First, it was MySpace comments and ridiculously petty drama about who was in whose ‘Top 8.’ Then it was nasty notes left on FormSpring. And then Instant Messenger statuses that subtweeted before the world even knew what subtweeting was.
Now it’s hate-filled Facebook posts and angry comments. It’s opinions expressed with harsh words and criticisms. It’s judgments of another’s life, sex, mental state, education, rank, race, relationship status, or social position.
Internet bullying has become a disease that’s effected this entire generation, the younger generations, and even the older generations.
And it needs to stop.
Just last week I had a contributing writer come to me with a request to take down what I thought was a powerfully written, thought-provoking piece on a controversial issue. In her writing, she expressed what could be seen as the ‘opposing’ side. A side that was different, yet still extremely important. A side that, yes, could bring up bitterness, but a side that others needed to learn about, nonetheless.
When I pressed her for reasons why she wanted to take the piece down, she said that people had been commenting on the article, calling her strings of terrible words and using foul language to describe not only her writing but who she was as a person. Some, she said, went as far as sending her death threats via email and following her on all her social networking sites just to write hateful things.
Now, I pride myself on being an understanding person, even when I don’t necessarily agree. And I’ll admit, I like playing devil’s advocate when I can. I knew that her piece was going to be a piece that stirred up emotion and made people feel. But just as she stood firm in writing it, I stood firm in publishing it.
I knew that some might not agree with her words, and that’s okay. But disagreement is where I draw the line.
As a human being, you are always welcome to disagree with another person, always welcome to share your opinion and back your perspective with thoughts or experience.
But when it comes to bashing another person’s writing, credibility, and who they are as an individual in a way that does nothing, nor has anything to do with what the person actually expressed—that’s bullying.
And I don’t agree with it.
What this girl said in her piece made people angry. And I get that. I can understand it. Not everyone comes from the same background, same culture, or same life experience. Sometimes people can write things that are intelligent to some and biased to others, or well-written to one group and immature and naïve to another. I get that. That’s life.
Not everyone is going to agree with what you have to say. Not everyone is going to like what you have to say, for whatever reasons they have, right or wrong.
That doesn’t make what you have to say any less valid, though. Because you’re speaking from experience. Your experience.
And those that don’t agree are not wrong either, because that’s their experience.
What’s wrong with the world today, is that people think that because they’re hidden behind a computer screen, they can say whatever they want. But that’s not the way the world works.
In the real world, conflict is handled face-to-face, biases are confronted, ignorance becomes educated, and change occurs.
When fighting happens behind a screen, it gets petty. It loses focus on what’s really important—expressing emotion, understanding others, and finding a common ground even in disagreement.
With this particular girl, this particular piece, I could genuinely see both sides. Here she was, writing from her experience. Writing something she felt was important. Writing with her power, her emotion, and her love poured out on the page. Some readers were interpreting from their backgrounds, relating her words to their stories and their lives, and finding holes.
Both perspectives are right in their own ways.
Both perspectives are biased in their own ways.
But what’s wrong with the reactions from some of these Internet bullies, is that they attacked HER as an individual rather than the argument or side that she was presenting.
Instead of making educated, informed comments from their personal perspectives, to perhaps shed light on a side the author hadn’t considered, they struck her down. They told her she should die. They called her ‘b*tch,’ ‘stupid c*nt,’ ‘dumb,’ ‘privileged,’ the list goes on.
This same thing has happened to me, many times. I’ve been told I am ‘f*cking childish,’ ‘uneducated,’ ‘selfish,’ ‘a naïve little girl,’ and that I ‘don’t know anything about the world,’ just to name a few. Sometimes these comments make me grit my teeth in anger. Sometimes they make me cry.
Sometimes I get so frustrated because these people, behind their screens, can’t possibly know who I am from an article written on the Internet. Even though I pour myself into my writing, and put all my emotion and vulnerability out into the world, it’s only an article. It’s not everything.
And for people to pass judgments on who I am as a person, or the life I’ve led, just because they don’t agree with something I’ve said, is wrong.
In a world of digital media and the Internet, expressing emotion has become so powerful, so essential to our individual identities and to society as a whole.
Being able to say something in seconds, to write an instant reaction, to express a moment as it happens—that’s amazing. But with anything that comes so easily, so does opposition.
As writers, as users of the Internet, we all need to understand that we come from different places. Our life experience isn’t universal. And we can’t claim it to be.
As readers, we need to know that people have their own perspectives, and they are entitled to them.
Just because someone writes from a specific side, or for a specific group or sex or audience doesn’t mean they are disregarding the rest of the world. It means, simply, that they are writing for that specific side or specific group or specific audience.
Writing something that is focused in a certain direction doesn’t make that author ignorant or awful. But we must always be aware of the presence we make on the Internet, on what our words and perspectives are saying about us and about the rest of the world.
We must try to eliminate bias.
We must definitely eliminate hate.
But most importantly, as humans, we must get rid of Internet bullying, of writing comments in anger, of justifying our perspectives as ‘right’ and the rest of the world as ‘wrong’. We must stop treating others with such bitterness, such one-sided views.
We need to understand that expressing emotion and opinion is just that—emotion and opinion. And if we don’t agree with something we must strive to educate one another, not tear each other down.
There’s enough hate in the world.
We don’t need it on the Internet, too.