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Online Bullies – Are They Really That Different From Regular Bullies?

As a parent of (until recently) high school students, we’ve heard a lot about bullying and how to handle it. We’ve taught our boys appropriate behavior and counseled them through many life lessons that surround people misbehaving.

No BullyingBut the world is moving online and changing the profile of the bully, and will inevitably change how we feel and react. When I was young, the bully was the kid who took the swing from another kid, stole a friend’s lunch, or taunted people as they walked across the playground. These people’s words, tone and action all contributed to them being labeled as a bully.

On social sites, we no longer have multiple dimensions from which to evaluate situations. We only have the words on “paper” (screen). Tone, facial expression, etc., are no longer part of how we evaluate. And we all know that situations can change instantaneously.

Online civility is an international problem that many groups are looking at. Two very well respected international agencies conducted a research study delving into online incivility. The report states that 70% of people surveyed believe incivility online has reached crisis proportions and nearly 25% report being treated uncivilly online.

My friend Kami Huyse is part of a group tackling this problem after she and Andrea Weckerle became extremely concerned. Andrea’s book, Civilnation, is a great read and includes hands on practical suggestions. The website is becoming an extension of the book, providing regular content about online bullying and rudeness.  Civilnation’s mission:

Our mission is to foster an online culture where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open, rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment or lies.

Kami has some practical suggestions for dealing with online incivility that we should all review. In an online world, it’s even more important to be aware that words you choose could really hurt someone. Some suggestions:

  • Use of negative words is amplified so use them sparingly
  • Only post online what you want to see in a headline
  • Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and make sure you’d want to see that post in your timeline
  • Consider walking away from the computer before responding in anger
  • Don’t assume your wink/smiley face will be interpreted by the recipient
  • Take your conversation offline if it’s not something that belongs online
  • Use private communication methods when your conversation might be inappropriate
  • Don’t be a know-it-all but instead use a helpful tone
  • Never use absolutes, you’ll always be wrong (one of my husband’s favorite lines)

In 2010, I wrote a post similar to this titled “Civility and Decency…Has social media given us an excuse to forget to treat each other well? It’s amazing how little has changed.

What thoughts and ideas do you have for combatting online bullying and incivility? How do you handle it online when you feel hurt or attacked by others?

 

Photo: Leo Reynolds; via Flickr, CC 2.0

 

By | 2017-03-07T00:41:22+00:00 August 13th, 2013|Leadership & Networking|8 Comments

About the Author:

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, runs a strategic communications consultancy where she helps clients understand how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has counseled clients in Tacoma, Anchorage, San Francisco, Oregon, and Colorado for nearly 40 years working with a variety of food organizations, several agencies, and as a key team member on two successful US Senate campaigns. 


8 Comments

  1. KarenD.Swim August 13, 2013 at 9:28 am - Reply

    Mary, very timely and informative post. Online platforms have become a modern day bully pit. While a minority of those online, bullies can unfortunately taint the experience of an open social culture. This issue becomes even more complex for those whose online presence is integral to their professional lives. I am glad to see so many voices calling for a cease fire and a return to civility.

  2. KarenD.Swim August 13, 2013 at 9:28 am - Reply

    Mary, very timely and informative post. Online platforms have become a modern day bully pit. While a minority of those online, bullies can unfortunately taint the experience of an open social culture. This issue becomes even more complex for those whose online presence is integral to their professional lives. I am glad to see so many voices calling for a cease fire and a return to civility.

  3. mdbarber August 13, 2013 at 10:09 am - Reply

    KarenD.Swim Thanks for reading Karen. I agree that this is only a growing problem. I would like to think those who are bullying will see posts like this and CivilNation but I fear they won’t. We need to keep pushing for change and also support those who are being bullied.

  4. kamichat August 13, 2013 at 10:46 am - Reply

    Thanks for bringing up this issue. There are different levels of criticism, there are misunderstandings, customer service problems and then there are more vicious attacks.
    Today’s Salon carried a post about coordinated attacks (http://ow.ly/nTCdw) that are being leveled against women who are online professionally. We all need to educate ourselves and make this type of behavior unacceptable. Right now they are getting away from it because so many of us are willing to allow it to continue. We don’t get involved for fear of being targeted ourselves.

  5. 3HatsComm August 14, 2013 at 8:44 am - Reply

    The thing is this: we are so rarely discussing facts, absolute and stone-set; we’re often talking experiences, opinions, perceptions – always subjective, always will vary. I don’t like it when I’m second guessed, try to remember that before dishing back out. My advice: Learn when to let it go. It’s so much easier to say or type than do. I may kick myself for not having the spine to speak up and defend myself, then I remember – it’s not worth it. We’re often talking about mixing it up w/ the types of people who have to be right, have to be never wrong, have to have the last word; that’s not a fight that needs fighting. FWIW.

  6. mdbarber August 14, 2013 at 9:05 am - Reply

    3HatsComm I agree Davina about the fact versus subjective discussion. That can often be the crux of the problem and why it’s best to walk away. But when we see the same people over and over it can be terribly difficult. Listening, and hearing, are skills we all need to work on.

  7. dariasteigman August 14, 2013 at 9:07 am - Reply

    I think there are really two issues that often get put together: (1) bullying and (2) amplification. Online clearly offers a new place for bullies to hang out and online bullying is a tough issue to tackle — no more so than when it comes to children. But the other issue that too often gets lumped in is amplification. Much as email amplifies everything, so does any written remark devoid of context. And we used to think email was shorthanded… I think too often what people mean to say comes across incorrectly and in a manner that has nothing to do with intent; the more we separate that from true bullying, the better we will be at tackling these different challenges.
    Of course, a third issue is immediacy — how easy it is to just “share” your first impressions with the world. You see this a lot in the sports and politics arena — and not always for the better.

  8. mdbarber August 14, 2013 at 9:53 am - Reply

    dariasteigman I definitely think amplification and immediacy are issues in social media. I think that’s what makes it especially hard to tackle too. It’s easy of us to get caught up in that immediacy and not wait to respond as we could do with email.

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