Bullying and trolling, online and offline, are back in the spotlight with the tragic suicide of Caroline Flack at the weekend. It’s an important issue that should never be out of it, to be honest

The popularity of social media and the fact that everyone has a voice these days has given rise to new kinds of bully: the keyboard warrior, the cyber bully and the troll.

They are at times completely anonymous, but always out for the blood of anyone with different beliefs, lifestyles or opinions to themselves. Or, who simply takes pleasure in hurting people and trying to bring them down, hiding behind a screen.

Is it any surprise that mental illness is on the rise? We’re constantly experiencing an onslaught of negativity on social media, perhaps not personally, but we bear witness to bullying and trolling more often than not, making the decision to swiftly scroll past and staying out of it for fear that we’ll be the next target if we don’t.

It’s difficult when you’re on the receiving end of it, and I have been a couple of times. I even received death threats once. It’s never a great feeling but experience has taught me that the opinions of the anonymous should not affect my self-esteem or the way I view myself. I fear that the same is not true for many others, especially those who are incessantly bullied. It’s even worse for the younger social media users who are often crippled by it.

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Social media a contributing factor in declining mental health

According to the *SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), suicide is the fastest-growing and second leading cause of death amongst the youth in our country, in the 15 to 24-year age group. It’s reported that suicide accounts for about 9% of all teen deaths. Although not all teen suicides are directly related to social media, we can’t ignore that it is a contributing factor in declining mental health. The world-wide *Vodafone survey in 2018 also cited that the cyberbullying rate in South Africa has increased by a staggering 24 points since 2011 and that 25% of parents surveyed said that their child has experienced cyber bullying.

The time has come to rethink our online behaviour and teach our children from a young age to be thoughtful and kind when interacting with people on social media or online

It’s all too easy to type a scathing reply to someone’s post online or on social media, it only takes a second and is forgotten by the sender just as quickly, yet the person receiving the reply might think of it for days, weeks or even months to come.

The time has come to rethink our online behaviour

The time has come that we rethink our online behaviour and teach our children from a young age to be thoughtful and kind when interacting with people on social media or online.

A little empathy goes a long way and seems to be a lost skill in the world we currently live in. When reading something with which you disagree, instead of becoming an accidental cyber bully and replying with negativity, take a breath and think twice. Think about the person on the receiving end because they’re not just an avatar on your screen, they’re a person who feels, who bleeds, who has insecurities; they’re someone’s child, sibling or partner. They’re just like you, a person with real emotions. Ask yourself how you would feel if someone said, whatever you were about to type, to you or your sibling or to your partner… would you still hit that send button?

In the case of Caroline Flack, the bullying and trolling was intensified by the vast number of people joining in as well as those intent on spreading unfounded rumours. It’s as if society thrives on pulling others down, especially toppling celebrities from the pedestals that we ourselves put them on. We’re all to blame and everyone should reconsider our online behaviour, what we read and how we interact with others online and more specifically on social media.

Don’t be a cyber bully or a troll, instead spread positivity and make someone’s day. Who knows, you might save someone’s life.

* Sources for SADAG and Vodafone survey stats

Article by: Anne Dolinschek

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While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.