[This blog post quotes some strong language. Reader discretion is advised.]
The Internet can be a wonderful place full of loving friends, inspiration, support, and baby animals. It can also be a place of darkness filled with nasty, vindictive low-lifes ready to tear you apart at the drop of a hat. They bully, harass, stalk, and shame in great numbers. If you don’t know what cyber bullying is, you’ve been living under a rock. But for all you hermits out there, cyber bullying “is bullying that is done through the use of technology“. Online harassment is conducted through the Internet with the purpose of hurting, shaming, or embarrassing someone. Often times, cyber bulling and online harassment is carried out by immature teenagers who have nothing better to do and don’t truly understand the consequences of their actions. However, when it becomes a case of adults targeting adults, what hope do we have?
The Internet’s First Victim
I recently watched a Ted Talk by Monica Lewinsky. To be honest, I had no clue who Monica was and had to look her up to learn her story. Wikipedia told me that Monica was the star of the 1998 Lewinsky Political Sex Scandal and was involved in a sexual relationship with former United States president, Bill Clinton. Despite being only four at the time of this scandal, and therefore being previously oblivious to its existence, I found Monica Lewinsky’s story quite compelling. In her Ted Talk: The price of shame, Monica states:
“At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss, and at the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences … Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply.“
In 1998, after being swept up into an unlikely romance, Monica was then swept up into a sensationalist media maelstrom that had never been seen before. Previously, news was consumed by reading a newspaper or magazine, listening to the radio, or watching television. However, Monica was caught up in the digital revolution which meant her story was available online and could be accessed any time, any place, anywhere. News of Monica’s scandal online was the first piece of news to overtake traditional news media. Monica became the Internet’s first victim.
With photos of Monica being plastered all over the internet, her once private life was now on the line for international public humiliation. Her personal reputation was destroyed instantaneously on a global scale by mobs of virtual stone-throwers. The Lewinsky Scandal happened in a time before social media, however people could still comment online and email stories and cruel jokes. Recordings of Monica’s private telephone conversations were leaked online which lead to excruciating public humiliation. Monica expressed in her speech what these actions cost her:
“I lost my reputation and my dignity. I lost almost everything, and I almost lost my life.”
Watching Monica’s TED Talk reminded me of the Herald Sun article about the recent false accusations towards a father who was accused of being a sexual predator by a woman who thought he was taking a photo of her kids.
Earlier this month, a man in his 40s was shopping for a present for his partner and noticed a Star Wars display at Target. The father of three said his family loved Star Wars films and he innocently took a photo of himself at the shop display. However, a woman saw him taking the photo and thought he was taking a photo of her children. Without investigating the matter further, the woman posted the following photo on Facebook and stated that he was a “creep” and “sex offender“:
The post was shared more than 100 times over social media, and eventually word got around to the father himself. A work colleague rang the father and informed him that his photo was online and he had been called a creep. The father stated that “[He] felt sick. [He was] so embarrassed and devastated.” The self-confessed “daggy dad” went immediately went to Knox Police Complex to explain what had happened, someone on the street shouted out to him “sicko” when he was walking to the police station. The police took his phone, checked its content and thoroughly investigated his story. The father said, “That’s more than what the woman did who posted my photo without any investigation or course of natural justice.”
Eventually, the issue was resolved when the father and the woman met up to talk things through, as reported by the Courier Mail. The father explained to her the devastating effects her post had on himself, his family, his children, and his work. He said the woman understood the amount of pain her post had caused. “She acknowledged what she did was wrong, and she should have left the information with police which is the proper authority to investigate any suspicious behaviour,” the dad said.
The father accepted her apology and told her he had no ill will or malice towards her and he forgave her. He decided not to take any legal action against the woman, despite being urged to do so by legal professionals. People may be wondering why he didn’t sue her to teach her a lesson. To explain, the father said,
“Well I think the lesson was not just for her, it’s about the tens of thousands of other people who also should be heeding the message and that lesson (of making sure what they share on social media is legitimate), so I don’t want to put the culpability on her alone.”
The father has encouraged people to check their facts before they spread vicious rumours online, as the next victim may not be as resilient as himself with the the strength and support of his friends and family. They may be more vulnerable and it may be a different outcome for that particular person.
I think Sally Kohn’s TED Talk: Don’t like clickbait? Don’t click is relevant in this instance, even though ‘sharing’ a post is not the same on as ‘clicking’ on a post, the same rule applies: “Everything we blog, everything we Tweet, and everything we click is a public act of making media. We are the new editors. We decide what gets attention based on what we give our attention to.” So make sure the information you’re reading, liking, and spreading is accurate and not a life-altering lie.
An issue of online harassment even closer to home happened just last week. Candace Krieger, an admin of the Facebook group QUT StalkerSpace 2.0, spoke up publicly about people who had been privately messaging her with violent threats and bullying her about her appearance:
Upon seeing this post, someone from StalkerSpace decided to escalate their bullying and took to 4chan to anonymously ask the Internet to “raid this bitch” and “push her for nudes“. However, the anonymous user’s plan backfired when people from StalkerSpace found his post and stood up for Candace, called out the original poster, and turned on him for being a loser with nothing better do with his life than to hate on someone he’s never even met.
Candace states in her Facebook post that, “bullying and harassment is never okay and while [she’ll] stand up for anyone else suffering it in a heartbeat, it’s quite difficult to stand up for yourself.” Monica Lewinsky reflects on this in her TED Talk and asks that people “… post a positive comment for someone or report a bullying situation,” if you see they are being harassed online. “Compassionate comments help abate the negativity,” Monica expressed.
Cyber bullying, online harassment, and shaming can happen to anyone, and it can have devastating affects on people’s lives. It is our duty as Internet users to be wise about what we share with others, research the facts before we believe them, and do our best to help someone if we see they are struggling with online bullying.
Have you ever seen someone being harassed online? Did you stand up to the bullies? Unfortunately, I can’t say I’ve ever come to someone’s aid when I’ve witnessed cyber bullying. I prefer to pretend I simply can’t see it and continue on my merry away. I am sure there are a lot of people out there who do exactly that too. So to conclude, I’ll leave you with a quote from Sally Kohn, and we should all heed her advice:
If someone is being abused online, do something. Be a hero. This is your chance. Speak up. Speak out. Be a good person. Drown out the negative with the positive.