Yes, I know, another blog on that played-out theme … cyberbullying. The difference here, though, is that I have personally experienced the brutal effects of cyber-bullying, as opposed to many of these ‘experts’ who are on the outside looking in.
A few years back (2009, I think it was), I was friends with a gay couple. P was the older of the two, and had schizo-affective disorder. C, the younger, was a little hyper-protective of P. I myself had been diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder at that time, the latest in a long list of ‘diagnoses’ that had been given to me to try and pinpoint what my exact problem was (the current, and most fitting so far, being BiPolar).
I was friends with these two for about two years, I think. I shared a lot of personal details with them, and they did likewise. And then one day P ended up in hospital due to an episode of his illness. I was one of a small group that C took into confidence about this event, and I respected that confidence.
Earlier that year, I had written about my experiences with mental health problems in response to a challenge in a creative writing group I was part of. At that time, I had had several requests for more information, and so I promised that at some point in the near future I would write about it. Well, not long after P ended up in hospital, and completely coincidentaly, two friends asked in the same day for me to tell them more about my experiences. Neither of these two knew about P’s current struggles, and I personally didn’t link the timing of his struggles to the timing of these requests for information. So I wrote about my experiences. I made no reference to P whatsoever.
And then hell broke loose.
C decided I was ‘grandstanding’ P’s illness, and proceeded to harrass me. He told mutual friends about “what I’d done”, and I received harrassment from them also. Attempts to explain the actual circumstances of the blog were met with hostility and accusations, and I began to receive nasty messages about how I was “stealing P’s story” and how I was a nasty person. Several mutual friends turned their back on me, and the stress of the situation landed me in hospital myself, having triggered an episode of suicidal depression and psychotic delusions.
Upon my release from hospital, I was again attacked, this time via a publicly-available blog entry from C claiming that I had never been in hospital, that I had made it up, and that there were “more holes” in my “story” than swiss cheese. A friend of mine stood up for me and was attacked for her efforts. I ended up abandoning that blog and hiding behind a new, private persona. My trust was deeply affected, both online and offline, and it was close to a year before I began to venture out again.
Cyber-bullying is every bit as real as any other kind of bullying, and has much the same effect.
I heard one ‘genius’ quip: “if you’re being bullied on the computer, duh! Just turn the computer off!” That’s over-simplistic and fails to take into account the psychological effect of bullying. ANY bullying. For many people who are bullied online, they’re online in the first place because they have trouble being accepted in the “real world”. Fat kids, awkward kids, kids with zits, kids with glasses, kids who stutter … all find refuge in the internet, because nobody can see their “imperfections” online, the only thing that shows is their personality. These kids (and adults!) can find acceptance online because that first visible barrier is taken down.
That said, telling someone to “just turn the computer off” if they’re being bullied is the same as saying “if you’re being bullied at school, duh! Don’t go to school!” or “if people bully you at work, duh! Don’t go to work!” or “if people bully you when you play sport, duh! Don’t play sport!” It’s telling people to let the bullies chase you away from whatever it is you’re doing.
That’s not the answer. The internet, for all its flaws, has opened up a world of friendship and opportunity to people who previously couldn’t access them. It’s a place where being a ‘nerd’ is something to be proud of. So why should people just walk away from it because someone gets off on being nasty?
Nope. The answer, like the answer to any other kind of bullying, is to stand up to/ignore the bullies. Just like the kid in the playground who steals lunch money, cyber-bullies get a kick out of getting a rise and having people fear them. So don’t give them that kick. Ignore them, and just enjoy the online experience elsewhere. Report the bullies to admins where possible, use the block feature where available, and just don’t give them that kick. Whatever you do, don’t let them get to you, because then they’ve won.
I took a long time to learn this. I hid for years after I was cyber-bullied. I feared venturing away from my own little page where I’d built a fort made of privacy controls. I even went to the extent of trying to justify myself by posting copies of psychologist/psychiatrist reports to prove I wasn’t lying. All I had to do, though, was simply block them and move on to better people. It’s the online equivalent of walking away from a schoolyard bully, and denying them that power. You haven’t left the schoolyard, you’ve only left the bully.
A final thought for those who know someone who is being cyber-bullied; stand up for your mates! Let them know they’re not alone, even if it labels you “uncool”. What a bullied person needs most is support, and with that support, they’ll survive. And if enough people stand up to support the victim, the bully ends up with egg on their face. What got me through, in the end, was friends.