Four in ten adult internet users have experienced online harassment, whereas seven in ten have seen someone being harassed, according to a survey by the US-based Pew Research Center. The survey states that adult men are more likely than women to experience online harassment, but women are particularly vulnerable to severe forms of it, such as sexual harassment and stalking.
It seems that the situation is equally bad in the UAE with 11 in 15 women, that Gulf News spoke to, claiming to have experienced some form of cyberbullying, too.
Anamta Chaudhary, a Sharjah resident, is one of them.
She told Gulf News: “I have experienced quite a lot of cyberbullying. When two women are talking, a lot of people want to join the conversation; that’s how it ignites. A group of women ganged up against me for my views a while back. They posted some very vivid comments about my life. You have to be harsh and stand up for yourself.
“Initially, when I was subjected to such behaviour, I thought of deleting my post or leaving the group. But, that is not the solution. You find bullies everywhere. Be sure of what you’re posting online and ignore the bullies. If you have to respond, do so logically and focus on the subject of your post.”
Mubashera Khan, an events manager based in Dubai, agreed.
She said: “People don’t accept a difference of opinion. I’ve had people bombard me with comments on social media about something I have posted, telling me I’m wrong. I’ve been told I’m living in a bubble and not aware of what’s happening in the world. If I’m racially abused or targeted on the streets, it is unacceptable. The same applies to cyber space.”
Maria Lourdes Penero, a senior coordinator based in Dubai, thinks that bullies “will always find a way”. She said: “If you share too much online, you expose yourself to bullies. Eliminating cyberbullying is hard and even though the tough laws in the UAE have helped, people are becoming more and more intelligent because of all the information available online.”
Ayesha Salekh, a Dubai resident, ignores the bullies.
She said: “Everyone experiences bullying online. I have, too, whenever I post a comment. I just ignore them, dont fight back or address them with kind words.”
Mehek Abbas, a human resources advisor in Dubai, blames different mindsets for this behaviour.
She said: “I see a lot of conflicts between women. Recently, there was a post about working women not being sensitive enough to be good mums. A lot of women commented, disagreeing with the contents of the post. But, one woman called all working mothers ‘insensitive’. After this, many others joined and agreed with her views, which wasn’t very pleasant.”
Maxene Dodds, another Dubai resident, agreed.
She said: “I have come up against several people who don’t wish to hear a different opinion based on fact, as opposed to emotion. They can’t deal with information different to theirs. Stay calm and back up your answers with rationale and fact. The bullies tend to back off, especially when their behaviour or responses make them look bad and other people speak up against them.”
Natasha Pradeep, a community manager in Dubai, has friends who’ve experienced online harassment.
She said: “A friend wrote an article on university life in Delhi, India. She got targeted by a few mutual friends for her opinions. There is no way to ignore this. Once something is online, it’s visible to all. Stand by your opinion. You would get upset, but criticism isn’t always constructive.”
Mahnaaz Shaikh, a homemaker in Dubai, refuses to interact with “irrational” people.
She said: “Some people have a certain mindset and are out to attack you. Being a woman, I sometimes get frustrated with the comments that men put up. It’ll reach a point when they cross a barrier and become abusive. So, I don’t share a lot. Limited knowledge will mean less chances of you being bullied.”
Jenny Angeles, a marketing coordinator in Abu Dhabi, lost out on a friendship due to cyberbullying.
She said: “I posted something on Facebook and a friend thought it would be funny to post something against it. Everyone I know started commenting on who’s right and who’s wrong. The comments were so hurtful and that’s when I started keeping things private. Everyone should be more conscious about what they say online. Think how you would feel if you were being bullied for your opinion.”
Fatima Suhail, a student in Sharjah, went off social media to avoid being bullied.
She said: “I often have to deal with offensive, highly disrespectful and nasty comments by some narrow-minded people. I get messages from Facebook users who get too personal or quick to judge on the basis of my opinions on public forums. I have blocked several hundred users, many of whom were strangers writing to vent their anger or frustration. I reported such individuals. But, it became so bad that I took a break from social media.”
Roxanne King, a Dubai resident, had a similar experience.
She said: “A lot of men have messaged me privately and I have blocked plenty of them.”
Natalie Koreh, a marketing manager in Dubai, is amongst the lucky ones who has never experienced cyberbullying.
She said: “I think that people tend to get bullied online if they are bullies themselves. If you are friendly and you don’t provoke others, you will be fine. It all depends on the tone you use and how you communicate with others. You can avoid the drama and not post everything about your life publicly. If it is something general or related to the news, share it. But otherwise, avoid oversharing.”
Emma Suba, a personal assistant in Ajman, agreed.
She said: “People use anonymity online to do whatever they want. Some people have plenty of time on their hands and they want to express themselves. This doesn’t give them the right to degrade someone else. Be responsible for what you post.”
Mariam Seddiqi, a research assistant in Dubai, has a few friends who experienced harassment online, “but they were bullied by other school friends, no one anonymous”.
Farwa Shahid Aziz, a receptionist in Sharjah, gives credit to UAE’s strict cyberbullying laws.
She said: “People know that everything they post is under supervision. So, they try not to do anything wrong because they don’t want to be caught.”