Ask Angel

Online Bullying

 

Dear Elayne Angel,

I don’t know if this is something you can help me with, but I couldn’t think of anyone else to ask. I have been posting on some of the FaceBook piercer forums for a while now because I value constructive criticism and input from my peers. But holy sh*t! Some piercers went OFF on me so hard that I am traumatized. One guy in particular was ranting and calling me names, and several others joined in. I don’t want to sound like a whiner or a coward, but they were really inappropriate and obviously intended to hurt my feelings and smear my name and professional reputation.

They dragged stuff into the thread that was totally unrelated to piercing and they were so mean to me for no reason that I feel brutalized. They were also saying stuff that is flat out not true. I did my best to stick up for myself, but that just seemed to make the whole thing worse. That one guy actually said he wanted to kick my ass. I’m still so upset and I don’t know what to do with it.

Do you have any words of wisdom on how to handle this situation? Now I feel I can’t participate anymore, and that really sucks. I would appreciate your help because I hold you in such high esteem.

Respectfully, M.


Dear M.,

First off, I’m glad you reached out, because it is definitely best not to keep quiet about what has happened. You should also tell a friend, family member, or someone else you trust. They might have gone through a similar situation and have advice to offer. Even if just to vent, talking to someone about your experience can be very therapeutic. Depending on how distraught you feel, you might want to speak with a professional like a counselor, too.

Next, I want to let you know that I understand what you’re going through. I’ve been on the receiving end of some extremely vicious online attacks myself, in which truly horrible and entirely untrue things were said about me. It is very hurtful and unsettling, and I empathize with what you’re experiencing.

“Haters gonna hate,” as they say. And the Internet gives angry tyrants a deluxe venue to spew their venom. Being on the receiving end of their contempt can be demoralizing, or even devastating—but you can get through it.

Cyberbullying is an umbrella term used to describe many different kinds of virtual abuse. The perpetrator uses technology with online access to harass, stalk, embarrass, hurt, or mistreat another person. This type of negative behavior is incredibly prevalent, and it happens to children, teens, and adults alike. According to a survey(i) from the Pew Research Center, more than 40 percent of American adults have been bullied online and nearly 75 percent have witnessed cyber harassment. When it came to observing others:

    • • 60 percent said they saw someone being called offensive names
    • • Over half observed efforts to purposefully embarrass someone
    • • A quarter witnessed someone being harassed for a sustained period of time

Anonymity still exists on certain forums and sites, but even when the real identities of users is known, the distance provided by virtual communications decreases empathy and emboldens bullies to behave in ways they would be unlikely to if face-to-face with a live human.

I’ve seen cute puppy videos with nasty flame comments that were intentionally posted to be offensive and trigger reactions. So, a topic as provocative as piercing is definitely fodder for some fire—whether from the world at large, or from within our own community (which was the source of the vitriol that was directed at me).

There are lots of reasons that drive people to behave in such a way. Some have been bullied themselves, others are jealous, and yet others may have misplaced anger or need to exert power or control a situation. Regardless of the motivation, cyberbullying is never acceptable behavior.

I know the impulse to defend oneself can be overwhelming, but that is not a winning strategy. Since bullies get off on trying to make you feel powerless, when you fight back, you’re showing them that they’ve hit a nerve. Not responding isn’t the same thing as ignoring the offender. So, what should you do?

1. It is natural to want to just delete a bully’s offensive or cruel remark, but first screenshot everything and store the records carefully. Having documentation is important if the situation escalates.
2. Next, report the account to the social network and block them.
3. If the harassment is ongoing or there are physical threats, alert the police right away and provide the documentation.
4. If you feel that significant damage has been done to your reputation, contact an attorney. You might be able to file a civil suit against the aggressor, depending on the nature of the case. Possible legal actions include intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation of character, presentation in a false light, invasion of privacy, and harassment.

All major social media outlets have community standards and provide guidelines for reporting violations, including Facebook(ii). They suggest hiding the abusive item from your news feed, sending a message to the poster asking them to take the item down, and unfriending or blocking the person. You can also set up permissions to approve tagged photos, turn off commenting on posts, and disable location settings.

Other advice is to type out or write down everything you’d want to say in your own defense, but do not send or submit it. Getting it down “on paper” can help you to release the feelings and dissipate your anger and frustration without engaging online. While difficult, try not to take the bullying personally. Attempt to view it as the aggressor’s problem—not yours. The Cybersmile Foundation, a nonprofit anti-cyberbullying organization has many additional online resources you might find helpful.(iii)

The decision to involve the authorities and/or file a lawsuit depends on what is being posted about you. Key advice from police is to inform them immediately if a cyberbully threatens your personal safety. I’m not sure if you took the “ass kicking” comment to be an actual threat, but if you did, you should report it. Although no federal law directly addresses cyberbullying, in some cases it overlaps with discriminatory harassment when based on race, national origin, color, sex, age, disability, or religion. Every state deals with the problem differently(iv), but many laws relate only to handling of the matter within school environments.

Losing our networks is hard, even with strictly on-screen friends and relationships. The human need to belong to something, to interact with others, and to share is very strong. Consider other forums or sites you can visit to connect with colleagues or like-minded people. Maybe start your own Facebook group. As moderator of a closed group, you’d have control over who joins. This might prove empowering and satisfying.

I’m sorry that you have gone through this distressing experience, but it is good that you’re open to talking about it. I emphatically advise you to avoid engaging with bullies and encourage you take action as suggested above. I don’t think you will feel the need to log-off forever—just be selective about where you participate, and with whom. Keeping away from the bullies isn’t cowardly; it is smart and safe.

References:

(i) https://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/part-1-experiencing-online-harassment/s
(ii) https://www.cybersmile.org/advice-help/category/facebook
(iii) https://www.cybersmile.org
(iv) https://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/index.html

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