Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Cyber Bullying"

I think we can pretty much all agree that bullying is a bad thing. Some of us dealt with it when we were kids, some of us only saw it happen to others, and some of us may have even been bullies ourselves; regardless of our specific relation to it, we know it's not good.

That being said, I find that the increasingly common term "cyber bullying" really pisses me off. To paraphrase Terry Gilliam, we're living in a society where people's lives are so easy that they think the worst thing you can possibly do is say something that might offend somebody. Well, at the risk of offending anybody who puts stock into the idea of cyber bullying, I'd like to say a few things on the topic.

To start with, yes it sucks that some people like to be assholes on the internet. Seriously though, if a few lines of text unbalance your emotional state to the point where you feel like a victim of bullying, you need to toughen up a little bit. There are much worse things out there in life, and if you can't handle this I'd hate to see what happens when you actually have to confront a REAL problem.

Leaving a nasty comment on a YouTube video may make somebody kind of a jerk, but it's certainly nothing to be compared with actually following and tormenting a person in real life. To even suggest as much is not only an act of nauseating self-pity, it is also an insult to anybody who has ever had to deal with a legitimate bullying problem. Are people genuinely so thin-skinned and hyper-sensitive these days that anonymous text comments on the internet are now seen as a valid threat to their mental and emotional health? I can't help feeling that the current generation of overly reactionary helicopter parents have a lot to do with this trend.

And to the parents of young children: if you truly think your kids are too young to deal with the aggressive things people are saying, just keep them off of those websites. It's called "supervision" and it's a big part of your job description. If they get into something they should not be hearing, it's not the community's responsibility to tailor its behavior to your needs. Don't lead a crusade to try to stop people on the internet from behaving they way they want. Instead, take some responsibility for your child's online activity and limit them to websites you feel are "safe" for them until they're old enough to deal with unpleasant people. You can't expect the whole internet to be G rated just because you aren't watching where your kids go when they're online, so stop trying to dump your lack of responsible behavior on "cyber bullies".

Of course, if the bullying is coming via Facebook (or something similar) from a person you actually know, then it becomes more personal and thus more valid as a form of bullying. It's still not terribly difficult to un-friend somebody and ignore their messages, but if they are persistent to the point that their behavior leaks into your real life (remarks to mutual friends, posting embarrassing videos of you, etc) then we've moved beyond the point of "cyber bullying" into actual bullying and obviously that's a real problem. I think it was this type of behavior that the term was originally coined to describe, and in that sense it is perfectly relevant. It is, however, increasingly being used to instead describe functionally anonymous hostile commentators on YouTube videos and blogs. In that sense, it is a gross misuse of the term "bullying" and does nothing but create reactionary panic over something which really shouldn't be that big of a deal.

For those of you who use the term in this overly sensitive and irrelevant way, I'd like to link this little rant* I found with which I wholeheartedly agree.

*The part I'm referring to begins at 2:46. If the link gives you an ad and then starts the video at the beginning, close that tab after letting the ad finish and then click the link again. It will jump you straight to the relevant section.


  1. Wow. You had quite a bit to say about that. I agree.

  2. I had no idea that the term "cyber bullying" had been spread around to encompass what, for all intents and purposes, IS the Internet's anonymous nature. Yeah, I'm in agreement that the term is meant to describe what happens when kids get bullied and harassed by other kids they know in real life online.

    If you think about it, every single game that has an online component to it has a disclaimer regarding the ESRB rating to remind parents/consumers that online interaction between players is not rated. I often wonder why we don't have a large placard with a similar disclaimer meet us at the front door the moment we open it every day. :P