Bullying and complicity in a social media world

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
August 31, 2012 /

Click here to view original /

One of the best quotes attributed – rightly or wrongly – to Albert Einstein is his definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

This quote has been like tinnitus for me throughout the Charlotte Dawson/Twitter bullying scandal.

Before I explain my contention, I need to table some thoughts on bullying.

Bullying is not okay in any context. Be it in a schoolyard or mean comments dispatched via Twitter, bullying is never justifiable and the bully is always the baddie in the story.

Of all the reasons that render workplace or schoolyard bullying problematic is that a victim has to be in that space. They have to go to work, they have to go to school, and thus their predicament is unavoidable.

This however, is not the same in cyberspace. Nobody has to participate in social media. Facebook accounts can be closed; Twitter feeds don’t have to be read. Nobody has to have an online presence if they don’t want to.

Returning to the insanity definition I opened with, if reading your Twitter feed or your Facebook wall hurts – if doing so makes you feel anxious or upset or depressed – why would you keep doing it? Why would you persist in participating in activity that is causing grief?

Of course, this is not a question easily answered.

People drink too much and eat fried Mars Bars and have unprotected sex with dodgy characters and smoke and forget to go to the gym and spray their hair with all kinds of chemicals. People make bad decisions all the time; they allocate disproportionate weight to momentary pleasure and downplay the negative consequences. I understand that.

The difference however, is that most Coke-guzzlers know that they can’t blame others for their bad habits. They know that nobody is forcing them to act against their best interests; they know that as adults that they have to take some responsibility for their own actions.

The bullying of young people online is, of course, a whole other beast: for kids, opting out of social media is difficult, socially isolating and many simply don’t have the wherewithal to do so without perceived consequence. For them, cyber bullying is a much more complicated issue.

Adults however, not only have more choice but hopefully have the nous to navigate cyberspace more sensibly. Adults generally have better cognitive skills and understand that cyberspace is an environment full of trolls and bullies and nefarious Nigerians trying to steal bank account details and that the space needs to be traversed accordingly.

Surely adults know that if they turn their bloody computer off the sky will not fall in.

I’m not completely heartless; of course, I genuinely do think it’s horrible that people find themselves victims of online awfulness. I write very regularly for the web and if I had a dollar… yadda yadda. But I have a choice whether or not to read comments posted. Equally, I have choice whether to engage or to turn the proverbial other cheek.

How much sympathy do we need to extend to someone who persists in reading mean Tweets about themselves?

At some point do we need to question the victim about just how much complicity they have in their own predicament?

I’m absolutely not victim-blaming – again, the bully is the perp in this story – but surely adults of reasonable intellect must be charged with the task of acting sensibly and not sticking their own hand into the blender and asking for public sympathy.

© Lauren Rosewarne