Cyberbullies invade women’s online spaces

By Lubalethu Ndlovu

Andile Sayi (20), a dancer from Cowdray Park suburb in Bulawayo says online spaces are increasingly becoming unsafe for women and girls. Andile is a victim of distasteful comments posted on her social media platforms and she says some of the comments depressed her.

The prevailing lockdown induced by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced people to interact and socialise on online platforms. Cyberbullies and trolls have grabbed this opportunity to humiliate social media users, especially women and girls.

“I am a dancer and I post my videos on social media platforms such as Instagram. As an artist I want to share my work with people and I expect positive feedback. However, some of the comments I have received are not encouraging. After putting a lot of effort, some people just trash my work and make negative personal comments that are not related to my work,” says Andile.

Andile says some of the personal comments posted on her platforms were tantamount to body shaming as they were not related to her work.

“After reading some comments I often get depressed. I think cyberbullying may even lead to mental health problems because it really knocks down one’s self esteem. Rather than focusing on commenting about my work, some bullies focus on me. This is all wrong,” says Andile.

Andile says online bullying has long term effects on the lives of women and girls. She says some personal information shared as comments on her page may deter potential employers from recruiting her.

“Nowadays employers check prospective employees on social media to find if they are suitable for employment. If someone has published private and confidential information on social media, this may cast bad light on one’s professional contact,” says Andile.

Andile says she does not know of any recourse on issues of cyberbullying and says she and other women just suffer in silence. Most of the bullies use fake names to create accounts and this makes it difficult to know them.

“I am not sure what can be done when someone is abused online. I know for sure that cyberbullying has serious ramifications on the lives of victims. There should be stiff penalties for cyberbullying so that we exercise our right to free expression without fear of being humiliated and dressed down,” says Andile.

Another young woman, Zanele Sithole (23) from Nkulumane suburb says most of the victims of cyberbullying are women.

“As women, we are always judged based on our looks, our skin colour, dress or any physical appearance. This bullying encroaches into important aspects such as work or political participation,” says Zanele.

Zanele says once an individual is body shamed, their voices are trivialised and no one will listen to them without making any reference to the body shaming messages on social media. Zanele urges women to be strong and avoid paying too much attention to cyberbullies.

This article was written as part of the Creative Centre for Communication and Development (CCCD) project that seeks to strengthen the voices of women and girls, especially under the grim impact of the Coronavirus (COVID 19). CCCD has used the WhatsApp mobile application to train women and girls so that they express their voices on what is happening in their communities.

Creative Centre for Communication and Development, Zimbabwe