Right now, there’s a big deal being made about online abuse. It’s not a new concept, though, and seems to only become a noteworthy issue when a celebrity complains that someone online doesn’t like them.
Now, what happened to Charlotte Dawson is awful, of course.
No-one should bag others out endlessly, insulting them to the point of hospitalisation. But the operative word there is should.
No one should set fire to things, but there are still arsonists.
No one should rob a bank, but there are still thieves.
And no one should be engaging in bullying behaviour, but there have always been, and always will be bullies. In fact, one of the oldest stories in ‘the Book’ – David and Goliath – is a story about a bully.
In all likelihood, we’ve all dealt with bullies at school, and some of us may have even been bullies.
But cyber bullying allows the same mongrels who torment us in the offline world to invade our private spaces too.
When you’re the victim of online bullying, you’re not sure what you can do to make it go away. Your online world is supposed to be a perfectly personal sanctuary, so it’s a violation of another order entirely when people enter it to harass you.
Most people who meet me realise pretty quickly that I’m all about technology: I’m 28 years old and have been using computers since I was one-and-a-half. My Dad was – and still is – a programmer and, as a result, I’ve had a pretty net-savvy upbringing, using the web and developing for it since I was 12.
Sometimes, I even think I understand computers better than I understand people.
I guess you could say I’m a geek. But when I was growing up, geek was not cool in the way that the Big Bang Theory sitcom has helped make it cool.
So I was bullied. In primary school and high school, both in Australia and America where I was educated, and later while I was studying at university.
It continues in my current life as a journalist and reviewer. I get it on Twitter, websites, forum boards, and video games with chat systems.
I’ve had hate messages. I’ve had people tell me I deserve to die, that I’m not worth the pages I’ve been printed on, and if you give me a sheet of paper, I could fill it with the expletives people have levelled against me for no other reason than that they could and thought they were right for doing so.
So, I’ve been bullied online and offline, and through those years of experience, have learned a thing or two about how to deal with it.
Just ignore it.
Strategy in action
People who use the online world as a forum to vent against others are called ‘trolls’, and they’re not going to go away.
They are like the neighbour you don’t like who scowls at you, or hisses at your pet, except they live inside your tablet, smartphone or PC.
They will, of course, say what they want, when they want, but many won’t ever fully understand that the web will keep a record of their vicious commentary long into the future, where it can be used to discredit them from potential careers, relationships and travel ambitions.
You, on the other hand, are probably an awesome person. Awesome in your own unique way, and keen to take on the world however you choose, so why should it matter what someone says about you – especially someone you’ve never met or aren’t friends with in real life?
On the internet, the amount of followers someone has doesn’t reflect how cool they are, just how many people are reading what they have to say.
On Facebook, the number of friends doesn’t say how many people actually like that person, just how many individuals they have added. Over at LinkedIn, the sheer size of connections doesn’t mean the worker is quality, just that they have ‘connected’ with that many other people.
So if someone says something horrible about you and they have lots of friends or followers, ask yourself if you really care, and if the answer is yes, ask yourself why.
Consider too, that psychologists can work for years to transform mean, negative personalities, so in the shorthand universe of Facebook and Twitter where 140 characters passes as communication, it really is pointless to even try.
So don’t engage with trolls. At all.
Ignore them. It’s much easier.