As the use of social networking sites increase so does online bullying. What is important to remember is that cyber bullying is not the preserve of the young, it happens among allegedly mature adults. It happens so regularly and over such a wide range of networks that I know of a great many people who have been bullied, harassed or stalked by someone on a social network.
Although there are laws in place in Great Britain to allow victims to seek legal help in stopping bullying, stalking etc. it is a difficult burden gathering evidence and often reinforces the feelings of helplessness. It is not an empowering system that makes the victim relive the discomfort and pain of bullying.
Bullies can be subtle but are like that rarely and those that are tend to have a personal connection with their victim. They draw the person in and escalate their behaviour. Most of the time cyber bullies are loud, aggressive and come with a ready made crowd to witness their bravado, hide behind when the going gets bad and to use as attack dogs when the bully wants to sit back and watch their victim being mauled.
In larger arenas online bullies will try, at times, to hide behind the power, fame or notoriety of others. Bullies have self-esteem issues; they want this power, fame and success for themselves but cannot achieve it. Bullying makes them feel powerful whilst at the same time demonstrating quite clearly that they lack the power they crave so badly. One cyber bully claimed that he had brought down a powerful and wealthy person online, publicly declaring that they had verbally locked horns. What had actually happened was that a supporter of the famous man had argued with the bully. The true story lacks kudos and so history is rewritten.
Bullies will often claim that they want to spark debate, that they enjoy a lively exchange of ideas. If I see claims to controversiality on a Twitter bio or a Facebook profile then I’m fairly sure that the person doesn’t want to debate anything. They usually do not have the skills required for real debate and what they want is to rant aggressively against any idea that is put to them. They mistake aggression for strong disagreement. Debate is listening and responding appropriately not hectoring with deaf ears. This was very much in evidence on a mental health forum where one person had decided that another was a slave to medication and psychiatry even though the person was only partially compliant and continually attacked the victim for this. It was clear that the bully was angry and that the person they were continually attacking was the misplaced focus of that anger. It is still bullying even if the focus of attention is misplaced. Anger should be directed in an informed manner at what is the true cause. There is no need to behave in a contumely manner if a debate is genuine and informed.
Recently someone left me a comment on an online novel I’ve written. It was specifically in response to the blurb and challenged me to debate a subject that neither the novel or the blurb describing the novel touched upon. I replied to the comment by saying that I wouldn’t be entering into a discussion on the subject mentioned and that I’d be deleting comments that weren’t specifically about the novel because if you’re reading a serialization you just want to read the serialization. Comments off subject can detract from the experience, apart from which, they are time consuming and rarely beneficial. The person then subjected me to a tirade of abuse on Twitter and informed me that if I refused to enter into a discussion with her then she’d make sure that everyone knew the truth about me. Some people feel that because the internet is in their computer and therefore their home then for them there are no boundaries and they make unreasonable demands on people they feel they know with a greater intimacy that is possible. It is bullying of a kind.
Bullies will attack on the flimsiest of evidence if it reinforces their prejudices. I was, and still am at the end of continued insults by a person who claims that I’d accused him of discriminatory language. What I had said was that a person with imagination and education can use less pejorative words to describe the way that people behave and not use words that looks as though that they are practising prejudice. I explained that there was a difference between what I’d said and what the person thought I’d said. I was then declared “mental”, “unstable”, “psycho”. Yes, that’s me if calling me mental, unstable and a psychol translates as mental health campaigner standing up for those less able to stand their ground.
I was stalked by someone from a mental health forum. The person in question had borderline personality disorder (BPD) and the pattern of her behaviour was predictable from the onset. I spoke some supportive words to her when she first joined the forum; it was my job as a moderator to do that. As a person with BPD she saw that gesture for what it wasn’t and became my closest friend and supporter without stopping to check to see if I wanted her in that role. No matter how many times I tried to gently impose boundaries it was just not possible to get the message across. Finally, I refused to take sides in an argument she was having and she stalked me for weeks. She followed me to Facebook, Twitter and finally to a tiny and very local e-democracy forum where she declared she would attend any event I was attending. This was unnerving and the police took things seriously. She was advised to lose touch with me and I was happy for things to end there. What was surprising was the attitude of the owners of the mental health forum. They didn’t want anyone, even the other moderators, to know that all was not well. I wasn’t allowed to talk about it or ban her. I was told that the health of the forum came before my safety. Needless to say the effect of being stalked by her and that kind of disregard for my welfare put me off mental health forums for life. People with mental health problems do stalk other people but rarely and even more rarely does it turn out to be physically menacing. Acknowledging that whilst it happens but rarely ends in physical violence goes a long way in destigmatizing mental illness, sweeping it under the carpet, as the mental health forum tried to do, just proves that discrimination is everywhere. Discrimination is just another form of bullying.
Bullies do not like it when a perceived victim makes a quiet exit. You don’t have to leave forums and social networking sites but you should stop engaging with people. If you can block them then do so. I’ve been recently described as being rude and childish by one person for refusing to take insults about myself and my family. Another person has decreed me “mental” for reserving the right to follow and unfollow who I please. Yes, that’s me, mental. One person who I currently have blocked on a social networking site still finds ways of finding out what I’m saying and doing so that they can denounce me to their “friends”. That person thinks I have a problem for blocking them. His “friends” agree with him but it is easy for bullies to get away with their behaviour when their supporters see only a small part of a conversation and see nothing of the conversations that go on in private messages.
Whilst bullies will always pick on the person or persons they perceive to be the weakest that doesn’t mean that their perceptions are correct. The fact that people ask for help to fight back means that the bullies get it wrong frequently.
It is difficult not to react in anger or to resist the temptation to lash out at a person but salving an urgent desire to sting and therefore distract someone should not degenerate into a prolonged bout of goading someone. That just makes the victim another bully on the block.
Don’t insult or libel a bully. Do that and you may as well hand them a pile of stones to throw at you.
Remember if you walk away from a bully you will grow stronger because of it. Stay in their circle and you will become as warped as they are.
Remember that whilst rudeness is just rudeness, unchecked it can easily turn into bullying. We are all capable of rudeness but we should not all be capable of bullying.
Anyone concerned about cyber bullying can get information from http://www.respectme.org.uk/Cyberbullying-and-the-law.html. Though this is a site specifically for young people the law is applicable whatever your age.