Dubai: The topic of cyber bullying was highlighted in a discussion that gathered 65 high school girls who shared their stories and experiences during a session at the annual Girl Power Tech event at Cisco’s headquarters on Thursday.
Emirati guest speaker Azza Al Mughairy, a former radio host, TV reporter and current social media influencer, led the discussion on cyber bulling, sharing her distressing experience on social media last year.
“It started over a year ago when I decided to go public with my account and made it a platform to discuss different women’s issues — and this is why I am now focusing on giving talks on women empowerment on different platforms,” Al Mughairy told Gulf News.
After receiving thousands of messages, many of which included negative or hate comments, Al Mughairy, now 30 years old, said the turning point was her decision to take a stand online.
“I discuss many topics affecting women in society on my Instagram account and telling myself that I am here to send out a message helped me overcome this problem. I proved myself on social media and let everyone know that I am there for a good reason, but I also made the choice to not let these comments break me. Now these thousands of messages a month have dwindled to just three or four,” she explained.
Leading an interactive talk with students aged 13-15 years from several Dubai schools, Al Mughairy listened to the girls recall their cyber bullying experiences and presented them with suggestions on how to overcome the world-wide issue on an individual level. “The new generation is very attached to social media and technology on the whole, and it’s important to educate them on the negative side of social media and the effect it can have on a person,” said Al Mughairy.
While she encourages girls to express their feelings and opinions honestly online, they must keep in mind the “value of a word and the way they can use their words”, she said.
Also attending the talk was 15-year-old Emirati Fatima Al Kaabi, known as the UAE’s youngest inventor. The recipient of the UAE Pioneers Award and first-place winner of the UAE Robotics Olympics, Al Kaabi was among the students who shared they experiences of cyber bullying.
After deciding to open a new account on social media as “the inventor,” Fatima was hoping to mark her inventions with the aim of inspiring other children in the country.
“I started posting images of the events I go to, inventions I am working on and the books I like to read, and at first, all the comments were positive, but after I started gaining a following, things changed,” said Al Kaabi.
Soon after appearing as a guest at the World Government Forum in 2016, Fatima received many negative messages, images, and posts about a statement she made that was hugely misunderstood.
“I was the happiest girl on that day to be speaking on a stage I have dreamt of for years. I made a statement saying ‘girls my age used to play with Barbies while I used to play with screwdrivers, and now at the age of 15, girls carry make-up in their bags but I carry screws and screwdrivers’,” said Al Kaabi.
Referring to her early interest in robotics, Al Kaabi was surprised to see her words twisted and misunderstood by many online users who took the opportunity to cyber bully one of the country’s smartest kids.
“People started judging me, saying I offended girls who like make-up, without bothering to read up about me or what I do,” Al Kaabi told Gulf News.
Deciding to ignore the comments and move on, she often told herself that she is “the one doing what she wants to do, while others are hiding behind the screen making fun of people”.
During the Girls Power Tech event, Al Kaabi explained her inventions to students in eight different countries via live video — including students in Italy, South Africa, Nigeria and Portugal.
Today, Al Kaabi has a total of 12 inventions, of which two were displayed during Innovation Week last year. Among her inventions is a Braille printer, a collection solar-panelled bags, and her latest work on a smart wheel that prevents drivers from being distracted and using their phones on the road.
“If you ask a mother, which of your children is your favourite, she would say I can’t choose. I say the same thing about my inventions,” said Al Kaabi.