The Art of Not Being an Idiot Online

by the Queen of Pretentious Internet Postings Herself.

I am a product of the internet age. I am a social media obsessive. I am a digital marketing student. I am an over-user of all things internet and I’m definitely sure I spend more then the daily average time online. Hi my name is Órla and I’m an internet addict.

I’ve always been a big internet user and as an early teen I will openly admit to being one of those annoying fools who started petty arguments on internet forums with any willing participant (usually my fellow angry teenieboppers). I argued about bands (and with bands), about lifestyles and life choices. I’ve debated on Twitter, Bebo and Myspace and ranted on Tumblr more times then I can count. But that’s it. Innocent teenage angst. I’ve never been too upset by words said to me online and I’ve rarely ended an online disagreement on bad terms with anyone. I don’t believe in holding onto negativity and I would never ever cross the line into online abuse, harassment or bullying. My internet argument days were all in good jest and I’ve never made enemies or been on bad terms with anyone online for longer then a few minutes.

For me the internet has always been a tool of self-expression. I’ve had my day of being a angsty teenage blogger and now decide to spend my social media time reading, learning and writing the occasional overly-opinioned blog or tweet. My early years online has however given me a great respect for other online users and today I think even more then ever there’s a need for kindness and compassion online. Over the past few years I’ve witnessed a few occasions of quite frankly cruel behaviour online; I’ve seen tales of being run off social media sites by cruel trolls, teenagers being bullied by grown men and in the worst of cases, tales of suicides encouraged by online bullies. For some, being online means being completely rule-free and there are no boundaries to the countless rotten behaviours one can witness on social media and beyond.

 Bullying on social media is on the rise and it’s only getting nastier. As a society who are still learning to value their ability to hold onto free speech and express our opinions on the wide array of public platforms that are now available to us; we’re becoming more carefree and loose lipped online and sometimes forgetting that the severity of our language isn’t any lesser because it’s communicated digitally. A 2016 survey by Irish media company Zenith Optimedia found that 1 in 5 Irish children have been a victim of cyber bullying, with over a third of under 18s admitting that they experienced feelings of depression because of bullying online. Shockingly, research published this week by The National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at Dublin City University found that 14% of primary school children have been bullied online. If we attest to this, 14% of our UNDER 13s are being bullied online, a shudder worthy fact. It’s not just our youth however that are the victims of online torment however. The same 2016 research cites that 1/3 of all adults who have experienced cyberbullying have received threatening and violent emails and texts. 68% of those surveyed experienced cyber bullying on Facebook; bullies leveraging high usage patterns and easy sign ups to commit their torment.

When I was a teenager, my friends and I become subject to a torrid of internet abuse. Youtube videos telling us to go kill ourselves were uploaded, our personal MSN accounts were hacked into and generally rotten comments and commentary were posted about us online. My safe space online, my personal blogs journals and social media pages became a world of fear, anxiety and fright. This eventually leaked into the “real world” and the matter was taken to the police when we began to fear for our own personal safety, having received threats both online and in person.  Because of Ireland’s lax laws to cyber bullying, nothing was done about the matter (though thankfully our trip to the local station seems to scare our tormentors and the bullying subsided…. ish) but this single occurrence in my own life highlights the need to tighten laws regarding online bullying here in Ireland and the world over.  A September 2016 report by the The Law Reform Commission entitled ‘Harmful Communications and Digital Safety’ proposes 3 amendments to the current laws including:

  • Expanding the defines of the term harassment to incorporate the online world
  • Making stalking (on and off-line) a specific offence and
  • Expanding the existing offence of sending threatening or intimidating messages to include online methods.

It’s about time that are legislation makers are noting the need to put laws in place surrounding cyber crime and bullying though the above points still haven’t been passed into law and it remains to be said when these changes will be made (if ever). Personally I believe we need to change attitudes towards what we say online and create a more open dialogue on online bullying; it’s not something that should be left behind the closed off world of the internet and needs “real world” focus.

Trolling culture online isn’t new and by any means it isn’t something that’s going to disappear overnight but in the past decade it’s begun to reach a point where someone has to speak up and say that it’s just not acceptable. In a time where teens with their whole lives ahead of them are being driven to suicide by cyberbullying and 22 year olds can actually avoid jail sentences for posting the nude photos of 19 young women to porn sites without their permission, we as an online population need to note this behaviour as   As with any cases of bullying, the first step is acknowledgement. Noting the damning behaviour as just that, dangerous and wrong is the first step in a huge point scale of rectifying the injustice. Be the voice that stands up and says stop, no. Note the wrongness and don’t let bullies get away with thinking they have the freedom to belittle, wrong or bully anyone. If you are being bullied or find yourself in a situation that’s getting out of hand, seek help immediately. Organisations like Barnardos, Childline, Webwise and Reachout stand for the oppressed and hold a wealth of knowledge and help for the victims of bullying and their circle. If you are being receiving bullying, harassing or threatening messages, keep evidence and bring it the guards (police) as soon as possible. Most importantly, don’t reply, provoke or engage with bullies online, most thrive on attention and so giving them more is only playing into their trap.

In all regards spread your opinion online. Use your voice. Speak loud and speak proud. For the love of hell though, be kind and respect everyone you encounter online as you would in person. Kindness costs nothing, the act of being polite costs less. Social media should be a place of expression for everyone and not a place that causes grief. If you see unwarranted behaviour in your friend group, within you circle or online, speak up and let the injustice be heard. If you wouldn’t say it to someone in person, don’t put it online.

Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you, may stick with someone else for a lifetime.” -Rachel Wolchin

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2 thoughts on “The Art of Not Being an Idiot Online

  1. I had to share this one on both of my Facebook pages. This really hit a spot that’s been bothering me so much. Here is what I posted with it: I have seen some horrible things online lately. I have seen wonderful, educated people act like total *ssholes in their disrespect for others opinions. I’ve seen many others with a subtle condescending tone – these usually do not participate in any discussion brought on by their post. They know they’re the smartest person in the world, so why back it up? Then I see the awesome people who voice their opinion, share FACTS (as much as any of us can know what they are anymore), and never belittle anyone who disagrees. Be that awesome person. Teach your children to be that awesome person. Because all that is happening right now is we’re creating an atmosphere that welcomes online bullying. As a parent, that not only worries me, it @#*$ing pisses me off.

    Liked by 1 person

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