“But I tell you, whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also.” ~ Yeshua of Nasrath
Why has online bullying become such a rampant phenomenon, and how do we deal with it?
In response to my recent article, “Why I Love Fat Girls,” here’s a toxic debate that actually happened two weeks ago:
“Her brimming bosom was like dense duck-down pillows.”
“You can’t say that! You offended me! You compare women to furniture, an inanimate object, an object for your pleasure! You objectify women! You dehumanize women! You’re a misogynist, you’re garbage!” #arunsucks
That’s a condensed version. The editors, with due diligence, deleted the cyber bully’s comments. But I asked for them to be reinstated. Why?
Because I believe freedom of speech means allowing everyone a voice, even those who I disagree with or who choose to use their voice to perpetuate hatred.
It is better to see the face of intolerance rather than have it hide in the darkness of denial.
As a writer, and in my general use of the internet, I have encountered more than my fair share of online bullying.
We live in a time of unparalleled information availability. That, coupled with the possibility to discuss and debate this information with almost anyone in the world at anytime, has given rise to a kind of information war.
This is no longer solely a propaganda war between competing governments—that war has been raging since the invention of written language. It is as well an internal insurrection between the citizens of those governments, a rhetorical revolution.
I grew up in a culture conditioned by tabloid journalism—the gutter press as it is more accurately called. An institution that revels in sordid sensationalism and salacious gossip. An institution that routinely invents stories, lies, sets one public figure or social group against another, builds up popular heroes, idols, and cult figures, only to tear them down again with unrestrained relish, and then document their slow deaths from depression, alcohol, and substance abuse. It’s institutional bullying.
But we didn’t find ourselves in this scorched-earth landscape overnight. The media and its consuming masses mutually created this cruel environment of petty and vicious antagonism over a period of decades.
Raised on this high-fantasy, low moral-fibre diet of nihilism and narcissism, of fake news, alternative facts and celebrity fanaticism, combined with the slow-creeping cultural cancer of Political Correctness, we long ago sowed the seeds for the cyber bully to flourish.
The end result? We have now cultivated a societal landscape where the cyber bully, like a hog in a mud bath, is comfortably numb, and a political landscape where the most powerful politician on the planet is a relentless and ruthless cyber bully.
The great freedoms we enjoy in Western cultures are far too often abused. Too often the asinine interpretation of our freedom is, “I’ll do whatever the hell I want.”
Not often enough are we taught that with great freedom comes great responsibility. The responsibility to respect, tolerate and be fair, and perhaps most importantly, responsibility to the truth. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I have many and varied interests, from sports to politics, the creative arts to philosophy. Yet it is increasingly difficult to take part in civil adult online conversation without being caught in the crossfire of the ideological information war and encountering the cyber bully.
Many of my friends, tired of these daily digital dramas, simply opt out and close their social media accounts. So with less and less voices of reason, the super-information-highway is becoming gridlocked with raging road hogs.
The relative safety and anonymity of using a mobile device to comment anywhere, anytime, about anything, has given the online bully a coward’s courage. The kind of courage not often seen in the real world, because it results in real and serious consequences.
Hiding in plain sight, the cyber bully often uses the cover of a perceived righteous cause to harass, harangue, and humiliate those they judge to be legitimate targets—generally anyone with a different point of view.
These hashtag heroes are not conscious enough to realise that their abhorrent behaviour is detrimental to the message of their chosen cause. But it soon becomes apparent that the righteous cause is not really their true motivation.
These social justice warriors are addicted to the drama and carnage of the fight for freedom rather than a genuine love for freedom itself.
For example, they will typically and loudly demand protection of their freedom of speech while simultaneously seeking to censor, ban, and prevent others from speaking who do not conform to their inconstant and often contradictory ideals and ideologies.
In this fight of philosophies, the cyber bully is often the one yelling, “I’m offended!” at the slightest deviation from a strict politically correct code of conduct. Yet, perversely, they are usually the first to throw a stone in the glass house of public debate.
Their pattern is plain and predictable: it begins with name-calling, a habit they no doubt began in the schoolyard, continues with emotionally-charged abuse, and ends with the cruelest kind of character assassination. The toxic debate: an illiterate germ warfare blindly borrowed from tabloid journalism.
The cyber bully does not understand metaphor, analogy, hypotheticals, logic, reason, or humour.
They take everything literally. And they consistently use the word literally when they actually mean metaphorically.
This mixed up monoglot mindset gives them licence to be triggered at any moment, and offended by almost anything that isn’t blatantly black or white. They are apparently colourblind to nuance and the fifty shades of grey that are life’s reality.
The cyber bully does not understand that a generalisation does not mean “everybody,” that a generalisation merely describes a majority tendency. So every tedious debate is met with the ready-made roadblock, rule number one for the politically correct, “You can’t generalise!”
So this is how a typical toxic debate with a cyber bully tends to go:
“Generally human beings have ten fingers and ten toes.”
“That’s so offensive! You offend all the people in the world with more or less fingers or toes! You’re discriminating against the digitally challenged! You’re finger-phobic! A digit-bigot!” #fingerfreedom
The online bully is everywhere, on every social media site, every comment thread and forum. They stand out in a crowded chat room because they lack the ability to see two sides of a debate. They lack the ability to compromise, empathise, admit fault, or apologise.
Their intention is power through fear—fear of thinking and speaking freely. Their weapon of choice is emotional intimidation. Their drug of choice is the weapons-grade sludge of toxic debate. To get their regular endorphin high, they scan the internet with itchy trigger fingers, and the sole intention of provoking a foul-mouthed fight.
Armed with a dog-eared copy of Political Correctness for Dummies, they track the worldwide web, as renegade cowboys once tracked through the Wild West, waiting to be triggered.
It’s nothing more than recreational outrage.
The comedian, Ricky Gervais, recently responded to this growing posse of yella-bellied, trigger-happy cowboys and cowgirls, “Just because you’re offended, doesn’t make you right.”
No matter. They believe they are right, and right is might, right?
Once they’ve been triggered, the online bully has been conditioned by their backward bill of rights to expect an unreserved apology, a retraction of all non PC language, and gratitude for their diligence.
If they receive their prescribed apology they feel on top of the world, a world they are slowly shaping in their own image. Then they will leave you alone, with a virtual slap on the wrist, and move on to their next mark.
But if they don’t get their self-entitled apology and deference, the toxic debate will begin: the name-calling, the acidic abuse, the character assassinations, the demands for you to lose your livelihood, or in the worst cases, your life.
They may even start a hashtag revolution to blame and shame you until you actually have lost your job, your reputation, and your privacy. It’s trial by public opinion rather than the law. It’s mob rule. It’s the Internet Inquisition.
Now, the real question is, how do we deal with this kind of hateful speech? How do we beat the cyber bully?
Fortunately we have options: delete them, educate them, or love them.
Most if not all digital platforms have an option to delete or block the online bully. It’s the easiest and most effective contingency, and it works. But if you can’t block the bully then there’s nothing else to do but exit the forum yourself, with your integrity and your sanity intact.
Then there is the option to educate them. This is risky, because there is nothing the cyber bully loves more than to pull you into a toxic debate—you are literally feeding their addiction. So be careful. Follow the rules: Never insult them. Don’t get angry. Stick to the facts.
Occasionally, this option works. But a cyber bully rarely admits they are wrong, apologises for abusing you, or can even see your point of view. Remember, they haven’t entered the debate to learn, to grow, or to expand their understanding. They have entered the debate like an adrenaline junkie: to get an emotional high from a fight.
Once they’ve had their fix of rootin‘ ‘n tootin’ they saddle up and ride outta town feeling superlative, and leave you feeling like bullcrap from the negativity they’ve dumped on your doorstep. Bandits at the Good Vibes Communal Bank. Like I said, it’s a risky option.
The last option, like the first, has zero risk and a 100% success rate. Love the online bully. That’s right, love them. Thank them for their comments, wish them well, and leave the debate. Whatever you do, do not engage them, at all.
With the really aggressive cyber bully I tell them, “I love you unconditionally.” And I mean it. Predictably, frothing at the mouth, they rabidly reject my philanthropic platitudes with a string of misspelled expletives.
But then, they melt away and leave me be. Love is like hot water on the unrefined sugary sensibilities of a cyber bully.
Having turned the other cheek, just as I was taught at Sunday School as a kid, I leave the debate with an invulnerable feeling of joyful peace. Meanwhile, unable to get their gunslingin’ dose of drama, the renegade bully stands lost and confused in a vast, equalising wilderness.
Because knowingly or not, they have just been caught, disarmed, and arrested by love. #lovekicksass