57 comments

  1. As someone who was bullied before the internet became so ubiquitous, I find myself apalled that people are using the internet to spread hate messages and hurt others. I think the best thing we can do to combat this is not to take part in it, and to teach others to be kind and respectufl everywhere they go, even on the anonymous internet.

    1. Rami – I agree that not participating is part of the equation, but I would argue that sometimes we can’t just sit back and not engage. Sometimes, we need to speak out and call out those who are harassing online. In the blog post I link to at the start of this piece, Jeff Jarvis writes, “I won’t suggest for a moment that we should not attack ideas and argue about them and fight over them with passion and concern. We must argue strenuously about difficult topics like guns and taxes and war. That is deliberative democracy. That process and freedom we must protect. But when argument over an idea turns to attack against a person, then it crosses the line.”

    2. I agree with your point Rami and I also believe that when we see bullying, we should intervene to help ensure that we’re not only speaking about the problem, but helping to provide a safe environment for our children. I am however, not surprised in the least that cyber bullying has become so prevalent. I think that whatever role we find ourselves in, we should understand that social interactions will not change that dramatically, but the way in which those interactions transpire will keep up with the times. Great read, thank you for posting.

  2. There is good and bad on the web. It’s up to each one of us to help our children to understand what the good and bad is on the web. If we don’t help them to understand what’s out there they will do it on their own. If we take it upon ourselves to be pro active we can help to build a better web!

    1. James – you are right, I should have said more about how we work with our kids to help them understand and navigate the web. While my post focuses on personal accountability, and thinking about the role our own actions play, there is also a huge role for education and literacy. On that point you might also be interested in this piece on digital literacy, with a slightly different focus, but still relevant: http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2012/11/we-need-a-truth-campaign-for-digital-literacy-and-data-tracking318.html

  3. I wrote an op-ed for USA Today about Prince’s suicide, as I’d been bullied in high school for years as well.

    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-04-08-kelly04_ST_N.htm

    I admire your commitment, but part of the issue is a coarse, fists-up larger culture that too often mocks and sneers at the bullied, telling them to “suck it up” and “kids will be kids.” Well, psychopaths will be psychopaths, too (not quite as felicitous a phrase) but we have deemed that end of the behavioral spectrum off limits.

    I’ve been blogging since 2009 and have had only one troll, (despite pretty steady and growing readership and some feisty posts on political and economic issues.) A tone of civility keeps them at bay — it’s clear no one will “play” if someone comes in spitting and snarling. I enjoy the government-hating right winger who follows me, (a father of five), while I lean more to the left and have no kids. I love that he and I have sufficient mutual respect that we can still speak across a large ideological divide and continue the conversation…That’s the most challenging piece. Mutual respect.

    1. I agree that WP is a largely troll-free zone, and it has begun to replace a lot of social networking for me, because it’s just so much more thoughtful and generous with its space and tools.

      The trolls (the paid ones) and the ones that follow suit distort the public debate online to a large degree. They mostly troll on news sites, though, not on personal blogs with comparatively much, much less traffic.

    2. Caitlin – thanks for your comments. How do we combat the “fists up” culture you point out? It’s a big question, but part of that has to be via our own actions and compassion as well as education and digital literacy efforts. I think the focus on how our own actions/tone can defuse a situation is precisely what I wanted to get at in this post. I think we forget how powerful it can be to put your energy into responding with respect and civility.

  4. One thing that is hard online is to reconcile the victim and the perpetrator (maybe harsh terms for lack of better ones), the bullied and the bully. As adults we can make children confront each other, the bully can apologize, and we can observe further. How do we do that in the digital world? Sure we can respond, but we’ll never know if either the bullied or the bully has received our response.

    Is there a way to mend that?

    1. It is always harder to navigate the situation when we are part of it. In this post I was also thinking about our role and responsibility when we are not involved with bullying but also when we are witnesses to it. These two scenarios share some qualities but also differ quite a bit, and layering in the digital side – with the challenges of either anonymity or distance can surely complicate things. I’d be interested to hear other’s thoughts.

      1. It’s interesting for sure. Unlike physical situations, we also never know how many people are “in the room”, meaning how many people possibly read our comments. I’d definitely vote for stepping in even though the bully and the bullied might have moved on, because others are most likely there feeling one role or the other.

  5. Good blog post. My mantra is “Talk to your kids. Tell them to stand up and protect those who are being bullied. Turn off the computer.” Plus add everything you just said to my list.

    We can’t control everything our kids experience but we can help them learn that everything they put “out there” stays there forever. I told my middle school child that “you can say something mean to another kid and it will stay with you for a few minutes. BUT it will stay with the kid you say it to for the rest of his life.” Yes, it is up to us, and we must teach our kids that it is up to them, not chance.

    1. You’re so right about teaching our children, Juliette–not only must we teach them not to bully, but we must teach them to identify it (and differentiate it from legitimate dissent), to abhor it, and to call it out when they see it. As parents, we teach best by doing. We can tell our kids whatever we like, but ultimately, the behaviour we model for them will be the behaviour they emulate. I wrote about this, and my own experience of being bullied, a couple of months back: http://afterthekidsleave.com/2012/10/18/teaching-our-children-to-bully/?preview=true&preview_id=3161&preview_nonce=9637529865

      Ultimately, to create a world we’d want our children to live in–whether that’s the real, physical world, or the world online–we need to give serious thought to what we want to see, how we can take responsibility for our own actions, and how far we’re willing to allow situations to degenerate before we take a stand.
      Karen

    1. Thanks Crystal. The power of the delete button and the power of writing to get things out work well together. Someone once told me about Twitter — if you hesitate at all before hitting send, you might be better off not posting it at all. Not sure I agree in full there – but I do think it is useful to mull our words online as carefully as we would our actions in the offline world.

  6. Fascinating read and some great thoughts. I would argue one point though: “Our example is the best compass we can provide to our sons and our daughters.” I think not. Jesus is the best compass we can provide! :-) Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  7. I am all for stopping bullying, cyber and otherwise. But I’m a little confused. If I don’t want my kid to be bullied, or to be a bully, I just have to be a better person? I know that what I do says so much more than what I say (to my son), but I was bullied in high school, and my parents and the parents of the girl who bullied me are all very nice, cordial, polite, anti-bullying people. I’ve seen my son get bullied, and the other kid’s parents are friends of mine and very nice people. The web wasn’t a big deal back when I was getting bullied like it is now. How would “being a better citizen of the web” have stopped my bullying? How is “being a better citizen of the web” now going to stop my son’s “friend” from calling him names and being mean?

    1. Hi Jessica, that isn’t quite what I was saying. It was broader than any one example. If we want to work to create online spaces with respect and where tough but civil conversation can happen, then we need to both model that and hold others accountable when they harass or attack others. This is a much different thing than how we deal with individual cases of bullying, and creating and modeling more tolerance online is just one part of a very complex problem. This post was targeted at that one piece, not meant to suggest a solution to all of bullying.

  8. Wow, what an engaging way to approach this topic. And elegant. Very elegantly composed; to the point of illustrating some sort of inherent paradox of mankind. Though it explicitly highlights the disgusting absurdity of mankind’s proclivity toward the nefarious, it implicitly illustrates (by its very existence) the sublime pragmatism of mankind’s propensity toward virtuous collective action.

    I just felt compelled to express that.

  9. This is REALLY good and a very important topic I talk and write about often. If you’re up for it check out “Do You Engage to Enrage” and “Adjust Your Settings” on my Blog. I am glad you got Freshly Pressed so that more people saw this! Great job.

  10. All in all the only thing you truly can control is your own actions and reactions. Raising your children to feel loved, validated and heard is an important facet, even more than trying to regulate everyone and everything in the world around them. I was bullied to no end from grade school to high school and all I ever heard from my parents was “if you let them know it bothers you, they will continue”. Kids can be cruel and really don’t care – but as a parent myself I let my children know they are loved, I protect them the best I can, take the time to listen when they speak and give them the tools/skills they need to navigate through a sometimes rough world.

  11. Great post.Yup, all we have is our example, be a part of the positive, encouraging side of the internet and do not engage in the hateful stuff. I’ve had my music and writing online since 2005 and thankfully the vast majority of people I’ve engaged with (100′s of thousands at this stage) have been decent and kind.

    On sites like youtube, when I see something I’m not into I do not dislike the video or leave a hurtful or critical comment, I don’t see the point. There are plenty of things that I do enjoy, and barely enough time to enjoy them, I don’t see what I would gain by telling other people how stupid or “wrong” they are.

    I am so glad though that I was out of the school system before social networking and smartphones. I used to hear that bell ring and leave all the bullies there until tomorrow, I’d enjoy the safety of my home with my family, the bullies were miles away and couldn’t get me. Now kids get home and turn on facebook and the bullying continues, they can get bullying texts and calls at any time. The bullies are in their pockets, and on their computers.

    I remember once in high school a couple of kids grabbed an embarrassing photo of me, an old photo where I had really long hair, they showed it to a few people before I managed to get it back. In the digital age though that picture would have been on Facebook and twitter in seconds.

    In the end though bullying, hate and cruelty has always existed, it’s up to each individual to decide whether they want to partake of it or not.

    Cool post, thanks for sharing!

    Rohan.

    1. Thanks Rohan – it’s true that bullying has always existed. I think the problem though is that too often when bullying happens online folks blame the platform not the people, as thought social networks are the cause. I hope we can acknowledge how social networks complicate the problem while also acknowledging the role we all play in creating those spaces through our own actions.

  12. I’m motivated by the fact that there are parents like you, however just the same, I want children to be educated over this. The crucial part is how to go about doing this, and where to draw the line. How do we create ‘goodness’ in those filled with hatred? Perhaps providing an outlet outside of the internet would be even more beneficial.

  13. Good topic. Internet bullying is taking on industrial proportions, against persons, but also businesses. Complaint websites will list complaints and refuse to take them down, even if both parties agreed to resolve their dispute. Search engines will list these complaints on the first page and suggest an alternative, when you select this alternative, the search engine gets paid. As long as there is money to be made it will not stop and as long as the search engines are not held liable for their listings you have to question everything they list. Search engines leave the impression that their service is free, while it’s use is free of charge to you, there is a price to be paid by someone somewhere. My advice would be to never tag a picture with a real name or post a comment that you may want to retract at a later date.

      1. Consumer complaint boards are used to target individuals as well as businesses, and if you, as the target, file a rebuttal, the page will rank even higher in the search engines. Thank you for your time, post, and the link.

  14. Changing outlooks and working to make a difference in our global communities is roadway to the journey that we are all taking. Without everyone working together, we will not be accomplish the beginnings of the workings of what we saw Amanda Todd convey as problems in our society. Communication and building stronger walls is goal to work towards. Join in to make this happen. ~ Amanda’s mom

    1. Carol – thanks so much for responding to my blog post and for these comments which get right at the heart of what I was trying to say. This is a place where we have to work together, those of us concerned about these issues can’t stand on the sidelines when we see bullying happening. I think too often it is easy to blame the internet, or blame social networks, but these are just platforms for people – they are the new public square and they reflect (and sometimes amplify) who we are. We need to work to build respect on and offline. I’m so sorry for your loss and I appreciate the way you are reaching out via the web to engage in these discussions.

  15. I totally agree with the concept that WE make the web. It is the same analogy of why giving an academically troubled student a scientific calculator and expecting him or her to instantly become smart. Technology advances us but it will be only as good as the person in control. Let’s use Facebook as an example: What started off as a social network for upscale college students to stay connected within their university quickly transformed into a global media outlet. Now people are complaining that Facebook is TOO public and the main cause for cyber-bullying or stalking or any other deviant behavior. Instead of fixing our character, we are using Facebook as a scapegoat to mask our problems up all fancy and not take the necessary time to fix our society. We have the power! If you don’t want a particular person to view your information, then DON’T become friends with them on Facebook. If you don’t want people to publicly view something about your life, then DON’T post in on Facebook. These days the way Google is linking every social media outlet together (CNN, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), once you tweet or comment on something, people will see your thoughts when you name is searched online. People want all the perks of social connectivity but don’t want the hard work that comes with it: Being Smart!

  16. As bloggers, we have a public voice, which makes us obligated to defend those under attack. I haven’t considered this when I started blogging, but it became obvious after a few months, that having a blog makes my voice a tiny bit louder and a lot more responsible.

  17. I am a parent but I think everyone including us parents need to work together and engage together in the hard work of building a better web by being a better citizen of the web. Don’t you agree?

  18. I have seen this off hand from a close family friend, who was pushed so much by these bullies online, in person, etc. she contemplated suicide. Thankfully she came to a counselor at school for help. I just can’t imagine why children are so mean, she tried to smile tried to brush it off but they are so persistent. I don’t see the school taking action all they did was to send her to the psych ward and another school for a few weeks. She’s about to return to the school and I am worried to see how they will treat her. She is one of the sweetest and liveliest girls I know she shouldn’t be treated like this.
    I think schools can only do so much but it’s up to the parents to stop this behavior at home and also prepare your children to voice whatever harm is being done

  19. I travel overseas a lot and so I have seen many different things, which leads me to a story. In the US when your driving a car, if you honk at someone, there is a risk to that. It can be taken as an insult or attack or threat, and some people resond to it in that way. In may asian countries, it is not that way and they expect a driver to honk when going through an intersection or when traffic is really thick so that the other drivers know where you are. The net is similar. What one person finds offensive may be perfectly acceptable to another. This is a big topic.

  20. This is simply an indication that bullying must be stopped and it starts with us, and with our children to remind them to be an example on how to treat people well. You have such a great post! Congratulations and Well deserved to be on Freshly Pressed! :-)

  21. The web is just an extension of our society. The same issues that plague the web, still plague society. You are right to say that to make a difference/change we must begin with ourselves. Good post; thank you.

  22. i <3 this line; There is a lot we can’t control, he said, but what we can do is try to be the kind of men we want our sons to aspire to.

  23. I think people feel that there’s safety with anonymity and they act, online, as if they are massive, powerful, bouncers. I think it’s similar to this term I coined while working in retail for people who treat employees like crap. I call them battered-housewife-shoppers. They are women who don’t have any control or power in their own lives so they come out in public and assert control over people who can’t fight back (employees). They’re rude, tasteless, and disrespectful and it makes their ego rise. I think online bullying is the same. They feel safe because you can’t physically do anything.

  24. The effects of bullying are well known and it is, like you rightly mentioned, upon us to create a safer environment for everyone else. Also the projections in the media don’t really help. Body image issues have aggravated, need to be popular and skinny (not fit) are prerequisites for a bully free life now. Further, bullying by political parties also occurs. For instance, in India a girl was arrested on the grounds of causing “annoyance” because she decided to express her feelings about the death of a very powerful man (the head of a powerful regional political party) in the country. Her friend was arrested for “liking” her comment on Facebook. Thousands of people expressed their feelings about the death of this political leader but it is apparent that the girl was targeted because she was a Muslim, a minority religion in India. Bullying stems from non-acceptability, intolerance and need to put down other people so as to feel superior. And everybody’s a victim somewhere.

  25. I can’t stand trolling on the Internet. And, it’s so easy these days for people to attack others just because the person doesn’t like the other or how the other expresses who they truly are. Someone can create a fake Facebook page, and that page can make fun of a real person or attack that person. The sad thing is that more than one person can be the perpetrator to a victim. The way people online acts sometimes really disgusts me, especially people in grade school.

    I really like this article, and I hope people will be good role models and show kids how to act and control themselves online.

  26. Great article, and congrats on being FP! The issue of online harassment and bullying is one that should be better addressed by many companies. I don’t understand why there isn’t more control one some websites about comments and words used by users. It should be easier to report trolls too. I’m all for freedom online and, frankly, recent proposals for laws about online security were more than a threat to our freedom of speech than anything, but in some cases it would be really simple to make it harder for trolls to ruin conversations or online gaming sessions. When writing about the problems women face in the gaming industry recently, I discovered just how hard it is for some gamer girls to even play Halo without being harassed, not to mention some people tell them they should get raped when they denounce sexism in video games. It has to be easier to avoid contact with trolls and haters like that.

  27. I believe the best thing we can do for our future generations is to teach the to be positive contributors to society, this includes the online societies as well. Does this mean we should censorship so far as to get rid of dislike buttons, and get rid of all negative comments? As someone who was bullied a lot growing up I hate when I hear of anyone being bullied, because I truely understand how worthless you can feel.
    The problem with the Internet is, there is no standard, there is no line that cannot be crossed, because there is no real life accountability in many ways. It can be like thousand of faceless people attacking you over and over, the words never go away they are always there waiting to be read, it can be quite haunting.
    Perhaps the best thing we can do for children is keep them away from the social aspect of the Internet until they are equipped to deal with it. However in an actively online world perhaps this is easier said then done.

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