In this, the week of r-u-OK day, some people are talking about cyberbullying and trolling as if it’s no issue, or one we should ignore in favour of concentrating on physical bullying. I’ve seen four common arguments towards why we shouldn’t make a fuss about cyberbullying, and I want to look at each one.
1. Because the target is a celebrity.
Are celebrities immune to mental health issues? Are they immune to being assaulted? I’ll be blunt: don’t be a dick; someone’s chosen profession has nothing to do with whether the world is entitled to verbally shit-kick them. (Unless maybe in situations like maniacal dictators…)
I’ve seen otherwise intelligent people argue that people who become celebrities (be it media or sport, or any other endeavour) “know” that it paints a target on their back and should just “put up with it”.
This is absurd.
Take any group of people and there will always be “celebrities” within them for that group. Thus, any smaller set of people are a microcosm mirror to larger society with the professional celebrities. The Melbourne Bear community for instance – almost everyone in it notes that there are some bears who have “alpha” status – not because they declare themselves as such, but because they’ve got the sort of personalities that grab the attention of people and they become popular. They’re the celebrities of the Melbourne bear scene. By the same argument that celebrities have targets on their backs, one might equally argue that anyone who becomes popular within a smaller community equally deliberately goes into a situation to get a target on their back.
It’s a cruel argument. It’s an argument predicated on people wanting a level of notoriety and attention that entitles others who don’t get that attention to shit-kick them.
It’s a blood sport.
2. Because you can just “block” it.
This is the “victim is just lazy” or “victim is just stupid” argument. But here’s the rub: the people who make this argument are the stupid ones. You can block individual trolls, but what if hundreds or thousands of people are trolling you? Or just one determined individual who creates dozens or hundreds of accounts to attack you repetitively and consistently.
Why should a victim of cyberbullying have to delete his or her accounts? Sure, they can, in most forums, block each incoming attack but to do so, they have to click through each one. Maybe they’re not even at a computer at the time, and their mobile access to the forum is insufficient to enable them to block an attacker. Oh? They should just turn off their phone? Why? Maybe they need to be able to stay in contact with the rest of the world due to their job, or just their desire. It’s like suggesting that someone who has been assaulted should go into solitary confinement to protect themselves from the attacker, while the attacker continues to roam free.
Don’t suggest the victim can “unvictimise” themselves and therefore there’s no problem. It means you’re not thinking about the problem.
3. Because “hate speech” or “mean speech” is an inevitable consequence of “free speech”, which is a basic human right.
Looking at Australia alone, free speech is not an enshrined constitutional right, nor should it be. However, look at the greater world – society, and fair law, is premised on the notion of people having certain freedoms until such time as they abuse those freedoms. Most people, for instance, expect a certain amount of freedom to move around in their community without being impeded. Break a law that requires imprisonment as punishment/reform, and that freedom is removed.
Don’t argue that a basic human right to free speech means we just have to put up with hate speech or mean speech. Should we not strive for a better, fairer society where people can be free of such attacks? Some would argue that history is littered with examples of free speech being curtailed leading to unpleasant situations; yet, the history of repression is replete with examples of people demanding we accept the status quo, too. This is not a sufficient argument.
4. Because physical bullying is more important to deal with.
That implies cyberbullying is of lesser import – how do you measure it? Are 5 cyberbully attacks the equivalent to 1 physical assault? 10? 20?
That’s cruel to both issues, and is an argument towards only ever dealing with one issue at a time, never moving on until that first issue is resolved satisfactorily. These things are cumulative; dealing with one helps to deal with others, and vice versa. They are all symptomatic of a larger problem – that being we currently live in a society where some people believe they are entitled to take pleasure by causing others pain, regardless of whether that pain is physical or mental. Trying to categorise or assemble tiers of “pain caused” fails to take into account the particular mental health circumstances of each person involved, and is belittling and unjust to the victims – regardless of whether they are victims of physical abuse or victims of mental abuse.
r they OK?
Remember through all this that in cyberbullying and trolling situations, there are victims and attackers. By arguing that cyberbullying is not a legitimate issue, or it can be easily avoided, or people choose to enter professions where they should reasonably expect it to occur, remember this: you are arguing for the attacker. You are stepping on the feelings of the victim and ignoring the distress they may be experiencing. In that sense, there is no difference between how you’re behaving, and telling a depressed person to “snap out of it and smile”.
They deserve better. It’s too easy to forget that mental health is just as important as physical health; and just because a black eye and broken arm is more visible than anxiety and depression doesn’t mean it’s of greater import.
You deserve better. Don’t victimise a victim; after all, one day that victim could even be you.