Moral Courage and Cyber Bullying

NEEDLES IN THE THREADS ; ON-LINE BULLYING

Anti-bullying ribbon

ANTI-BULLYING RIBBON

A lot has been  written about cyber bullying among young people on social networking sites, but recently I was shocked to encounter  the problem on an  online  writers’  forum.  Generally speaking I found the  members to be  mature, articulate and supportive, but  on one occasion a discussion  degenerated to  the point where an offensive personal remark was  made.  The victim and a couple of  others  promptly  removed themselves.  I have always considered myself something of a  moral coward but on this occasion I felt I had to speak up.  To my surprise,  few members  backed me.  I was told in no uncertain terms that I had overreacted to a couple of people simply ‘getting the hump’  and leaving.

I am now  thoroughly ashamed  that I  remained  a member,  but  a friend had invited me on and I was  also enjoying the interaction with like-minded people, most  of whom were delightful.  However, the  person responsible for the unpleasant  remark also  had a habit of   making what I perceived  to be patronizing comments about  ‘hobby writers’  and ‘amateurs.’   Then, perhaps inevitably, there was another instance of bullying  which amounted to downright character assassination.  This time a brave soul defended  the person being attacked and suffered the consequences. Her stand against injustice was all the more admirable because she  had  done the same thing  in a previous  career, at considerable  personal cost.  Who would have blamed  her if she had decided:  ‘Well I  hate what’s happening but I’m damned if I’m putting  myself  through that again!’ ?

Those  involved in the bullying  have some influence in  this person’s  area  of writing and therefore  she   risks damage to her reputation.  I sincerely hope it does not happen.  Once again  I  said my  piece  about  problems with the forum and was duly  ejected.  Of course the whole affair created divided loyalties and  I was subsequently  ‘un-friended’ by  someone on my  personal facebook page.  The  word  un-friended smacks of  the schoolyard  and sounds ridiculous  I know,  but  apparently it  is  a  rite of passage in the cyber world.  I  now consider it  a badge of honour,  rather like receiving  my  first rejection slip.  And on the positive side, I gained half a dozen new ‘friends’ through the affair .

By sheer coincidence a young  friend   called Holly (aka Stuffed Olive)  had just tweeted a sweetly poignant  plea:   ‘Dear people who are horrible,  just try to be decent human beings then maybe I wouldn’t feel quite so disheartened. Regards, sad Olive.’  Holly/Olive  was commenting on a completely unrelated matter but I  shared her sentiments!

Around the same time I spotted a wonderfully appropriate  quote by the late Christopher Hitchens, outspoken  author and journalist:  ‘Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity….the  grave will supply plenty of time for silence.’

Mark Twain also had some wise words on the subject:  ‘It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.’

I should point out that I also belong to  The Australian Writers’ Forum; a   group of writers who even manage the difficult  art of peer reviewing without causing offense.  The  co-ordinator  is  a person whose diplomacy and generosity  never fail to amaze me.  Membership of this group has restored  my faith in humanity –  yes, even in social networking!

Yous truly...sadder and wiser!

Yous truly…sadder and wiser!

The web addresses  for  Holly’s  creative blog  ‘Stuffed Olive’ and The Australian Writers’ Forum appear on my Links page.

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27 Comments
  1. It’s a shame when members of forums fall out, but my thoughts are there is always the ‘off’ and ‘delete’ buttons. I tend to use them before I read too much – cowardly? maybe…but good for my sanity.

    I belong to the Associated of Christian Writers on Facebook (and in real life). Heated discussions often occur, but we all respect each others point of view and beliefs.

    I think that anything of an online nature should enhance my life – ie it is an optional extra. When it doesn’t the best thing to do is remove it.

    • Pauline

      Hi Christine

      Yes, I agree it’s very easy to hit the delete button but sometimes one has to take a stand. You mention that your group members all respect each other’s point of view, which is wonderful. Sadly, in this case it was all about disrespect. The person who defended the victim in the situation I described made me look closely at myself. I know am inclined to close my eyes to injustice if it is ‘uncomfortable’ for me, which really isn’t good enough.

  2. Brilliant blog post, Pauline! I couldn’t agree with you more. Have sent you a friendship request on FB! x

    • Pauline

      Thanks Yellowjo. The whole situation made a deep impression on me. Will be delighted to accept your friendship request!

  3. Hello Pauline. Loving the site. I agree with your comments here re certain online writing sites, as you know, the same thing has happened to me, with the same group. Shame, as I was enjoying it, and learning a lot. But, now I am with a more laid back group, and still learning lots, and interacting with some lovely, like minded people, so I guess it wasn’t a bad move after all.
    Take Care. Love and Peace to all at the Beautiful Blue Mountains.
    Jamos. XXX

    • Pauline

      Good to hear from you E.R. Funny how things turn out and I am so pleased you are enjoying a supportive and like minded group. The experience taught me such a lot; probably as much about myself as other people. xx

  4. A wonderful blog post, Pauline!

    It is so important that we carry on defending others who have been treated unjustly. All forms of bullying are despicable, but online bullies are the most cowardly of all.

    Though, as you mention, you find out who your true friends are when something like this happens – and a lot about yourself too! x

    • Pauline

      Thanks Miss McFish,

      It was actually a wonderful study in human nature and let’s hope lessons have been learned all round! I hadn’t really thought about it but you are right.. bullying probably is easier online. For one thing the perpetrators can’t see the distress they cause.

  5. I will always stick by my friends and if I feel they are being bullied, I will stand up for them – even if it causes me trouble. I have a conscience – unlike those referred to in this post – and believe in treating people how I’d like to be treated. Pity they can’t do the same.

    I believe that bullies will always get their come-uppance – what goes round comes round, what you reap, so shall you sow, karma, etc, so they will get what they deserve – just give them enough rope then sit back and watch…

    • Pauline

      Good for you Blossom! I know online forums are very difficult to manage and I really sympathize with those trying to administer them. However, all this illustrates how important it is to be diplomatic and, as you say, to treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.

  6. Bullying in all ways, shape and form is outrageous!

    It’s nasty and despicable 🙁

    Personally, I can’t even comprehend why one person would want to make another person feel upset 🙁

    Xx

  7. Pauline

    I can’t understand it either Vikki. It’s hard enough to succeed in the writing world these days as it is, without anyone undermining the confidence of those just starting out.

  8. Perhaps I am a pessimist as it relates to the overt infancy of social media networking conduct, but I am not at all surprised by bullying and divisions on the issue of representing moral courage within some of these groups.

    As I build my M!O!R!E! social media and mobile platforms, I am compelled to join groups—to earn relevance before reverence, but not without deliberate intent on measuring groups worth to my personal and professional needs: how I am welcomed; content, openness and candor; how group members and moderators respond to unpopular opinions; and because I am a person of color—I am constant with daily efforts beyond limitations set to my race—wisdom of experience instructs that I measure unbiased-racial-inclusion and/or pretense of such. Most importantly, I measure how some groups and moderators resolve conflicts.

    From the first signs of condoned bullying of any kind by the majority—including the coward’s act of silence, I am gone!

    What I have learned about myself, and about most people is the lie that most of us must first tell ourselves: we are better than the worst acts we see; until we are called to claim with courage that indeed, we are after all better than the worst acts we stand against—in spite of obstacles and consequences!

    I admire your earned response to being [unfriended] by someone with not as much courage as you have. To borrow your words: “receiving my first rejection slip” came from my parents at birth, so I learned early that I had to deliberately attach courage to intent to live if only to be included as a survivor in this race to relevance and reverence.

    Of course, whenever I come across examples of courage, I instinctive pay homage. I first responded to this posting from my Fb News Feed, so, it is fitting that I complete this comment by including that first post: I live consistent to affirming one certainty: we are to each other—lenders and borrowers of individual-and-collective reminders/signposts/paths to all that we intend to become—COLLECTIVELY BETTER!

    If this is the only inspired reminder I ever borrow from you, Pauline Conolly – then I have acquired worth from those clicks made from LinkedIn to here. But I sense that this is no one-time reminder of sensibility to humane expansion. Thanks!

    • Pauline

      Hi De’Kridge

      This is obviously an issue very close to your heart and I suspect you have had to cope with a great deal. Thank you for responding and for your support. You are so right; we may not be bullies ourselves but we should also be willing to do something about those who are. Let’s hope we do become collectively better.

      • Hi Pauline,

        As for my support, in this short time you’ve earned it. And yes, you’re absolutely correct—this issue is indeed very, very close to my heart.

        Connected—as all things are – I don’t know if you or anyone here subscribe to HBO and watched The Newsroom. Episode 6 was about bullies and bullying—using Rick Santorum position on gays, and Sutton Wall a fictional character as Santorum’s black, gay campaign advisor – accused by Will of being a hypocrite for working for a homophobic candidate.

        I must add that I absolutely love The Newsroom!

  9. Few would not have experienced nastiness or trolling on blogs in one way or another. That it should come from a perceived intelligent group such as writers is disturbing. Actually their lack of respect and such posting could be called “amateur” or “hobby writing”.

    As one who always prefers the Christopher Hitchens approach, sworn to laying bare the truth through life experiences, I would add that one also learns to not cast your pearls before swine.

    • Pauline

      What words of wisdom Ange Du Nord! Yes, the fact that this happened on a writers’ forum is what I found so sad. Thank you for your support.

  10. I’ve been on the receiving end of some unpleasantness within a Facebook writing group, simply for expressing an opinion others didn’t agree with, and had to leave for my own sanity. Cyber-bullies clearly don’t realise the effect they can have on an individual – or maybe it’s that they don’t care. Some people just like belittling others and perhaps it makes them feel better about themselves.

    I’d rather focus my energies on writing and selling my stories, and don’t bother getting involved now :o)

    • Pauline

      Thanks for your contribution Karen. I can understand why you have decided to stop participating in the forums. It’s rather sad though, because writing is such a solitary profession and it’s lovely to interact with others. I wish you the very best of luck with your work.

  11. Good post, Pauline. I have also seen this happen on a writer’s forum and have, after sitting back and getting more and more annoyed, finally voiced my feelings – on more than one occasion. And my comments were not well received on the part of the bully though there were others who agreed with me. In fact, my comments elicited some bullying remarks directed at me. It is such a shame that people cannot use their expertise (if they actually have any) to help those who are not as far along, rather than running them down either because they have a different opinion or have not learned as much yet. But I guess that’s life in any sphere, not just online. Bullying is never acceptable, however or wherever it is done.

  12. Pauline

    Hello Diane, I’m sorry that you have experienced problems as well. It highlights the importance of having a good administrator,or at least providing clear guidelines on what is acceptable. As I mentioned to Karen, we writers can benefit so much from dialogue with our peers and it would be sad to think people may stop participating due to situations such as those you and I have faced.

  13. I think what Diane says is right.
    Having experienced online discussion groups through university studies you learn to put your argument clearly and succinctly and defend your position. Generally the rules are that you are accepted if you make your argument.
    Bullies have no such skills in discussion. They expect to make a criticism and have others run away.
    I image a question such as “could you please define hobby writer or amateur” might have elicited some holes in the troll’s opinions.

  14. Pauline

    There was a complication in this case Ange Du Nord, because unfortunately one of the moderators was the person creating the problems. It was explained that the terms ‘hobby writer’ and ‘amateur’ were employed to distinguish from those earning a living by their writing… or at least being paid. The irony was that only a small proportion of those posting were earning anything at all from writing and yet had been accepted onto the forum. This led to confusion and an undermining of confidence.

  15. Hello Pauline,

    I’m just doing a quick catch up on your recent blog posts and discovered this. Seeing my own words pop up mid post gave me a shock (a good one)! Hah.

    I’m sadly not at all surprised by the cyber bullying you witnessed. I’m often disappointed by other people. Yet, after reading this, I mostly just feel proud of you. I’m so pleased that you took a stand, even more so if you were not backed up. I think we can all recall times when we’ve been ‘moral cowards’, but it’s the times when we realise that sitting idly by isn’t enough that define who we are. Well done.

    The people at Australian Writers’ Forum really are the loveliest. I’ve tried other forums but I usually give up on them pretty quickly. AWF has a beautiful, caring community, held together by the kindness of our co-coordinator. Sometimes I’m a little slack at touching base, but there’s no other forum I’d rather belong to.

  16. Pauline

    Hi Holly

    Thanks, the whole experience taught me a lot (even at my age!) I did send you a message re using your lovely tweet but think it must have got lost in cyber space. I was anxious to get the blog up while everything was in upheaval at the problem forum. Anyway, I’m pleased it was a happy shock! Yes, Peter is an absolute gentleman in the best sense of the word. He amazes me.

  17. Pauline, my heart goes out to you. I realise this is an older post, however this sort of thing happens quite often and not only in writer’s groups. I was angered and hurt this morning when I could see the beginnings of the bullying in a support group online. My way around this is to simply ignore it for most of the other members are supportive, helpful, and friendly to a fault.
    However, all it takes is someone to say the wrong word and a huge uproar can take place. I am in no need of a full all out online brawl, nor do I have the stamina, emotionally or mentally.
    I thank you for putting out your “stuff”. You made me feel so much better today. I will return to your site often from now on. 🙂

    • Pauline

      Thanks Sandy, sorry to hear about your ‘support’ group. I love social media, just wish people would think before they post sometimes. Hope you will enjoy visiting the site, it’s not all doom and gloom. lol xx

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