Online Bullies – Are They Really That Different From Regular Bullies?

As a parent of (until recently) high school students, we’ve heard a lot about bullying and how to handle it. We’ve taught our boys appropriate behavior and counseled them through many life lessons that surround people misbehaving.

But the world is moving online and changing the profile of the bully, and will inevitably change how we feel and react. When I was young, the bully was the kid who took the swing from another kid, stole a friend’s lunch, or taunted people as they walked across the playground. These people’s words, tone and action all contributed to them being labeled as a bully.

On social sites, we no longer have multiple dimensions from which to evaluate situations. We only have the words on “paper” (screen). Tone, facial expression, etc., are no longer part of how we evaluate. And we all know that situations can change instantaneously.

Online civility is an international problem that many groups are looking at. Two very well respected international agencies conducted a research study delving into online incivility. The report states that 70% of people surveyed believe incivility online has reached crisis proportions and nearly 25% report being treated uncivilly online.

My friend Kami Huyse is part of a group tackling this problem after she and Andrea Weckerle became extremely concerned. Andrea’s book, Civilnation, is a great read and includes hands on practical suggestions. The website is becoming an extension of the book, providing regular content about online bullying and rudeness.  Civilnation’s mission: "Our mission is to foster an online culture where every person can freely participate in a democratic, open, rational and truth-based exchange of ideas and information, without fear or threat of being the target of unwarranted abuse, harassment or lies."

Kami has some practical suggestions for dealing with online incivility that we should all review. In an online world, it’s even more important to be aware that words you choose could really hurt someone. Some suggestions:

  • Use of negative words is amplified so use them sparingly

  • Only post online what you want to see in a headline

  • Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and make sure you’d want to see that post in your timeline

  • Consider walking away from the computer before responding in anger

  • Don’t assume your wink/smiley face will be interpreted by the recipient

  • Take your conversation offline if it’s not something that belongs online

  • Use private communication methods when your conversation might be inappropriate

  • Don’t be a know-it-all but instead use a helpful tone

  • Never use absolutes, you’ll always be wrong (one of my husband’s favorite lines)

In 2010, I wrote a post similar to this titled “Civility and Decency…Has social media given us an excuse to forget to treat each other well? It’s amazing how little has changed.

What thoughts and ideas do you have for combatting online bullying and incivility? How do you handle it online when you feel hurt or attacked by others?

Photo: Leo Reynolds; via Flickr, CC 2.0

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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