I have read many articles about how people behave differently online. In many cases, the anonymity of an online profile frees one up from the consequences of speaking inadvisedly. This has then encouraged some people to be deliberately provocative in what they say, knowing they will never personally be called to account.
Of course the issues of cyber-bullying and -abuse have now reared their heads, and slowly government authorities in a number of countries are trying to grapple with the problems caused, particularly since these behaviours have resulted in deaths of children/teenagers.
And yet many adults don’t seem to have caught up with these ideas (particularly peculiar since they spend so much time online). Just recently, I have been in a position to see, in a forum on another site, exactly what happens when people fear no repercussion for their words or behaviours.
Fortunately, in this case, an innocent victim was not harmed, either emotionally or physically. What did happen that the victim – a relatively new member to the forum – was almost immediately humilated and criticised after their opening post. The new member retaliated – and their words were not exactly polite either – but the ensuing exchanges resulted in the new member being banned from the site. The site bullies were aided in this as one of their number included the site moderator.
Unfortunately for them, it turned out that the victim was something of an internet whiz, and subsequently formed multiple new profiles, in order to return again and again to torment the people who had attacked the victim. The site managers kept banning each new profile as it was recovered, but couldn’t block the IP, as the victim was masking their originating IP as well.
The issue has now been resolved, with the site management undertaking changes to prevent the culture of control and bullying from rising again, and leading to any future incidents. The victim, having achieved a satisfactory result, issued a general apology to all, and disappeared.
This is a key reminder to us all, that online, as much as in real life, basic courtesy and respect for others is mandatory. It is fine to express opinions, even strongly, as long as you do not denigrate individuals. Beware of generalisations. Be tolerant of people from different backgrounds and with different ideas. Do not seek to impose your personal (as opposed to those framed in law) moral standards on others.
This does not mean tolerating crudity, or hate speeches, or threats, or dangerous information from others. But handle those issues correctly. There is a reason why sites have rules and regulations, and a form of protest, generally in the form of a “report” button. There are often also “Block” buttons. Utilise these things. Do not stoop to quarrel with people who offend in these ways. Online, ignoring offensive words is quite often one of the most effective things that can be done…it’s social ostracism, which is actually a very harsh form of punishment.
Remember you are an adult (most forums require you to be legally an adult) and behave like one. In my experience, when someone says something along the lines “I’m a peaceful person, but if someone treads on my toes then I won’t take it lying down” it translates as “walk small, don’t cross me in any way, and I might just let you live”. In other words it is code for a specific type of adult, control-freak, abusive bully. Truly peaceful people never seem to have the need to announce things like this.
And also remember this…no matter how tough you think you are, how smart you think you are, how untouchable you think you are online…there are people out there online, who may seem defenceless, but if you treat them badly, may just turn out to be the people that can seriously make your life hell. I know several people who have found that out just recently, and it is a timely reminder for us all.
Be nice, not nasty – it’s a good mantra.