In today’s world, one’s popularity is no longer measured by how many individuals you can get to come to your house party, but by how many individuals and/or companies are following you on Twitter, becoming your friend on Facebook, trying to link with you on LinkedIn and liking your posts on Instagram.

And in this virtual world where relationships are born and relationships are brutally slaughtered, there is that sense of invincibility. The things you would never have been able to do, the sentences you would never have been able to utter, the confrontations that would never have been had are suddenly right at your fingertips.

People have become keypad happy – frantically typing brutal responses and snide statements at 100 words per second. And it is open season on the receiver; whether the receiver happens to be a politician, celebrity, or just a lone individual trying to live out their life in some singular corner of the world.

Admittedly some people deserve to be called out for the things that they say, but why must it be you? You who, if confronted by the individual who you so freely belittle in person, would not be able to utter a word.

And the distance between abuser and abuse is so wide that the abuser never gets to see the damage that has been done by his/her tirade. There is little responsibility for one’s actions because the person being harangued is not a real person to those who do the haranguing. After all, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but it is still just a picture. It cannot tell you a person’s hopes and fears, it will not illustrate insecurities.

But the biggest issue around cyberbullying is that most cyber bullies are unaware that is what they are doing. Cyberbullying has been defined by The National Crime Prevention Council: “When the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” Examples of what constitutes cyberbullying include communications that seek to intimidate, control, manipulate, put down, falsely discredit, or humiliate the recipient. The actions are deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour intended to harm another.

Have you targeted an individual online and tweeted at them or left comments that you were aware would humiliate, hurt or cause that person shame? If you have, if you have even the slightest inkling that what you are about to type is going to be the reason for someone else’s pain, then you are engaging in cyberbullying; don’t press send.

The basic way that we treat each other as individuals does not cease to matter once one grabs a mobile phone and accesses the Internet. Your statement may be condensed into 140 characters but it does not mean that the effect of your words packs less of a punch. I would argue that it is probably all the more spiteful because you sat down and figured out a way to squeeze your hurtfulness into just the right amount of words.

Take a moment today and consider if you have engaged in the practice of cyberbullying. Perhaps today is the day to tweet something kind, for a change.

Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. She has had short stories published in anthologies and has also self published work. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top ten spoken word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam.

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