (creating activities that are relevant to their audiences) that helps with increasing awareness.”
The girls defend their case noting that boys take to cyber-bullying in order to establish an online representation to maximize lifestyle and employability via the web. “Some people mock girls by wearing make up, ironing their hair and wearing carpets, curtains and mattress covers to portray abayas. Not to mention the disrespectful captions that accompany them,” says Nada. “The more shameful, the more clicks; and the more clicks, the more advertising revenue. There have been instances where companies have even created brand ambassadors out of these very people,” she exclaims.
The girls have seen the effects of this behaviour and want to put a stop to it, but wish to do so in a way that creates ownership so that the community sees the need to participate in it. “This is the way the initiative will have permanence; when everyone in the community feels responsible and becomes a part,” asserts Seda, their mentor.
The project comprises of:
• Designing a campaign on Instagram to stop bullying against Emirati women
• Creating characters in a storybook with assistance from Emirati author, Maitha Al Khayat, who is supporting the project by editing the scenario of the educational story and publicising it on Instagram as well as other social media.
• Holding competitions for children after reading out the story to them to ensure that they have understood the message.
However, the UAE government has rolled out an intensive campaign to apprehend those violating the country’s common decency laws via the cyberspace last year. In the UAE, blackmailing, threatening or bullying to dishonor or shame a victim using the social media or internet could face up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine ranging between AED 250,000 and AED 500,000. If convicted, a cyber bully could also be deported. Noha Ginema, Legal Administration Coordinator at Motei & Associates Attorneys at Law, pointed out that cyber-bullying is punishable according to Federal Decree-Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes.
The UAE Police has also set up phone lines to report cyber-bullying: In Abu Dhabi, residents can phone 02 512 7777; in Dubai, the number is 04 609 6944; and in Sharjah, 06 800 151.
STATISTICS ABOUT CYBER BULLYING IN THE UAE:
• The UAE is the second most attacked country online in the Middle East, and the 15th most attacked country worldwide
according to a study by Kaspersky Lab in 2015.
• ICDL Arabia (International Computer Driving Licence) released its Cyber Safety Report 2015, first-of-its-kind, providing extensive research on online threats faced by Emirati school children. The study brought to light that cyber bullying was one of the most common forms of cyber threats facing children, most of them were unaware about the laws against it.
• Nearly 60 per cent of surveyed youths admitted to the presence of cyber-bullying among their peers.
• Over 54 per cent were not aware that cyber bullying is a crime punishable by law.
• 26 per cent felt that parents and teachers could not assist them when faced with such a problem.