I’m sitting in the bright New Zealand sunshine in the middle of an unusually cold winter, watching my husband referee a soccer match. My work life has been fairly frantic this week, my writing life full of self-imposed deadlines and my family life ticking along on the regular undulating tide of semi-adult dramas brought home for Mum or Dad to sort out.
I log onto a Facebook reading group to issue my familiar promises - I will get the book read even if it’s at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute - only to discover another author friend reeling from a spate of internet bullying which has seen them abandon groups and retreat in fear.
Because they dared to give someone a constructive 3* review.
Any kind of bullying fills me with disgust. It twangs something deep in my stomach, to be honest. Yes, I was the slightly porky kid at high school who was often picked last for teams. My glasses didn’t help and my fuzzy hair topped off the image of the geeky, academic girl who’d do anything not to get noticed.
With the exception of a few rabid bosses over my quarter of a century in work (gulp) I left most of that-kind-of-behaviour behind at school, along with those-kind-of-people.
I commiserate with the author and make a mental note of the other person’s name, determined not to read or review their work in case I don’t like it either and need to remember they don’t want my opinion. Their work is clearly for admiring and not critiquing, as though they’re up there with Rembrandt and Michael Angelo. Look but don’t touch. Ok. Got that.
So I look through my newsfeed and see a comment about some point of view that I understand, but don’t necessarily agree with. I watch for a while and it seems fairly safe so I slip into the conversation and suggest another point of view.
What did I just say? Did I really dare to offer an alternative, as though I might actually have an opinion, even though I didn’t contradict or slate theirs?
Yes I did.
How very dare I!
I didn’t know there were abusive emoticons, but apparently there are. It must have taken someone hours to programme those hand gestures to work so perfectly.
In the space of five minutes, I'm shouted at in capital letters, emoticonned until the thread is light years long and told to do things to myself which I don’t think are physically viable. All because I thought differently.
It was a bit sickening and had that pervading odour, like when you walk into your lounge and smell the dog poo you just tramped across the carpet. That kind of feeling. I made it go away quite easily using 3 simple words. In fact it was quicker than getting the carpet shampoo out.
Block, report and unfollow.
Yep, they were gone. But with no desire to come across that person again in a social forum, I then culled my friends and made sure it wouldn’t happen, which means I’m now no longer friends with someone I actually quite liked. But their groupie gathering is dangerous, so it’s best I disconnect.
It’s interesting this internet mentality and how otherwise ordinary people, who smile at work, kiss their children goodnight and walk around like good citizens, suddenly morph into rabid mob fundamentalists when they get behind their keyboard.
Is it the lack of voice they feel they have which makes them the very definition of vitriolic?
Is it boredom?
What is it?
I remember once commenting on a friend’s hat on a photo they put up on Facebook. It was just a wee joke about an outing of a particular tweed cap in a photo of him pulling a funny face. The comments which ensued from one of his friends, allegedly defending said cap and man wearing it, were personal and spiteful and from a complete stranger. I’d known the cap wearer for years and it was a joke we had but I was mortified. My friend failed to intervene and the tirade continued, so I sadly unfriended him. A year later he private messaged me to ask why I unfriended him.
“What happened?” he asked.
I answer in surprise, “Your ‘friend’ happened.”
“Oh, he’s not a real friend, he’s just a bit odd.”
“But you let him in your inner circle and he attacked me from there.”
“Didn’t see that. Sorry.”
I think we need to be a little pickier about who we allow into our personal space, especially if those in the inner circle still think there’s some kind of battle raging and their role is to capture the flag. To those who see it and do nothing, well, sadly you’re complicit and part of the problem.
Who are these people who spit venom to complete strangers and retreat behind a screen to lick the blood from their fingers? And why do the rest of us slowly draw back and hide when one of them starts?
It’s fascinating and I wish I took psychology papers at university instead of reading Jane Austen and James T Farrell. Actually I don’t, I’m lying. I loved Austen and Farrell. But I’d love to know what makes these keyboard warriors tick. Is it the same chemical which allows me the sideshow of a businessman and a grandad squaring off over a round white ball on a handkerchief of green grass, as my husband blows his whistle with cool authority and parts the fray? It can’t be the ball because that did nothing offensive, so it must be the testosterone laden males trying and failing to control its trajectory towards the sticking up posty things.
It feels as though the world has forgotten what consequences are.
Remember consequences? They represent the results of the stuff you do.
You say something mean and someone gets hurt. That’s how this thing works, whether spoken or written. What astounds me is that these people wouldn’t say it to your face, no matter what they claim. But they’ll sit behind a keyboard and destroy your reputation and make threats out of the written word, cause ill feeling, destroy hours of someone's life or make another human being feel inferior for thinking differently.
More and more I’m seeing Facebook and email conversations admissible as evidence in court cases. Why not? It’s written and it’s date stamped. It’s fantastic. Sadly some of these hurtful people slinging their muck in our kind of arena won’t find themselves in court, but we need to show them it’s not ok to behave that way.
But who’s going to be brave enough to start it?
You are. You're going to be brave enough.
Next time you see someone making a spiteful comment for the sake of it, taking someone’s words and stringing them up, twisting meanings or just plain bullying, YOU need to intervene.
Just type the word #enough to show you don’t appreciate their behaviour. Do it where everyone can see and pass the word around. Unfriend them, block them and delete them from groups to show them it’s not acceptable.
It’s what I’ll be doing from now on. Because I’ve really had enough.
So how about you? Will you do it?