Three billion internet users and rising. So too is Cyber Abuse.
The poisoned pen and malicious tongue of the gossip mongerer of yesteryear enjoy today an entirely different landscape - a cyber world that offers them a largely unregulated playground that falsely touts Freedom of Speech as an all too thin smokescreen for the more accurate cry for Freedom to Abuse.
In principle, the Internet can be an absolutely marvelous space for connecting people, for sharing information and for giving us at the click of our fingertips vast amounts of information. But it should differ not to analogue media where the call for regulation seeks to ensure the accuracy and impartiality of information.
To be Free from Fear is one of our basic human rights. Yet the intent behind cyber abuse activity is just that, the desire to harm another, often delighting in the withdrawal of the target from the internet, but more sadistically still, the pursuit of their prey until the abuser bears witness to a public crushing of the person.
Dr Emma Short, Director of The National Centre for Cyberstalking Research, and a Chartered Psychologist, offers her professional insight into why so many choose to incessantly abuse internet users.
"...the reason there are so many people who do it so persistently is that they get to a point where they have invested so much time and energy thinking it's some kind of 'professional development', even perhaps as a writer, into targeting certain individuals or groups and there comes a point where it is very hard to pull out of it because of this vast investment....once they get so far down the destructive road, it becomes hard to stop."
It is also paramount that we understand and acknowledge that harm caused by cyber bullying and cyber abuse is no lesser than the physical harm on the body. The difference between the two scars - one caused by physical violence and one by mental abuse as in the case of cyber abuse is that one is visible to a naked eye and the other not. The psychological damage caused by the cyber bullies can be much more serious and have long-term effects compared to the physical damage.
The inept and obsolete "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is as relevant and supportive to those affected by cyber abuse as would be describing the water to the person who is drowning!
When playground bullying amongst young children was mirrored in social media, resulting in bullying, self-harm and in extreme cases suicide, we rightly understood that our children who are deeply vulnerable must be protected. Many individuals, not-for-profit organisations and even some governments took action to help protect our children.
However, what we now know and see is that there are an awful lot of adults indulging in cyber abuse and when assisted by the cloak of anonymity and for the most part free of consequences, they remain allowed to freely abuse.
Dr Emma Short lends a sobering analogy: "If you have a car and you drive in a way that is careless and out of rules, we can lose our licence. Would this be the way to approach internet use? If you abuse the rules, which should not be different to those in real life, would you then lose your internet licence until you have done the equivalent of 'speed awareness training'?"
It is important to understand that the answer to cyber abuse does not and it cannot lie in telling someone to simply shut their computer, withdraw from social media use, or even relocate to a log cabin with no internet access and 'live happily ever after'.
The nature of this platform is such that it permeates our lives 24/7 and turning every button off has not halted the proliferation of abuse online for the growing number of men, women and children subjected to this malicious pastime.
Shutting down, turning off, turning the other cheek or letting it slide off like the proverbial water off a ducks back, is tantamount to bystanding. This culture of bystanding online will need to be addressed if we as a One Humanity are to have any hope of ensuring our One online community is safe from the fear of cyber abuse.
Calling out cyberbullying, cyber trolling and cyber stalking for what they truly are - CYBER ABUSE - the team at ALL RISE Say NO to Cyber Abuse are committed to not be bystanders to a problem verging on an epidemic. Their current international All Rise Cyber Abuse Survey has already exceeded 12,000 completed surveys and climbing, rare in its scope, calling young and old to share anonymously their views and or experience of all forms of cyber abuse.
As world citizens we should all lend our voice, the more we know the more informed our action: http://svy.mk/1zd7QUG