Cyber Bullying, Stalking & Harassment in Nigeria —By Ubongabasi Asukwo Akpan

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Ubongabasi Asukwo Akpan|25 January 2017 The internet has made the world a global village. It has also opened up the world to its users. This assertion is based on the fact that people learn, research, explore, and discover almost anything they desire form the internet. Cyber space has also afforded individuals, most especially youths who understand how to use it to contact and interact with people of different race, religion, age, and sex, from all works of llife through social media platforms. Although diverse social network exists, popular ones include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp. On these platforms, people send messages, make video and audio calls, chat and interact.
Seemingly, in the course of this interaction and social networking, it has been observed that individuals are bullied, stalked and harassed. Cyber bullying/harassment unlike the physical forms of bully and harassment occurs in a virtual world where it is extremely hard to detect as only individuals who are familiar with this level of technology can prove it has occurred. A true definition of cyber bully and harassment does not exist due to the many form it evolves and take place. However, it would be said to be the use of the internet to make unsolicited advances, communications or interactions with another entity or person. Although cyber bullying, stalking and harassment is often associated with the perpetrators age, as in most cases it involves minors and adults, it has come to be quite associated with religion, race, age and ideology. Cyber stalking and  harassment to a great extent has to do with individuals who watch, follow, and observe another's online activities. Stalkers are often quiet and don't broadcasts their intentions, but they are actively watching someone. Cyber bullying, harassment and stalking takes many forms ranging from hate speeches targeted towards a certain race, sex, religion, or political ideology. ICT expert's have noted that 'a thin line exist between expressing how you feel or think about an idea or phenomena, and promoting hate speech towards a certain group of people'. Nigerian social network users seemingly bully another with their religion. Muslims and Christians are found to be at logger heads, not in debate, but in hate speeches. Feminist are moreso  harassed and bullied because they air out their views on the plight of the female gender. In Nigeria, the most frightful form of cyber bully/harassment is orchestrated by religion. Facebook is being flooded with messages coercing people to share, warned not to ignore, forced to like and to also type AMEN or face years of bad luck. These messages come with images of "Christ" bleeding in the cross, malnourished kids, amputated limbs, accident scenes and the rest. The same is applicable to WhatsApp where broadcast messages, videos and audios are randomly posted in groups and sent to individuals by friends. Most of the messages read thus: "let me see if you are ashamed of Jesus, send this to five people telling them I love Jesus". This sort of message randomly spread like wild fire and atimes, one end up receiving the same message from 6 to 10 friends in a day. It is sad that people who are 'feeble' minded fall prey to these bully messages. It must be established that they don't like, type Amen, share rebroadcast these messages because they wish to, they seemingly are coerced to do so. It is  bully in disguise. Further, there is another trend where blogs monitor individuals social network accounts to pick out their flaws and broadcast it to their teeming followers. Notable of the said blogs include lindaikeji blog who specialises in picking out celebrities flaws on social media, others include instablognaija, kraksTV, Gossipmill, and yabaleftonline. It is worrisome that people who innocently post updates and pictures on their timelines are being exposed by these blogs. Recently, a young lady who openly professed her love and allegiance to her man was exposed across these blogs causing their fans to visit the girls Facebook account to mock her and rain curses on her. This is virtual bullying/harassment, and it must be addressed now or never. It has also been observed that people nowadays screen grab private chats, typographical errors of their friends and share it on their timeline. People also mention their friends on the comment section of another individual post, just to laugh and make mockery of another. They in turn gang up on the victim, and persistently harrass/bully him or her till the individual is forced to delete the post. This is cyber bully, stalking and harassment. Another peculiar form of cyber bullying and harassment noticed is the act of tagging people incessantly to updates that has nothing to do with them. Most of these tags are annoying and offensive as the notifications keep beeping. It is bully  and harassment as people who have little knowledge of privacy settings on media platforms hardly know how to untag themselves out of such post. The trend highlighted above are the most conspicuous forms of cyber bullying in Nigeria, although issues of identity theft, impersonation, hacking, intellectual property theft(plagiarism) also exists in its quarters. The impact of all these is enormous as cyber bully and stalkers damage the reputation of their victims and turn other people against them. They post allegations about victims on their blogs which allow public contribution which is mostly negative, rude and vulgar words. They also monitor their targets online activities and attempt to garner more information about them. The effect of this trend shows that cyber bullying and harassment humiliates the victims. It leads to bully and harassment of not just the victim, but also their family, friends and employers. Victims are also said to be isolated and rebuked by friends. A victim interviewed related on how she was sacked after her private post was seen on blogs by her employers. Victims have contemplated suicide and most of them live in fear, low self esteem, shame and inferiority complex. Most of them have dropped out of school, broken relationships, forced to relocate due to the shame and reproach cyber bullying and harassment has caused them. This article will not be complete without proffering solutions on how to curb cyber bullying, stalking and harassment. The basics include telling them to stop, make use of the privacy settings available on every social network. This settings gives one authority to choose those who can view their profiles and timelines as well as tag reviews. One should also be friend request they accept on social networks. Social media is a place to connect to people you know, not a place to meet new people. In other words, don't initiate contact with people you don't know. Beware of fake accounts. Accounts where the owner has few friends is probably used to stalk or harass other individuals. Never give out personal information on social networks. Do well to block block and delete people who bully or harras you online. Report cyber bullying to the site complaint unit. They will block the user instantly.  Conclusively, although cyber bullying is not a crime in Nigeria, there are laws that make it illegal for individuals to continually pursue others through unsolicited attempts at communication. Victims are advised to report consistent instances of cyber bullying to the police and law enforcement agencies. Ubongabasi Asukwo Akpan
Is a Social Commentator