For many kids growing up in the 80's, if you were bullied in school you were able to "tough it out" because you knew your social interaction with said bully was isolated only to when you were in close proximity of them. When the bell range and you went home, you could dismiss the bully's taunting and physical abuse and be reminded of friends and family who supported you and kept your spirits up.
But in today's day and age of seemingly constant online connectivity, the "victims" of bullying have a harder time escaping. Once the bell rings, they're still potentially subject to be bullied via verbal assaults online, which often goes completely unnoticed by parents and friends. The worse part of this is that we're often told that because it happens "on the internet" there's no real consequences of trolling or bullying, which is far from true.
I've never accepted the excuse that just because "it happens on the internet" means it can't personally harm you in real life. Part of that is from my own experiences with internet bullying and seeing how it has indeed shaped and changed my day to day life with real people, but also part of it comes from watching what happens to those around me.
Teen suicide rates have increased exponentially since the rise of social media, with homosexual teens peaking the top of the charts of most suicidal. Several years ago a group of unrelated homosexual teens killed themselves within the span of a few days, all the result of internet bullying. Project groups like "It gets better" help, but don't address the underlying core problem of bullying in general, and the more we ignore the problem the worse things are going to get.
We're often told to simply ignore bullying online. Block the offending person and pretend they don't exist, but in many ways I don't think that helps. I think the better solution is to continue to bring these issues into the sun and give them the full exposure they deserve. Bullies should be called out on their bullying and publicly discouraged for their offensive behavior. We're never going to deal with the problem if we keep pretending it doesn't exist.
Recently during an EVE online fanfest panel, the chairman of Eve Online Council of Stellar Management encouraged the audience there to publicly shame and verbally attack another player who had been expressing suicidal tendencies in the hopes that that player would eventually act upon it and kill himself. He even went so far as to display the user's contact information up on the projector for everyone to see. The guy was drunk, first of all, but that doesn't excuse him for what he did and the next day he voluntarily resigned from the Council. Despite him doing the decent thing in accepting his poor behavior, one could say that the damage has already been done. The user who expressed suicidal thoughts now has their contact information floating out there around the internet, and has already probably been the subject of abuse since this incident (I haven't seen a follow up story looking into that aspect yet).
This is the result of how we feel omnipotent behind the veil of anonymity. And we continue to perpetuate it even without realizing it. Let's take another favorite internet pastime as an example: Memes. Now don't get me wrong, I love memes and I read them every day, but at the same time I must acknowledge that part of the reason many of them are "funny" is because they're purposefully being mean towards someone, usually without their awareness. It's the most basic form of bullying about on par with Nelson from the Simpsons: Point and laugh because it's not you.
As another example, just recently ABC News ran a report about cyber-bullying and how it affects children who play video games online. While I'm sure we're all well aware that foul-mouthed online users are common with online gaming, this recent report has sparked a renewed interest from parents in what to them seems absolutely deplorable and scary. Internet bullying exists and average people are starting to become more aware of it.
As the internet becomes more mainstream we are going to have to deal with the serious repercussions this medium offers. It's been fun to troll around and pretend that you can do whatever you want on the internet, but the truth of the matter is those days are probably numbered. Soon, no matter how it happens, the internet will come under the same sort of scrutiny and attention that acts of violence and bullying do in the real world. The internet will no longer be "free" and what you say and do could possibly come back to bite you in the butt.
I would like to implore people to stop for a moment before making a hasty comment and think about what you're doing and why you're doing it. If it's for a cheap laugh and thrill of making your eDick bigger, you should probably just be the better person and not do it at all. Likewise, if you see someone bullying, you should probably point it out and draw people's attention to it, or send the victim a personal message telling them that you support them. It's very easy to be a jerk on the internet, but it's much harder and less encouraged to be civil. If you think you might be seeing something bad happening to someone you know, whether it be on tumblr, facebook, google+, or whatever, take time to stop in and give them some encouragement.
As much as we'd like to believe it, we are not all equal and not everyone is able to separate themselves from the verbal assaults they might receive online, nor build enough of a thick skin to endure it. And frankly, I don't think they should be forced to anyway. The whole notion that "if you can't handle the fire, you shouldn't be here" is an antiquated excuse employed by bullies who don't want to be held accountable for their bad behavior online. We should treat everyone with courtesy and respect, especially those who are new to the online experience. I love the internet and I would hate to see it come under intense scrutiny by government officials who have no business sticking their nose in here. And if we want to avoid that future we've got to start policing ourselves the same way the Movie and Music industry policed themselves. SOPA and ACTA are just the beginning. There's going to be more bills and laws like it coming our way and making the internet a better place to be should be one of our top concerns.
And now my questions for discussion. Do you think that trolling is a form of internet bullying? Do you think ignoring the problem will make it go away? If you came across internet bullying what would you do? Have you ever experienced internet bullying, or known someone who has? What are your thoughts on this subject matter and how would you go about making things right?
Playing: Kid Icarus: Uprising