Monday 28 June 2010

Cyberspace: The Last Untamed Frontier

Sirena Bergman (freelance writer & journalism student at Kingston University) uses CiF to whine about ‘online etiquette’ (because we can never read too many articles about that, can we?):

If you walk past a school at playtime you can usually pick out the child that is being bullied. When I was at school, that child would get home every evening and find a safe haven from the insults.
But now, they can’t.

Because their computer, Xbox and mobile phone all turn themselves on and attach themselves like an Alien facehugger, forcing them to read every message, Tweet and blogpost….
But things are changing, and online bullying is becoming an epidemic that not only floods primary schools but also universities and workplaces.
Oh, noes!

I suspect, like the ‘obesity epidemic’ that this’ll prove to be a major overestimate.
I get excited every time I refresh Twitter and find I have one more follower.
Well, whatever floats your boat, sweetie…
I can only imagine how it must feel to gain 400 in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, blogger Blair On A Budget had to put up with a stream of abuse for days before arriving at this level of notoriety.
After a moment of feminist outrage, Blair tweeted her reaction to last week's issue of More! magazine, which included an "inside men's minds" special. Blair's tweets were potentially defamatory and More! magazine could have demanded she delete them or risk the threat of a lawsuit. But they didn't. Instead, they retweeted her insults, cashing in on the free publicity.
Those fiends!
Almost instantly, a tirade of indignant readers updated their status with vicious remarks
Oh, dear. This is going to be difficult to summarize, as I can’t have that sort of language on my blo…

… claiming Blair was a "twat", a "silly cow" and should "calm down and buy a book".
Wow! That’s so harsh! So vicious!
Although it seems that the outcome was positive for Blair, who used the situation to astutely publicise her blog, I know that sitting in your room watching comments towards you move further from informative and closer to bullying is not a pleasant experience.
So stop watching. Simples!
I, like the majority of journalism students, write a blog. On one occasion, I published a post, a single paragraph of which arguably implied that many students nowadays seem to be lacking passion and interest in their chosen subject.
And then what happened?
In contrast to what I was expecting, those who replied did not use the opportunity to fiercely defend their active interest in journalism. Instead, I was bombarded with comments from a group of people on my course that all shared an unnecessarily defensive and aggressive theme: "You are arrogant and big-headed, and we don't like you".
Oh, dear! Sounds like they had you pegged, doesn't it?
The most shocking aspect of the ordeal was that I arrived at my lecture the following day, expecting a discussion or explanation of some kind – we are all adults, after all. And yet my colleagues, who had spent the previous day furiously typing about my patronising and offensive behaviour, had not a word to say in person.
And there might be all sorts of reasons for that. They might have considered that they’d said what they needed to say, today was another day, why continue?

But of course, for Sirena, there’s only one possible explanation…
The nature of online communication allows one to hide behind a screen, to play a character, have fun with the facelessness of what is written. But if adults are very often indulging in this kind of childish and abusive behaviour, I can only imagine what could go on in places such as secondary schools.
But, you clearly identified them as being your colleagues. So, in what sense were they ‘hiding’ or playing a chracter?
If a vulnerable and self-conscious 13-year-old were to become the target of even less restrained abuse it could create a terrible situation that may never have arisen in a face-to-face confrontation.
It might, it could, it may…and yet, it might not, perhaps won’t, could have the opposite effect.

And I can’t see why online 'bullying', which can be turned off, and provides evidence of the crime in electronic format, is somehow worse than real-life bullying, which often takes place out of sight and leaves no undeniable traces pointing to the culprit.
I am a defender of social networks, chatrooms, forums and blogs. I am convinced that they encourage interaction and communication, and that online communities are of great benefit to a democratic society. However, I have realised that there exists within these communities the potential to abuse our privileges.
There exists within everything the potential for misuse. The Internet is no different.
Users can remain relatively anonymous in order to deceive, defame, insult, bully, and – in extreme circumstances – commit violent and deplorable crimes against innocent users.
All things they can do – and do indeed do – in ‘meatspace’. So what?
Perhaps we need to decide just how far we want an online community to bleed into our real, flesh-and-blood daily lives.
Given that we can flick it off with the press of a button, how could it?


RantinRab said...

You smell!

So there!!

ivan said...

It is obvious too many people haven't heard of things like e-mail filters and such.

I never see all the spam and other junk mail unless I want to - it just goes into file 13 with out my having to worry about it.

As you say, it is simple to filter by name - one bad message, add the name to the filter, end of!

Anonymous said...

Would it be rude of me to tell Sirena to "get over yourself, you daft mare"?

I do hope so.

JuliaM said...

"You smell!

So there!!"

Boo hoo! Where's my compo!

"It is obvious too many people haven't heard of things like e-mail filters and such."

Or an even less techie solution - don't turn the damn thing on!

"Would it be rude of me to tell Sirena to "get over yourself, you daft mare"?"

I expect that would be classed as vicious personal abuse. She's clearly too delicate to be allowed out unaccompanied.