Bullying has taken on a new dimension in the cyber world, and the UAE is not immune
DUBAI // Kehkashan Basu, 13, knows first-hand the traumas and fears cyberbullying brings.
The Dubai girl is a global coordinator for Children and Youth, a youth ambassador at both the World Future Council and World at School, global president of the children’s board at Plant for the Planet, and founding president of Green Hope UAE.
Kehkashan is also a victim of cyberbullying.
“Malicious mails are sent to organisations I work with to discredit me,” she said. “Anonymous posts are made on my YouTube videos with degrading comments.
“I try to ignore it but it does bother me. I’m scared it may escalate to something physical.”
Kehkashan is encouraging other children to speak out against the cowards hiding behind screens, expose them and show no fear.
“Bullies are basically cowards and the best way to beat them is to confront them,” she said. “Some people who don’t know me may believe the contents but, in the long run, my work speaks for itself and truth always prevails.”
School counsellors and children say cyberbullying has been a part of UAE online life since 2007, said British Abu Dhabi resident Barry Cummings.
He decided to do something about it, launching a local chapter of Beat the Cyberbully, an initiative already running in the UK, to increase awareness and education of the problem.
“The worrying trend at the moment is the release of apps for mobile devices for anonymous communication, making it easier to send abusive messages and the receiver not ever knowing who it came from,” said Mr Cummings, 35.
“In it’s simplest form it is targeting an individual, usually on a social media platform or an app, degrading them or taunting them, starting rumours about them, defaming and humiliating them.”
Examples of cyberbullying at school can be criticising someone’s profile or continual taunting on their Facebook page.
“Tragedy around the world is exactly why the Beat the Cyberbully campaign is so important right now,” said Mr Cummings.
“We want to try everything we can to prevent any child feeling the only way out of their current situation is to take their own life. For us, that is just unacceptable.”
Recently, a 14-year-old girl jumped from her family apartment near Turin, Italy. She was being targeted and mocked on a website.
Amanda Todd, from Canada, became one of the most high-profile international cases.
On September 7, 2012, she posted a video on YouTube detailing her struggles with being cyber-bullied, blackmailed and physically assaulted.
A month later Amanda was found hanged at her home.
The official definition of cyberbullying is the use of technology to single out, harm and harass other people in a deliberate, often repeated, hostile manner.
Former British soldier Stefan Wesley, 26, says adults can also fall victim to cyber-bullies, as he did in Dubai.
“It’s embarrassing to admit as a 26-year-old male,” Mr Wesley said. “But in my previous job I was working with a very large finance company and a few of the staff took an instant dislike to me because I was ex-forces.
“They created a Wikipedia page describing my life in detail, with the addition of some extremely embarrassing and untrue stories.”
Mr Wesley said many of the lies written are “unrepeatable and absolutely disgusting”, delving deep into his personal life, relationships, family, military service and future aspirations.
“It was constant abuse online for all to see,” he said. “Every time I removed it, it was reposted almost instantly.”
Eventually, Mr Wesley was forced to leave his position.
“The British Army meant I’ve had to deal with my fair share of stress and uncomfortable working environments but nothing could have prepared me for the treatment I had at that company through the use of social media.”
Updated: April 25, 2014 04:00 AM