Hiding behind screens

I’ve written a lot of the last couple of years about bullies, and sometimes it seems that there are more of them in the arts than in any other industry. Writers, especially young adult writers, seem to be hard wired to be complete cunts about each other.

Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but sometimes it seems that for every slightly annoyed or upset writer there are ten Melissa Douthit’s spewing spite and vitriol from behind the ‘safety’ of their screens.

And it’s not just the book that is attacked. These bullies will go for any area of the writer’s life. Nothing is private, nothing is off limits.

The sad thing about people who use their websites, blogs, internet forums, social media or review sites is that do so with the knowledge that it’s hard to stop. They are going to get away with it.

Bully Statistic website states that some 90% of teens have witnessed cyber bullying and a staggering 50% have been victim to bullying behaviour on social media websites. However, only 1 in 5 of these incidents get reported to the authorities.

There is a culture of dismissing cyber bullying as somehow not equating to ‘real’ bullying. Social media has allowed instant access to other people. Bullying is not only immediate, it’s also right there in your room and you can never escape from it. The scale of the problem is so huge that there simply isn’t enough time or money or resources to eradicate it. And the bullies know that too.

There is also a sad culture of bullies pretending to be victims once they are called on their behaviour, and sometimes as justification of instigating it.

Some of you will have been subject to bullying behaviour and maybe not even realised it, just accepting it as the norm or dismissing it as someone just being a jerk. But that doesn’t make it okay, and even if you don’t feel harmed by it, chances are someone else is also a victim of that person and is feeling it much worse.

So what constitutes bullying?

This is a little harder to explain as there is no single answer, and the spectrum is broad and changes from person to person. In short, it’s any behaviour targeted at you that is hurtful. This can range from constant put downs to spreading lies, writing targeted posts or blogs that the bully, when confronted, will always claim isn’t about the victim, through to the extremes of setting up hate websites like STGRB (remember them? *shudders*)

There are also two faces to bullies – the anonymous trolls that we don’t know, and the people we do. The first category is bad and is the bane of review sites which are rife with dogpiling and people making the nastiest comments in throwaway manner. These people are the product of an internet age and are, for the most part, people who often do not realise that what they are doing is bullying. They are usually the sort of people who would not say those things to someone’s face, but egged on by the comparative safety of the internet and invisible behind an avatar, they simply lack the ability to control and assess their behaviour.

These can also be the creepiest to deal with. Remember when Melissa Douthit indulged in some frankly terrifying stalking of Wendy Darling which led to her posting a vast amount of personal information about Wendy online and later on the founding of the STGRB website. These people are the scary ones in a true internet warning horror story.

The other side of bullying are the people we know. People who have access to us on a level that strangers online do not. In the past we were able to get away from these bullies for at least part of the day. Now these thugs follow us home and into our bedrooms. There is no escape.

Sometimes it seems that barely a week goes past when we don’t hear a story about another teen (teens are the most susceptible group and teens who have experienced cyber bullying are 9 times more likely to consider suicide) who has taken their own life because of what they have experienced.

Thankfully the law is starting to catch up and take these incidents more seriously. However that is little comfort for the friends and family of the victim.

Rebecca Sedwick was 12 when she killed herself following 2 years of relentless bullying. Did her bullies show any remorse? Judge for yourself – the following is a comment one of the bullies posted on Facebook after the teens death:

“yes I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself, but I don’t give a (expletive).”

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/girl-accused-bullying-saddened-florida-12-year-olds-suicide-v21005002

And this highlights the problem – that people don’t take either bullying or their own actions seriously enough to understand the impact it has an how truly distressing it is for victims.

Megan Meier was only 13 when she killed herself in 2006 after relentless bullying on MySpace. What’s interesting about Meier’s case was the reaction from other internet users. Internet bloggers posted photographs, telephone numbers, e-mail details, and addresses of alleged bullies and their family’s on various websites.

Reacting to bullying with counter-bullying is not the way to go.

14 year old Viviana Aguirre killed herself after a torrent of messages telling her to kill herself which were received on Facebook.

These are not isolated cases and aren’t even the tip of the iceberg.

I would say that every single one of you will have either been bullied or know someone who has.

In the past I’ve experienced it myself. Like so many children I was bullied at school. Eventually that stopped. But with the rise of the internet things have started again, particularly in the last few years. A couple of years ago I received a lot of abuse on Formspring. interestingly, I had only joined the site to research the potential for abuse and bullying. Sites like Formspring and Ask.fm where users are encouraged to ask each other questions are just holding the door open for bullies. Many of these sort of sites also allow users to remain anonymous, which is surely the worst idea ever?

When I first published social media wasn’t really a thing yet. But after a break from writing I discovered how horrible people can be when I published more books. Strangers would write awful things about me and my person life, make assumptions about me. And in a public space.

I’ve also had to deal with the more subtle and harder to prove side of bullying – targets posts that people think are okay because they don’t name me or weren’t sent to me directly. Discussions about me on blogs and social networking sites with no respect for me and no consideration of whether I or my loved ones would see them. The disregard for another person in this way is what is truly upsetting.

Now, multiply my experiences over the years and it doesn’t amount to a fraction of what teens have to deal with these days. Adults, for the most part, have more self control (although there’s always one, isn’t there?) but some people truly seem to lack the insight or self knowledge to see the downward spiral of their own behaviour.

I have to say that while I wholeheartedly condemn bullying, I have a certain amount of sympathy for bullies in certain circumstances. Many bullies are a product of their environments. Several major studies have shown that bullies are many times more likely to have severe mental health problems, which can render them unable to accurately process their actions. Often these bullies will see themselves as the victim as that is what their illness is making them believe.

The 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health showed that a jaw-dropping 15% of people are or have been a bully.

Bear in mind that those figures are JUST children and the figures themselves are 7 years old. Think of the meteoric rise of social networking and the increasingly levels of ICT skills in children and adults. My daughter is 7 and uses and iPad in school and is frightening computer literate compared to children 10 years ago.

Amazon and Goodreads both have a massive issue with bullying. Amazon reviews are generally a snake pit of vitriol and best avoided. I’ve blogged in the past about some of the issued I’ve had with Amazon reviews being personal attacks, and how difficult it was for me to get Amazon to take it seriously.

Goodreads ‘shelf’ system has cause many issues with readers, reviewers and writers in turn being attacked and has led to many users abandoning the site, which is a shame as it is, when used properly, a wonder tool for readers.

I’ve just published a new book this week (I’ll not name it, I’ll let you hunt for it 🙂 ) and I’m fully expecting to receive at least one nasty attack from someone.

But will I be upset? Honestly, yeah, I probably will. But will I retaliate? Hell no. I’m not going to get into a public slanging match with anyone. No, as much as it upsets me, I’m just going to have to sit back, do nothing and let the bullies show themselves for what they are – cowards who are just showing themselves up.

So, next time you are about to post what you think is a witty quip or a funny takedown of someone, stop and think how that person might take it. Do they deserve it? What have they done to you?

Words have power to hurt.

Enjoy your weekend folks.

C

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