Sunday, 28 July 2013

Cyber-Bullying: Why ignoring it won't make it go away.

The Internet can be a wonderful thing.  It has taught me invaluable lessons, helped answer questions that had long been bugging me, introduced me to some of my closest friends and kept me in touch with school mates who've moved to pastures new.  I can't imagine my life without the Internet and that's no overstatement.

I found THIS thanks to the Internet.  For that alone, it is WONDERFUL.

However, there are downsides to the Internet.  It's not all David Tennant pictures (sadly).  With the invention of social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as blogging and online forums, we've all been handed our own little corner of the World Wide Web, from which to spout our silly thoughts, our angry rants and our idle daydreams.  All of us.

And not all of us are nice.

The term "Internet Troll" is one I take issue with.  Because all too often, the real description for these people who seek out others to belittle, tease or threaten, is "bully."  And in much the same way as victims of school bullying are told "just ignore them," we are told, in our online lives, that we must not "feed the trolls."

There is some reason behind that suggestion.  When faced with someone who seeks only to get a reaction out of you and who won't listen to any reasonable defence you may put up, there's some sense to the notion that it's wise to turn your e-back on them and refuse to engage, particularly if you are sensitive and don't feel able to speak out against them.  They'll get bored soon enough, after all.

The trouble is, they'll get bored and they'll move onto another victim, unchecked and seemingly free to say or do whatever they please.  Being ignored isn't pleasant for a bully - they crave attention, after all - but it's essentially harmless to them.  They learn precisely nothing from remaining unchallenged, other than that they can make hurtful remarks or casual threats and receive no comeback.  And that is a dangerous lesson.

Why should we allow bullying to go unpunished? 

People say that sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.  And I call bullshit on that.  In big, shouty capitals.  I've blogged about my own experiences of bullying and how profoundly it affected me at the time, as well as the way it has continued to influence me throughout my adult life (you can, if you'd like, read that blog here).

Words aren't like physical blows, although when they're harsh enough, they can feel like it.  They aren't like physical marks that fade with time and gradually disappear altogether.  Heard over and over, insults begin to seep beneath your skin.  They sink into your pores until they become part of your psyche.  Tell someone they're ugly enough times and they'll start to believe it.  And then it becomes more than just a word.  It begins to define who you think you are.  Because once those words are in your head, they cling on and don't let go.  The bully's negative opinion of you eventually becomes your own negative opinion of yourself.  "Words will never hurt you?"  In the words of Jim Royle: My arse.

Never search for "my arse" without Google's "safe search" turned on.  Just so you know.

So, if we're going to quite rightly state that words can and do hurt when screamed at us, or snidely whispered into our ears by someone right there in front of us, I see no reason to argue that those words aren't just as effective when typed on a computer screen.

All too often, people dismiss online bullying as something easily ignored.  "Just don't respond and they'll go away," they say.  "How can it upset you?!  Just turn your computer off!"  Or, possibly worst of all: "Lighten up, they're probably only joking."

Try being the target of cyber-bullying.  Try experiencing relentless threats and insults.  Try, as I had recently, having total strangers believe utter crap about you and write nasty blogs in which they call you a bully because you've called someone out on their own negative behaviour.  Try, again as I had recently, having someone attempt to use your own writing career against you, by posting Amazon links to your books and making nasty little digs, thus encouraging their followers to slag them off as well!  Then tell me it's all just one big joke.  Tell me you can just turn off your computer and forget about it.  Because when someone is actively stalking your Twitter timeline in order to insult you or lie about you, it's not easy to ignore.  

When you're bullied at school or in the workplace, home becomes your sanctuary.  It's your safe place.  When you're being bullied online, it's happening within your home.  Your safe place is gone.  The Internet is everywhere and that means so are the bullies.  If you genuinely can't understand why that idea is utterly terrifying to those who experience this kind of harassment, then you're part of the problem.  Cyber-bullying is very real and has no less power to affect lives as "real life" bullying does.  The Internet is part of our real lives.  The sensation of dreading checking your emails, or visiting a social networking site is just as powerful as the sensation of dreading getting on the school bus.  I know.  I've experienced both.

The subject of cyber-bullying has come to the fore on Twitter, recently.  Feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado-Perez, successfully protested against the Bank of England's decision to replace the only woman on a UK banknote with a man, thus leaving women entirely unrepresented on our currency (the Queen will someday give way to a king, before anyone pipes up about her presence on every banknote/coin and she's there not due to achievement, but purely as a birthright, which is hardly the same).  Following the Bank of England's decision to introduce a new £10 note featuring Jane Austen in 2017, Ms Criado-Perez was rightfully congratulated by hundreds of her supporters.  However, not everyone was pleased by her victory.

Alongside the tweets of support, Ms Criado-Perez began to receive messages of an altogether different nature.  "You're just a media hungry attention seeker," one Twitter user ranted.  "Stop breathing," demanded another.  Both horrible and entirely unnecessary. Then came: "Can I rape you?"  Hang on... WHAT?

These tweets got worse and worse as time went on.  Descending into genuine threats ("Don't come to Newcastle, bitch!") and several mentions of rape and violent sexual assault.  These cyber-bullies attempted to post Ms Criado-Perez's address online publicly. 

"If your friends survived rape, they weren't raped properly," one vile Twitter user crowed.  "Wouldn't mind tying this bitch to my stove," leered another.  "Hey sweetheart, give me a shout when you're ready to be put in your place."

This wasn't a case of one, sick, pathetic little voice, needling someone whose success they were unable to stomach.  This was dozens - hundreds, even - of sick, pathetic loud voices, yelling their obscenities at one person who had done precisely nothing to any of them.

Caroline Criado-Perez is not of the "don't feed the trolls" mentality.  She believes - as do I - that ignoring these disgusting individuals does precisely nothing to solve the problem.  Calling them out, shouting back and reporting cases to the police and to Twitter/Facebook/wherever online abuse takes place, is a much more effective method.  As I write this, one man has already been arrested for his part in the torrent of abuse and illegal threats of rape and violence and I say that can only be a good thing.  I'm glad to see the police taking a case like this seriously.

Every day, all over the world, bullies take to their computers.  They sit in relative obscurity and send hate out across the Internet.  They make threats, they issue deliberately hurtful insults, they victim-blame and lie and they do so because they can.  Because they're behind a screen.  Because they believe they are untraceable.  Beyond punishment.

They are not.  When we raise our voices against these hateful bullies, we can become noisier than they are.  When they shout abuse, we need to shout louder. Our social network providers need to sit up and listen.  We need easier reporting methods when we come under attack from these bullies.  We need to know that we're protected by authorities who take these vicious threats and harassment seriously.

Imagine rape threats - hundreds of them - being sent to your mother.  Your daughter.  Would you be able to ignore them?  Would you be telling her that it was just a laugh and that she should turn off her computer and get a life?!

When we do nothing to challenge abuse, it will only worsen.  I know that from my experiences with my ex.  Not standing up to him only ever made him nastier.  It's no different with bullies, hiding behind their laptops. Ignore them and they'll eventually move onto someone else.  But why should someone else suffer?!  Why should any of us?

Speaking out is hard.  I have been guilty of silence too many times.  I've even told others to "just ignore them hun," with nothing but the best intentions.  But it's time that we took our heads out of the sand.  There is a problem - a very real problem - with bullying online.  According to the Cyber Bully hotline, roughly 20% of all teenagers who experience cyberbullying will consider suicide.  One in ten will attempt it.  How can we ignore a problem that causes our young to attempt to take their own lives?

The time has come to stand as one and shout back.  It doesn't matter who you are; what gender, nationality, sexuality or religion you may be.  Nobody deserves abuse.  It's time to support each other and say "enough is enough."  If you see cyber-bullying, report it.  Call the person out on their behaviour.  We don't have to "feed the trolls."  But we don't have to tolerate them either.


  1. Cyber bullying is no different to bullying in my view, indeed it could be seen as being worse, as its authors have the ability to hide themselves in anonymity and can create a herd mentality which makes the bully and their minions feel invincible. They aren't and they can and must be challenged. Thank you for such a well written piece.

  2. Aw, thank you for such a lovely comment. :-) I agree, too. Hiding behind a screen gives bullies a perfect opportunity to feel as though they're untouchable and one of the biggest reasons I refuse to just ignore it, is that victims already feel as though nothing can be done in many cases; we have to prove that's not true! I also think cyber bullying is awful, because it invades you in your own space, whereas with school bullying, or workplace bullying, at least you can come home to "escape." Bullying in general is just vile.

  3. I'm sorry you've had to go through all that. I thought I had it pretty bad when I finally canceled my blog. I used to blog about how bullying affected my life, and I had people bully me right on my blog. I've been made fun of for how I look, so I wanted to blog about my experiences. I was hoping to get through to people about how making fun of someone can really affect their lives. However, I had people telling me that my experiences never happened because people don't make of people for their looks. If they didn't tell me that, they told me my personality was ugly and not me because I was so full of self-pity. I was told that I was lucky that I could hide behind a computer so people couldn't see how ugly I was. So I finally just shut down my blog because I wasn't getting through to people. It was naive for me to believe that people would learn from my experiences.

    After reading what you've been through though, it seems very cowardly of me to shut down my blog. You've had a lot more just for stating your opinion. I've been reading through your other blog posts since I found your 50 Shades one, and this one really hit me. I really appreciate what you're doing by sharing awareness about 50 Shades of Grey. I see Facebook posts about it all the time, and I don't have the guts to tell people how ridiculous it is. I just shake my head at the fact that people find this romantic. One of my old school friends blogs a lot. He's a gay guy, and even he has fallen for the 50 Shades of Grey trap. Usually I respond to his blog posts, but he wrote one about how amazing it would be to meet a Christian Grey in his life. I couldn't respond to that one.

    I think you're amazing and I would like to see more of your work. I write in my spare time as well, but I don't find myself to be very good at it. I know I make a lot of grammar mistake, but I just do it for fun and I don't share my stories. My computer is full of things I've written, but I've never shared. When I was younger I used to write Harry Potter fanfiction but that's the only time I shared anything.

    I haven't read all of your posts yet, but I will in my spare time. I hope things get better for you. I don't understand how people can bully the way they do, and the stuff people said to you is really disgusting.

  4. Sadly, it appears that cyber bullying isn't going to stop anytime soon. In fact, it gets worse every day.dcitltd

  5. How to tackle cyberbullying head on?
    Having personal experience with being targeted by a cyber bully. My advice is to take a page from the malcontents and that is to have alternate accounts. Use them to provide layers of defense. Keep separate accounts for personal, school, work, and a close circle of friends. Be guarded with your information especially your phone number. For all intents and purposes you are at war… do what you are able to deprive your enemies of information. Learn to do some social weeding & pruning. This means do not grow too attached to an account. If it is being used a vector of attack block the harasser. IF need be abandon the account. Don’t delete it. Leave it active as a means to collect evidence against your harassers. Last of all ask for help, reach out... make it clear to your harassers that they are being logged and what is said can and will be submitted to the proper authorities. Otherwise do not reply to a harasser.


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