Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you. What rubbish. The effects of bullying without physical violence are often more devastating than actual blows.
Picture a bully in your mind’s eye. What do you see – disenfranchised youth, angry at the world – a little girl in a school yard, consumed by jealousy – a large man on the street, looming with aggression? What about a cyber-bully? Again – maybe a socially awkward young man, gaining retribution for an imagined slight? How about a respectable older lady, the one you smile at on the street, or the grandfather who shows your children interesting things in his garden?
The reality is all of these descriptions are true. If one were to harass and berate a shop assistant, or your dentist, or the treasurer at your community club in person the way some people are treated online, there would be an uproar – you may be banned, ejected or arrested, depending on the level of abuse.
Online bullying is no different than regular bullying, except the perpetrators remain largely anonymous. The keys on your laptop are potential weapons. Granted, everyone gets frustrated at times. Everyone has a bit of a whinge when they receive bad service. What differentiates criticism from abuse is abusing the individual as opposed to the issue. Cyberbullying, left unchecked, has lead to loss of life. It is unacceptable, end of story.
If you are unhappy with a product or service, you are well within your rights to express this. However, remember to whom it is you are speaking. Did the person you are complaining to design and manufacture the item or deliberately set out to upset you? Or are they an employee, following a process they are required to, so they can remain employed and able to provide for their families?
What is to be gained from abusing this person to the point they feel uncomfortable remaining in their job or unhappy with themselves? The answer is, quite simply, nothing.
Cyber bullying is on the rise, not only with young people – older people are jumping on the bandwagon, armed with the misguided attitude that their advanced years gives them the right to treat others with disrespect, disdain and derision, no matter what the impact on others. They have lived a long time on this planet, dammit, and they will do and say as they please.
Admittedly, bullies are still in the minority, but it is issue that raises its head on GrownUps from time to time. Of the 100,000 people on our site, there are a handful who have behaved like bullies towards our staff and other members to the extent that we contacted NetSafe for advice.
SeniorNet, which is also set up as an online resource for seniors has had to terminate some discussion boards due to trolls.
Our site moderator is employed to ensure GrownUps runs smoothly and supports other staff and members alike. She has recently been subject to extreme personal abuse from a small group of members who feel the online rules do not apply to them.
Usually we, as a group, endeavour to deal with issues in a polite and positive manner, but these trolls have not only been relentless, they have been underhanded – creating fake profiles after being banned from our site to continue their campaign of abuse. We are at a loss as to why. This is a free site, where people volunteer to become members and may leave at any time. It is a community where we share ideas, information and friendship.
There are any number of terms and conditions which one agrees to when joining an online site. While these agreements are usually long and verbose, the following sums up how we at GrownUps require our staff and members to behave. Along with the following, ask yourself – would you say what you are prepared to type, to the person’s face? How would you react if someone said the same to you? It’s simple stuff, and should be common sense. We do not tolerate bullies, regardless of age.
If you have any comments about bullying or cyber-bullying or experiences with these, please feel free to share them with us below in the Comments section.