Cyber-bullying In Nigeria: Do Victims Have a Right to Redress?

Contributor: Theodora Nnodim Esq.

INTRODUCTION

The increase in science and technology has steered countless developments, particularly in internet utilization. The internet is very advanced in the field of information and communication and has a massive effect on basic human activities. Social media is the most influential at the moment; it used to be a space where individuals meet, interact and stay in touch with one another. Now, it has become a space not just for interaction, but for making money, garnering information etc.

Notably, from the above, it seems as though only positive activities are carried out on social media. This, however, is not always the case as several damaging activities frequently occur on social media, such as the spread of deception, fraud and cyber-bullying.

Social media is very much related to cyber-bullying and greatly facilitates bullying. Prior to the arrival of social media, bullying occurred directly by culprits of bullying against victims of bullying repeatedly, from time to time and to victims who could hold themselves. After the emergence of social media, bullying is no more only evident physically, it is now evident on social media platforms. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, cyber-bullying in Nigeria will mostly be addressed in light of the legal framework, challenges and opportunities open to Nigerians.

Bullying?

In general terms, bullying refers to any negative action which is continuous and geared towards making life unpleasant for another person.

Cyber-bullying?

Whilst having the definition of bullying in mind, it is safe to say that cyber-bullying is bullying done online. However, according to Ybarra, M.L., & Mitchell K.J, cyber-bullying is a repeated intentional online aggression, aimed at causing harm to others.[1] Cyber-bullying is characterized by the following:

  • Online comments which are usually hurtful;
  • The comments are targeted at one’s character;
  • The online aggression is repetitive.

Using the key points stated above, it looks as though everyone is somewhat a bully. However, as much as people are very much entitled to their opinions and allowed to criticize certain activities online, it does not in any way refer to bullying. The moment someone or group of persons say or does things to damage your character and such an act is done repeatedly, you are being bullied online. The following are words used by bullies:

  • You are ugly.
  • Nobody likes you.
  • You are fat.
  • You were born by mistake.
  • Why are you so short? And so on…

There are a lot of them, this is just to give an idea of what bullying sounds like. On one hand, it sounds like an insult/criticism, on the other, it sounds like an opinion, either, way, the person whom those words are directed at, is being bullied and if done online, it is cyber-bullying.

Cyber Bullying and Age Restriction?

The traditional bullying or Bullying done in person, mostly involves people in a position of power, people physically advantaged and mostly occurs in schools amongst children and adolescents. Cyber-bullying has a twist to it, in the sense that nobody has an idea of who is behind the keypads. So, it means that adults will bully adults, adults will bully adolescents/children and adolescents/children will bully adults. All it takes is one upload and one sentence to hurt someone. Everyone has access to the internet and as such, it will be wrong to say or insinuate that there is an age restriction to who gets bullied and who the bully is.

Cyber Bullying and Gender?

Cyber Bullying is not restricted to gender. Both men are women are likely to be victims or the perpetrators themselves. One cannot see a comment or an upload and presume only a woman can type it or that only a man can upload it. As long as there are no age restrictions, it certainly means it is not restricted to the gender of the individual.

Cyber Bullying in Nigeria

In Nigeria, the occurrence of cyber-bullying has little or no recorded effect on individuals who have been bullied. In other words, people who have been bullied online have not exactly made an official report or at best, the reports are not as much. However, the most common reaction of a Nigerian who has been bullied online is a deactivation of their social media account. Research would show that bullying occurs most amongst adolescents than adults; the reverse seems to be the case in Nigeria. More often than not, the people being bullied online in Nigeria are adults and more evident with celebrities. Common words seen to be used by some online bullies in Nigeria, towards individuals and particularly celebrities, include:

  • If shameless was a person.
  • You are getting fatter.
  • Go and get married.

These examples stated above, are similar to the examples stated earlier, as words people may see/use in identifying a cyberbully.

Analysis of the Applicable Laws

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that Nigerians have a right to express themselves, a right to hold opinions, receive and communicate ideas and information without intrusion[2]. The Constitution provides that where there is a new law made contrary to this provision, the law will not be invalidated as long as it was made to protect public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or for the purpose of defending the rights and freedom or other persons[3]. This means that the law recognizes that there will be an abuse of the exclusive right to expression.

The Cyber Crimes Act is a little more specific with regard to online bullying. It states thus:

24 (1) any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that –

(a) is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be so sent; or

(b) he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent: commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7, 000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment[4].

It states in section 24(2) that any person who intentionally transmits or causes the transmission of any communication through a computer system or network, to bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm or to another person is liable to a conviction for a term of 10 years and/or a minimum fine of N25, 000, 000.00[5].

The laws available in Nigeria regarding bullying are encouraging. However, it can be better. Preferably more specific and detailed, to help individuals become clear and aware of their rights when they are being bullied. It is one thing to have an opinion, it’s another to know that one has crossed the line. Freedom of expression does not translate to freedom to humiliate people.

Challenges with regard to Cyber-bullying

The challenges being faced with cyber-bullying include but are not limited to the following:

  • Depression.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Suicide or suicidal attempts.
  • They in turn become bullies.

Where the issue of cyber-bullying is addressed in Court, there may be the issue of evidence. How it is generated, who the maker is, etc. The fact that these individuals are unknown is a great challenge. How does one seek redress on someone who uses a name that does not exist and without an address? This is to an extent, similar to defamation of character, because what the cyberbully would have done is make a comment that is likely to damage your character. The major difference between cyber-bullying and defamation of character is that cyber-bullying is consistent. To prove defamation of character in Court, the individual must be identifiable within the jurisdiction of the Court. It is not enough that the content has been read, it carries more weight when the Court can see the persons who have read it, so they can stand in as witnesses at the appropriate time[6]. (For more information on online defamation, please refer to the article: Emerging Jurisdictional Issues on Online Defamation on our website)

what is the way forward when it comes to cyber-bullying?

The first thing that can be done in Nigeria is to create more awareness on the issue of cyber-bullying. That a lot of Nigerians are taught to be tough does not mean they cannot make a claim against people who have bullied them. A positive response to a bully online, does not mean bullying has not taken place. This means that the person will keep doing that with other people.

The second thing will be to enact a law that expressly states and provides for cyber-bullying. One which itemizes how to recognize cyber-bullying. With this in mind, a lot of people will be conscious of the content they put online, as well as the comments made on content online regarding people.

CONCLUSION

Undoubtedly, freedom of expression and a right to opinion remains a right available to every Nigerian citizen and as a result, everyone should be mindful of the conduct of their online activities, and children should remain off the internet or at least remain monitored. Every action or content online has consequences whether positive or negative. It is imperative to keep it positive at all times. Finally, silence is not a very smart option when being a victim of cyber-bullying. The laws are there, safer and saner to use, rather than remaining silent and allowing cyberbullies to get the best of you.

REFERENCE

  1. Ybarra, M.L., & Mitchell, K.J. (2004). Online aggressor/ targets, aggressors, and targets: A comparison of associated youth characteristics. Journal of child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 1308-1316.
  2. Section 39 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended
  3. Section 45 ibid
  4. Section 24 91) (a) (b) of the Cyber Crimes (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act 2015
  5. section 24(2) (c) (i) ibid
  6. King v. Lewis (2004) EWCA Civ1329 Case No. A2/2004/0380

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below and subscribe to our newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *