Thursday, March 31, 2011
Cyberbullying: Ain't Just Kid Stuff!
The "new mail" sound pinged and I clicked. "I would love to watch you get punched senseless. ... You are a (expletive) failure, a typical New York failure. If I ever find any of your written nonsense on MSN or Yahoo, it will probably get ugly."
The "in-real-life" bullying I endured in middle school was so bad that I used to come home in tears, wishing that I wouldn't wake up the next morning. And yet, here I am, more than a decade and a half later, dealing with a far more virulent strain: cyberbullying.
E-mails, comments, Facebook, Twitter. If there's a way to reach people electronically, there's a way to make them cry.
My haters love to focus on my physical appearance. I have body parts I didn't even know could be called hideous - "sausage fingers" and "elephant knees," for example. But it doesn't stop there. One commenter wrote: "Julia, you are a despicable person. Ugly inside and out, with ZERO redeeming qualities. ... (D)espite your best efforts to scrub it all and land a husband ... which will NEVER happen, btw."
This represents just a fraction of the hate that has been thrown my way - as well as in the direction of my friends, family, boyfriends and employers. Why? As a columnist and as a social media user, haters feel I am fair game. They do it because they can. Because I "asked for it" by sharing anything at all.
We live in a world of more than 600 million Facebook accounts, 160 million blogs, 190 million Twitter accounts. Are we all "asking" to be cyberbullied?
The White House convened its Conference on Bullying Prevention on March 10 and launched StopBullying.gov.
"This isn't an issue that makes headlines every day, but it affects every single young person in our country," President Obama told the conference.
I would amend that statement: Cyberbullying affects all people, not just the young.
Bullying spans generations: 45-year-old bullies raise children who become 13-year-old bullies who grow up to be 28-year-old bullies. And here's my "controversial" proposition: Kids aren't the only ones who should be protected from them.
Until we agree that cyberbullying is an absolutely unacceptable way to treat other people, the cycle of harassment will continue.
The government's new website defines bullying as when someone uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. Online dynamics are such, however, that a handful of haters can become a mob and target anyone, regardless of age, economic status or "real-world" power.
"It goes beyond name-calling," said 37-year-old A.B., a veteran blogger who has experienced the devastating effects of motivated online bullies. The hate wormed its way insidiously into her life. She posted, "What would make you stop?" Her bullies' response: "Die."
"People are like, 'Oh, don't read it,' but how can you not stand up for yourself?"
Especially when no one else is.
One of my readers, Sara, described encountering nasty comments about herself online. "It KILLED me. I was devastated. I felt it physically; I could literally feel the blood drain from my body every time I found a new one."
Following someone around on the street while screaming insults at them would be considered at the least, crazy - and at the most, criminal harassment. So why is it accepted online?
"All of us have an obligation to think about how we're treating other people," Obama said at an MTV forum in late 2010. "What we may think is funny or cute may end up being powerfully hurtful."
We must go further. Internet companies have long brushed aside complaints about often-anonymous users who engage in personal attacks. "Not our problem," seems to be their prevailing sentiment. Individuals cower behind anonymity, and because it can be difficult, time-consuming and costly to discover true identities, they remain de-facto exempt from libel and defamation laws.
Our government should step up and enact protections for citizens of all ages. A cyber police force doesn't sound like such a bad idea.
We can't force people to like someone, but we can and should ensure that they don't hurt others.
Julia Allison is a columnist, TV personality, public speaker and former Wired cover girl. Visit SocialStudiesColumn.com
original article here