Cyberbullying in South African and American schools: A legal comparative study
Bullying conjures up visions of the traditional schoolyard bully and the subordinate victim. However, bullying is no longer limited to in-person encounter, having come to include cyberbullying, which takes place indirectly over electronic media. In this electronic age, cyber platforms proliferate at an astonishing rate, all attracting the youth in large number, and posing the risk that they may become subject to cyberbullying. Far from being limited to those individual learners being cyberbullied, the effects of this phenomenon extend to the learner collective, the school climate, and also the entire school system, management and education, thus requiring an urgent response. This article first provides a general overview of cyberbullying and its impact on learners, schools and education. This is done through a comparative lens, studying the extent of the phenomenon in both the United States and South Africa. The focus then shifts to the existing legislative frameworks within which the phenomenon is tackled in these respective jurisdictions, particularly the tricky balancing act required between learners’ constitutional right to free speech and expression, and the protection of vulnerable learners’ right to equality, dignity and privacy. The article concludes by proposing certain possible solutions to the problem.
Keywords: cyberbullying; electronic media; harassment; learners; potential solutions; right to dignity and respect; right to free speech; schools; South Africa; United States