Is social media making bullying worse? Or just easier to see?
All through my 7th grade year, I suffered in silence, set apart from my family, friends and schoolmates. I wasn’t a nice person. My grades suffered. I skipped classes regularly and snuck out of school early so I could walk three extra blocks to catch a bus on a different route.
I was bullied. And I was as terrified someone would learn my secret as I was of the girls who were bullying me.
Not long ago, I started a conversation on Facebook about the growing problem of cyber-bullying among adults. According to a Shriver Report, women (mom bloggers specifically) are the biggest online bullies. “There are concentrated, sustained efforts taking place by individuals and groups of women to defame, harass and silence other individuals and groups of women…”
According to my friend Patricia (owner of Vaughn Moms), the tactics these “mean girls” use hasn’t evolved much since high school. “…moms being afraid to speak up in fear of being removed from the group… having their friends spy on your personal page and copying comments and posts, private messaging mutual friends…”
I initiated a series of conversations on Facebook in response to a few friends who’ve been targeted recently – with hopes to discover a new ways to deal with bullying. Instead, my friends shared their intimacy, shame and regret that bullying forced on them as victims (and parents of victims).
My friend, Wendi Phillips said, “My mom always said to ignore whoever’s bothering you and they will go away, but there were times when their words wounded me so deeply.”
As the conversation wore on, it became clear that the word victim had no place here. What’s more, I began to see reckoning and resilience. While no one gave thanks for being bullied, most recognized an inner strength that emerged from the experience.
My friend, Lisa Stansbury, President of Fred’s Beds said, “I’ve thought about your post all day. I’ve also thought about the girl who put gum in my hair in middle school. It’s been 18ish years and I’d still like to punch her in the face. I have blossomed in spite of it.”
Clearly bullying isn’t a new phenomena but the internet allows for a bigger (often anonymous) punch. And while social media breeds confidence in bullies, it’s also breeds communities of individuals who want to help those being bullied. Unlike my 7th grade year, more of us are talking about it openly and working together to discover new ways to combat it.
Thanks to my friend Lisa Ferguson, I tuned in to hear Steph Guthrie share some radical new idea for dealing with bullies. Instead of stepping meekly back from confrontation, Steph suggests we respond – and use social media to help unmask bullies. Using our social media communities is the key here – we can’t do this one alone.
8 not-so-simple rules for dealing with bullies online
I would, personally, love to be able to offer you some sure-fire solutions to use the next time you see or experience online bullying. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by some very smart friends. Here’s what they had to say about bullying.
- Say yes to yourself – Don’t allow your insecurities and anxieties to guide your decision-making. And while you’re at it, check out 23 more things you can do to boost your self-confidence and feel good about who you are, on the Huffington Post.
- “Start a positive gossip movement” – says my very wise friend, Lisa Ferguson, who coined this phrase and I think she’d be thrilled if we all stole it. Think about the power of positivity and how reframing a negative comment or situation can open up a world of potential learning and connecting. More than 100 people interacted with my Facebook conversations – and that’s not counting the people who DM’d me or simply just read through the comments.
- Be a mentor, not a drill sergeant – If women are getting better at bullying, be the on the other side of that trend. I’ve made mentoring one of my core competencies, sometimes at significant short-term cost, like when a female co-worker pushed other woman in the company under the bus during meetings. Her relationship with the president of the company may have earned her points, but I walked away feeling good about my contributions.
- Never stop standing up for yourself – As my friend Dana Helms said, sometimes getting out of a bad situation is reward enough. And if you’re not strong enough to stand alone, get your friends to help you.
- Get off social media and just be – Thanks to Jody Matheson, Louis C.K.’s talk on Conan came across my radar. No one’s suggesting you ditch your online brand and let the trolls destroy it, but sometimes getting away from the screen can give perspective. Power down and connect with people in real life and I’m betting you’ll feel a whole lot better AND get some great ideas to tackle the problem from a different angle.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the police for help – Years ago, I received threatening emails from an inmate in a federal prison in the US. I printed off the emails and went straight to the police – no hesitation. My friend, Staff Sergeant Chris Boddy, says that if you consider for even a second that you should call the police, you probably should.
- Speak up – I recently witnessed my friend Jane Wilson speaking up against bullying on Facebook. Jane spoke eloquently and without fear about why she thought the parties involved were being mean and unfair. And when she was challenged, she defended her stance logically and without drama. I’ve always liked Jane but I like her a whole lot more now.
- Don’t let it consume you – And don’t let it limit you. Bullying creates fear and feeds off insecurity. Most people are genuinely nice and want to help – bullies are the minority. Keep making friends and putting yourself out there and don’t let the bully win.
- BONUS – Be part of more conversations like this – We may never eradicate bullying but continuing to talk about it and expose it when we see it helps reduce its power.
Whether we’re talking about cyber bullying between individuals, lynch mobs that descend on brands or childhood and teenage bullying, it’s all pretty horrible. Thankfully, we’re pretty smart and working together gets us closer to the solution.
As for my 7th grade bully, things gradually got better and she faded into history. I resolved to do better in school and thankfully had a few people who believed in me and gave me a hand up and out of the prison I’d built for myself. I don’t know what happened to the bully (or her cohorts) but it doesn’t really matter, does it? We each chose our own paths – and I’m pretty happy with mine.
I would love to hear more about your bullying experiences online and how you deal with it. Please leave a comment below and share your insights.