There’s no hiding on the Internet

Posted by on October 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm.

There’s been some talk in the news lately (read: the past few years) about cyberbullying.

We are of a generation that, for the most part, escaped our most tender years before cyberbullying became mainsteam. Thank goodness.

Anything called cyberbullying could just be called harassment.

We all got harassed as kids. (Or, at least, I hope I wasn’t the only one.) But there’s a level where it becomes more permanently damaging than just an exercise in thickening your skin.

The latest carnations of kids harassing kids is scarier because when something goes online, it never goes away. Whether we put it there ourselves or others put it there without our permission, I’m sure we can each think of something online about ourselves we wish we could erase. MySpace pages, anyone? Or LiveJournal entries? We only had a few platforms to screw up on when we were young and stupid. I fear how much kids can screw up themselves or others now that they have dozens more platforms.

The only solution I can think of to escape your “digital legacy” is to have people change their names once they escape the period in their lives when they’re bullied, whether it’s in school, college or on the job. This doesn’t seem very realistic. But neither does ending harassment in any of its forms.

The NYTimes Room for Debate had a discussion about bullying laws today. My favorite quote was “If the only tool you have is prison, then every problem looks like a crime.” There certainly are ways to discourage and decrease bullying in school. But harassment is not going to go away, and the school has no place regulating what students do outside of school hours or off school grounds.

I remember lots of campaigns in school to get us to behave better. Lessons on respect, on acceptance, on diversity, on choosing words (The campaign against gay meaning stupid was particularly memorable). I’d like to think I behave in a positive way, but I can’t tell if I learned the behavior from my family or from my school.

Do you guys think the “moral campaigns” in school had any influence on how you behave today? Do you think that teaching anti-bullying for the digital age will have more influence than creating new criminal distinctions for cyberbullying?

P.S. Some cyberbullying reminds me of gang activity. 4Chan is the example that first comes to mind. You don’t want to be picked on, you want to fit in, so you join with the bullies so that you’re “safe” from being bullied yourself. And then crowd psychology kicks in, and it all goes downhill from there. We haven’t eliminated gangs, so what makes anyone think group bullying online will go away?

Leave a Reply