Stopping cyberbullying

Friday was, on short-notice, announced as Stop Cyberbullying Day by some US blogs. This was in response to high-profile software-usability author and blogger, Kathy Sierra, writing about how she has cancelled an upcoming conference speech and other engagements due to overwhelming fear following hate-speech and threats directed at her online. The threats were at a sufficiently high level that Sierra has reported them to the police and apparently the FBI is investigating them, because making death threats online, just as in “real life”, is a crime.

Sierra wrote particularly about her sense of betrayal that some of the hate-speech was allowed free reign on some “trashtalk” sites (i.e. specifically for sledging others) that were set up and/or recommended by other tech bloggers whom she knows and often meets in person at tech conferences. The trashtalk sites have now been closed down and pulled from the web, at least one of the other tech bloggers Sierra named, Frank Paynter, has apologised unreservedly for his involvement in setting up the sledging site and the only woman tech blogger named, Jeneane Sessum, has felt unfairly included in the names Sierra named, although also apologising unreservedly for pain that has come to Sierra from what she describes as a peripheral involvement in the sledging site. Another named blogger, Alan Herrell aka ‘The Head Lemur’, claims that his blog IDs have been hacked, that threatening posts which appeared to originate from him were forged by someone unknown and that he is so disgusted by the hit to his reputation that he’s taking a break from blogging to regroup. Yet another of the named tech-bloggers, Chris Locke aka ‘rageboy’, is defending himself vigorously from what he sees as an unjustified attack on his reputation contained in Sierra’s post.

There has been great surprise expressed by many that a site set up to encourage free speech for “meankids” (the name of the site) could degenerate into such a pit of festering hate. It was just meant to be “a bit of fun”, a place to “blow off steam” and “be creative”. Many others have expressed surprise at the surprise: without written standards, a tight comments/posting policy and proper supervision to see that standards are met, this sort of degeneration into outrageous abuse, almost as if there is some offensiveness competition, is seen time and time again in “free speech” communities. This was seen in the AutoAdmit forum’s cyberobsession with Jill Filipovic and other female law students — the more outrageous the statements, the more kudos from fellow forum members. The more moderate members are either intimidated or disgusted into leaving and the community becomes a sewer.

We’ve copped a lot of flak from some for our comments policy here at LP, with accusations of stifling free speech, but it is this sort of often-observed degeneration into abuse that is exactly the reason for the enforcement of our policy. We value the fact that LP is a site where people new to blogging can come and not be intimidated/disgusted by commenters hurling outright abuse, although we’re not wowsers about the rude vernacular i.e. a peppering of profanities and obscenities. There’s also the question of the possible legal responsiblity of blog-publishers and members of a group blog for allowing threatening/abusive/slanderous comments to remain on the site for others to read, a question which is yet to be tested in court.

Joan Walsh, editor of Salon, uses the Sierra affair to talk about the fact of common misogyny on the web and how Salon is soon to implement better comment moderation tools in order to better control the level of vitriol in comments threads because they feel that discourse is being stifled by hate speech. A Salon Broadsheet article on Sierra provides exactly the petri-dish of online misogyny that Walsh describes, with Sierra being described as a ‘liar’ and ‘weak’ because of her reaction to online abuse and threats.

The ugliness of online misogyny is not only directed at tech-bloggers and left-leaning columnists: Michelle Malkin is just one of the right-wing women who have also been the target of hate-speech in posts, comments and email — people have written about wanting to see her and her family tortured, raped and murdered. I disagree with nearly every word she writes and find some of her partisan strategies loathsome, but she doesn’t deserve to have her life and her children’s lives threatened by bigoted nongs. Malkin asks, in the wake of the outpouring of sympathy for Sierra, where has been the broad sympathy and BBC articles about her being threatened in exactly the same way?

The hate is not only directed at women. Gay men, or men considered as in any way failing to embody an acceptably masculine/macho persona, also get the hate mail which escalates to rape and death threats. The Salon article upthread mentioned that Andrew Sullivan, who is openly gay, got just the same sorts of comments and mail threatening rape and death as the female writers at Salon, while other male writers, while still receiving hate mail, did not get the sexualised vitriol. Chris Clarke, a nature writer and political progressive blogger, was derided by commenters as a tree-hugging girly-man for weeks before then getting a credible threat to the life of his dog, which, in light of a long history of violence from anti-environmentalists towards eco-activists, motivated him to take down his blog for a while.

Violet Blue, a columnist for SFGate, writes of her own experiences with online hate-speech:

Ask any three women who publish online if they’re ever been stalked, sexually threatened or threatened with violence on other blogs or in comments. I don’t need to bet money to know you’ll get a yes from one of those women. Too busy to ask anyone? That’s OK, I’ll raise my hand for all three.

Imagine as a woman working really hard to earn the reputation of a respected voice in the world of tech journalism and blogging — a world populated by disproportionately more men than women — and finding yourself the target of a hate-filled website. The tone and content of the site centers around sexually threatening you, suggesting ways you could be killed and have your corpse defiled, stating that you are a “slut” and that your gender is in question. Your straight male colleagues don’t have this problem.

Then the person running the hate site blogs about every word you say, every time you make a post or publish an article. And targets your friends. And posts the names of your family and Google satellite maps of your family’s homes. They deface your Wikipedia page at every opportunity, with sexual slurs, objectifying you at every possible chance. It’s enough to make a girl choose not to be a tech journalist.

In this particular instance, Violet Blue is describing a friend of hers being targeted. Although she too has received violent sexualised threats, she has not been stalked online in the same all-consuming way as her friend. She points out that the only media attention given to her friend’s case involved a New York Times article portraying the stalker as vaguely mischievous and linking to his blog (thus sending it high traffic) and not linking to her friend’s blog at all. The hate site continues to cyberstalk her friend, with no objection from the tech-blogging community at all.

How the blogging community reacts to open sexual hatred of women bloggers and writers is worth examining. In the Sierra case, she describes herself as feeling so helpless as to have to run and hide, saying on her blog: “I have canceled all speaking engagements. I am afraid to leave my yard. I will never feel the same. I will never be the same. … I have no idea if I’ll ever post again.” And Sierra has received support from many.

My friend did not characterize herself as helpless at any point, and neither have I. And with my friend, there was (and still is) no “bloggers-stick-togetherness” in our corner of Blogistan. The question is, Do we women need to portray ourselves as victims to garner support when men threaten to defile our corpses if we gain notoriety?

It is an interesting question. Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan both received thousands of hate emails during and following the Edwards Blogger Scandal, including hundreds of threats of violent sexual assault and dozens of death threats. They wrote of these experiences on their blogs and in other media and McEwan especially wrote that it was the threats that made her decide to resign from the Edwards campaign, but neither woman represented themselves as helpless with fear. As with Malkin, while they received much support from people who were already sympathetic to them and a few much appreciated gestures from across the partisan divide, the broader sympathy and mainstream media interest generated by the Sierra affair failed to appear.

Sierra’s unique achievement as a target of hate speech and threats has been in garnering a great deal of (totally deserved) sympathy for detailing the fear she feels for herself and her family. Nonetheless, there are some appallingly unsympathetic threads [e.g. Salon Broadsheet article referenced above] of the usual “grow a spine” variety, claiming that she’s giving in to the threats by cancelling her appearances, that she’s playing the victim, that she should just “have a sense of humour” about “obvious jokes”. Somehow I doubt those making “jokes” about rape would think that African-Americans should just “have a sense of humour” about lynching “jokes” (these days, anyway – apparently exactly that was expected before desegregation in the South).

It is interesting that it has taken threats against a non-political woman blogger who openly acknowledged her fear and sense of helplessness before there has been a general swell of outrage against the vileness of online hate speech. As Sierra titled her blog-post: death threats against bloggers are NOT “protected speech”. Too much has been excused in the past by chanting the mantra of “free speech”, mostly from people who wilfully misunderstand the nature of the right to free speech in a liberal democracy: it’s a guarantee that the government won’t silence speech, not that any forum anywhere has to tolerate any and all speech, no matter how obnoxious and bullying.

The Australian blogosphere seems to have largely avoided the ugliness seen in the instances described above. The chilling effect of targeted sexualised abuse through cyberstalking has not been documented here as far as I am aware (although statistically it is likely to have occurred, it just hasn’t been made widely known). Intemperate stoushes are reasonably common, with garden-variety abuse and the occasional slander (usually quickly deleted). An abusive poster dominating threads on certain topics in an obsessive way is not entirely unknown. Incivility abounds, of course, everywhere that it is allowed to flourish. A strict commenting policy, tightly enforced, keeps this potential anarchy under some control.

It seems to come with the territory of interacting with a screen instead of with people who can be seen: the bloggers and other commenters seem unreal and undeserving of common courtesy of the sort that is expected in the flesh. Words that we would never dream of allowing to escape our lips in person trip lightly from the tips of our fingers into the pixels on our screens. Kathy Sierra’s story reminds us that there is always a real person sitting behind another screen, that words that wound are cruel, and words that threaten pain and death are criminal.

crossposted at Hoyden About Town

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writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

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Posted in Crime, culture, media, sociology
42 comments on “Stopping cyberbullying
  1. silkworm says:

    I wonder if this is related to the problems The Daily Grail, run out of north Queensland, is having, and which are being investigated by the US Dept of Homeland Security.

    This domain has been suspended pending an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.

    http://dailygrail.com/node

  2. tigtog says:

    I doubt the Dept of Homeland Security would get involved in a cyberbullying case. That strikes me as another kettle of fish entirely.

  3. tigtog says:

    Because I was concentrating on blog commenting communities for the post I didn’t even get into teenage cyberbullying concerns, per this article:

    Preliminary results from the research show so-called computer geeks are becoming the new schoolyard bullies. Final results of the study, which will be completed in June, are expected to be published in the autumn.

    “Traditional bullying is a power differential,” Mishna said in an interview.

    “The power before could have been age, size, smartness, popularity, ability. Now it’s the perceived anonymous nature. We’d like to find out how anonymous it really is. The power now is you can put it all over (the place).”

    The focus groups also revealed victims refuse to tell an adult about the abuse because they fear they will be punished in order to be protected.

    “They’re scared that their parents will take away their computer privileges,” Mishna said.

    This sort of stuff is why my kids don’t have computers in their bedrooms.

  4. Adam Gall says:

    This issue really speaks to the potential of the medium in terms of the kinds of interactions that it can facilitate, but I would think it is also linked to broader trends in the media and in everyday life. Is this kind of anti-social detachment also a symptom of neoliberal biopolitics? I mean, if we’re being led to think of every aspect of our lives as our personal responsibility in the last instance, perhaps the inverse is a very personal, very combative kind of interaction with others which is only that much more visible when there is no accountability and a certain amount of anonymity.

  5. Practical matters, first.

    LP has an excellent comments policy, and I hope that posters here will continually think about how to

    value the fact that LP is a site where people new to blogging can come and not be intimidated/disgusted by commenters hurling outright abuse, although we’re not wowsers about the rude vernacular i.e. a peppering of profanities and obscenities.

    As to ‘free speech’,

    Too much has been excused in the past by chanting the mantra of “free speechâ€?, mostly from people who wilfully misunderstand the nature of the right to free speech in a liberal democracy: it’s a guarantee that the government won’t silence speech, not that any forum anywhere has to tolerate any and all speech, no matter how obnoxious and bullying.

    is a very precise definition of ‘free speech’, one that I agree with.

    Blog admins have the right to set any commenting policies they please. As it says in LP’s comment policy, “our blog, our rules”.

    There is no way that the sort of viciousness described in this post can be fought, or a new, more civil discourse enforced, without clear rules about what is and is not acceptable on one’s own forum, and the will to enforce those rules for long enough to make them accepted. This is roughly the same sort of decision a publican has to make when she or he decides if they need to throw someone out of their establishment.

    It seems to come with the territory of interacting with a screen instead of with people who can be seen: the bloggers and other commenters seem unreal and undeserving of common courtesy of the sort that is expected in the flesh.

    I suggest a different explanation. We’re not seeing people who are usually civil turning into monsters because they are in front of a screen. We are seeing mean-spirited, bigoted bullies using the Internet to project their personalities. It takes a plan and a hard slog to weaken the power of their behaviour.

  6. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Too much has been excused in the past by chanting the mantra of “free speechâ€?, mostly from people who wilfully misunderstand the nature of the right to free speech in a liberal democracy: it’s a guarantee that the government won’t silence speech, not that any forum anywhere has to tolerate any and all speech, no matter how obnoxious and bullying.

    Oh, thank God. I have been blogging since October 2005 and this is the first time I have seen anyone in the blogosphere spell this out so beautifully and clearly. Or at all, if it comes to that.

    It has always totally bewildered me that anyone should use the ‘free speech’ mantra in this context, for that very reason — and interestingly it’s always the private-property cheer squad that seems to squeal the loudest about exercising their freedom of speech on someone else’s blog, which indicates to me a fundamental incoherence about their world view in general.

    I had an online conversation last year about it with Weathergirl and Zoe in which both explained that what drove most blog administrators to feel obliged to allow all sorts of dross on their comments threads was the force of the libertarian ethos, right across the political spectrum, in online communities and the blogosphere (which I don’t think of as an online ‘community’ as there is no common ground as such). I’d been a member of two such communities, one for sixteen years, but they were both specialist scholarly groups and the level of decorum and civilised exchange was high in both.

    Interestingly, Weathergirl, as she explained somewhere on a thread here, has since felt the force of online bullying so acutely that she has virtually (sorry) disappeared from the scene.

    What floors me about some of the stuff I see online is the level of ignorance — apparently — about what can and will get you sued. If it’s not yet been tested in court, that’s only because the victims haven’t started to realise yet that they could clean up. (NB my legal advisor tells me that it’s not only the Australian laws that apply to online content: that if you defame an American, for example, you could be sued according to US law. I have yet to check this out further.)

    As I said to a nonblogging friend the other day, if you ever got really strapped for cash, all it would take would be a bit of an autoGoogle to find someone you could sue for defamation. There seems to be a direct analogy with the playground, as there so often is online: you can get away with murder under the teachers’ radar, but you’ll get expelled once you’re exposed.

    Appeals to common decency, civility, generosity and other ideals are a complete waste of time with bullies and nutters, but perhaps the prospect of losing their shirts might make a bit of a difference.

  7. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Moderated? Spaminated? I wonder what it was …

  8. Shaun says:

    Spaminated Dr Cat for some reason.

    While I’m here, excellent post tig.

    tig’s explanation that commentors forget that there is a real person behind the online persona and David’s notion that people are projecting their personalities are not mutually exclusive and bother explain certain aspects of cyber-bullying. I’ll add in a herd mentality that is evident in some attacks in the blogosphere.

  9. Minotaur says:

    Preliminary results from the research show so-called computer geeks are becoming the new schoolyard bullies … “Traditional bullying is a power differential,â€? Mishna said in an interview. “The power before could have been age, size, smartness, popularity, ability. Now it’s the perceived anonymous nature.

    I used to manage an online community for a computer gaming company, and this is exactly what I observed. The attraction of an online persona is you can be a big man online when you’re nothing offline. I would suggest the problem is exacerbated by the fact that if you’re wanting so badly to live through an online persona, you’re likely to be a victim of real life bullying yourself.

    I say `man’ because at the time, online gaming communities were almost exclusively male. Anyone who made clear that they were female (heaven forbid feminist) was harrassed out of the community in a manner more appalling than I’ve ever observed, on or offline. It was really disturbing stuff.

  10. Pavlov's Cat says:

    It is indeed an excellent post, which is what I meant to say first.

    Shaun, a herd mentailty is, again, not mutually exclusive (in fact there’s a big overlap) of the force of subcultures, which tend to generate their own rules. And not just the blogging subculture, but also the sub-subcultures of particular blogs.

  11. AV says:

    Bruce Everett’s description of “Internet Squadristi” seems apposite here.

  12. Adam Gall says:

    Strict rules on comments do seem important, and a well publicised policy like there is here. The problem with the medium that I see is that it doesn’t take much to set up another alternative forum, and then that kind of extreme stuff can keep being posted. I don’t accept that these people are pathological, I think there is a sense in which they are taking the ad hominem conventions of blogging to an extreme level, and that there is a certain amount of acceptability for these things in some of these online communities. It seems to be related to the way in which certain kinds of masculinity are enacted in everyday life and conversation. It’s ugly, but it’s out there already, if not always in the ‘legitimate’ blogosphere.

    I guess it doesn’t change David’s point though, and strict rules are definitely the way to go. Tough enforcement of rules about post content will at least produce places where people can post and receive feedback in relative security, even if it can’t stop the alternative fora from being created. Beyond that, I like the idea of legal action, but I wonder about where that could lead. I don’t know if a litigious blogosphere would necessarily be a better one. On the other hand it would be nice if there was at least a realistic threat of being made accountable in RL for posting terrible things online. I’m totally in favour of making law enforcement aware of any sites where death threats and the like are appearing.

  13. FDB says:

    Part of the problem IMHO is the idea that someone commenting/posting online is somehow putting themselves out there for criticism/sledging. So in combination with the perceived anonymity for the sledger, there is the perception that the sledgee should just be prepared to take it (in the same way as a public figure, say, should expect to have their private life scrutinised in ways nobody else has to put up with).

  14. Adam Gall says:

    I agree FDB. The public exposure = fair game equation. Maybe that speaks to the idea of fostering ressentiment as well. People can feel that the person they’re attacking is in such a privileged position by being publicly visible, and that they themselves have no such privilege, they may exaggerate their attacks, in the spirit of ‘taking them down a notch’ or whatever. Given that somebody can become a fairly high profile blogger without any particular material compensation, or ability to protect themselves, maybe this in turn exaggerates the effects of this kind of perception re: bloggers, as opposed to celebrities.

  15. Leinad says:

    Awww shaddup, ya loathsome tarts!

  16. Leinad says:

    Sorry, forum cat. Too cheap and obvious, and not all that funny. Will try harder.

    One of the things I enjoy about LP is that it does try and strike a balance between facillitating frank and open exchanges of views and civility, and it realises that the line between each can be a very fine one and a little bit of give and take is needed. I’ve been to other fora where there was stringent moderation and intelligent discussion aplenty but the moderator/rules were much less nuanced and narrowly defined. This allowed posters to smear each other and be incredibly condescending and patronising and downright rude to another so long as they phrased it in obsequiously polite language, while people who called them on it in frank language were promptly expelled.

    (Thank god this place doesn’t have netiquette moderation, those places are just creeepy…)

  17. Mark says:

    Excellent post, tigtog.

    The Jill Filopovic incident you posted about recently is another case in point.

  18. Mark says:

    Oh, I’m sorry, I see on re-reading you did make the parallel! Must read more slowly and carefully!

  19. Adam Gall says:

    Interesting point, Leinad. Questions about the meaning and nature of civility are instantly raised by this issue, I think. Those be some big questions if you look at how words like ‘civilised’ have been used in the past.

  20. Leinad says:

    And Adam arrives at the epicentre. What’s ‘civil’, especially on this inter-hyper-global-net wherein a polyglot of languages and cultures, creeds and codes discourse? As a ‘strayan I’ve been in many online situations where I’ve had to tone down my jocular Aussie humor and larrikin mores because it just wasn’t translating across the cultural barriers or the limits of the medium (or I was being a wanker). Conversly, I’ve misread others completely because their idea of politeness reads like condescention (or maybe it was, and I wasn’t getting it). Douglas Adams’ quip about the Babel Fish being responsible for more wars than any other organism because it allowed for clear communication between cultures/races springs to mind.

  21. FDB says:

    True Leinad (12:15).

    CL’s faux-carping about how I’d ‘abused’ him by calling him a spaz here is a case in point. That apparently should breach the LP guidelines, while he’d go on constantly about TEH LEFT wanting terrorists to win, wanting to see COW troops dead etc etc

  22. tigtog says:

    FDB: although I do think CL was applying a double standard, if I’d noticed you using ‘spaz’ at the time I would have challenged it. I don’t have problems with people disagreeing vigorously being blunt and even a little rude as long as it’s not actual abuse, but we should be capable of doing so without further marginalising the disabled.

  23. FDB says:

    I don’t know that he was applying a double standard so much as being disingenuous. He wasn’t actually offended, but rather thought that ‘teh LP luvvies’ SHOULD be offended to maintain their poltical correctness. He actually admitted as much later.

    My rule of thumb is that is someone is actually offended then I should apologise and take it back. If the moderator believes offence would be caused to a third party, fair enough too. I thought ‘spaz’ was fairly innocuous, being a very common term of abuse in my childhood which I use without even thinking about people with actual intellectual disabilities. Like ‘wanker’ or what have you – I’m not thinking about the act of masturbation.

    Of course, people with disabilities can’t help but feel the connection strongly, and we’re all wankers and should be proud of it, so bad analogy and point taken.

  24. tigtog says:

    Disingenuous probably is a better word for CL’s outrage.

    I also understand where you’re coming from on using common playground insults without considering their origin. Part of self-examination is accepting that terms absorbed in our younger years might well betray some societal privilege of which we’ve been previously unaware.

    The trick is to realise it, accept that it can be a problem, and make the decision to change one’s behaviour. As you’ve shown yourself willing to do.

  25. derrida derider says:

    Its interesting that the main critic of LP’s posting policies – Catallaxy – which has an avowed commitment to absolute free speech has now found it necessary to put one of its more demented commenters on moderation (see http://tinyurl.com/yt5sto).

  26. lauredhel says:

    I would add that “spaz” has nothing to do with intellectual disability, but is a shortening of “spastic” – referring most commonly to cerebral palsy.

  27. tigtog says:

    A post at Tim Blair‘s today reminded me that when discussing ozblogs I forgot to note the ongoing harassment of Jeremy Sears aka Anonymous Lefty. His outing last year and the continued sneering hostility directed at him are probably Oz’s strongest examples of the cyberbullying mindset.

  28. Nabakov says:

    Yes, it’s a fine line between the robust, free and frank exchange of views that some of us enjoy about blogging and yer good old bullying and harassment.

    My view is that the line is crossed when someone sets out on a sustained campaign to take someone down over issues beyond what they’ve put up in the blogosphere. The “get Jeremy” campaign to my mind certaintly pushed it too far, as does hassling people by email at home or work beyond the public cyberarena.

    Someone here on another thread came up with a good definition of bullying – that is when you can’t get away from your tormentors. If people feel others are behaving badly towards them within a thread, they can chose to ignore them, the thread or the blog.

    Of course you will always get prominent members of a blog community ganging up on a dissenting voice but anyone with some basic nous should know what they’re in for if they walk into a Collingwood pub and loudly announce the Pies are a bunch of useless ratbags. They should then be prepared to vigorously defend their views without whinging about being outnumbered. Or fuck off.

    But if it’s a post or more aimed at someone where they have no confidence in any real and unrestricted right of reply, and where stuff about their personal life is being aired as well, then that’s just bloody unsporting to say the least. And cyberbullying to say the worst.

    Birdy of course is sui generis here. He’s a national treasure, though not quite in the way he imagines. We should all visit his blog from time to time to poke some raw meat spiked with LSD through the bars. And when the faeces-flinging gets too much, you can always walk away with a great screengrab for the memories.

  29. Pavlov's Cat says:

    We should all visit his blog from time to time to poke some raw meat spiked with LSD through the bars.

    Oh, now, that’s just over-egging the pudding. Surely a chocolate-chip hot cross bun spiked with Valium would be more to the point.

  30. Leinad says:

    Valium Birdy would be monotonous and soporific. I prefer monotonous and batshit.

  31. Kim says:

    Sheesh! Feeding the troll even over here!

    Brilliant post, tigtog!

  32. (NB my legal advisor tells me that it’s not only the Australian laws that apply to online content: that if you defame an American, for example, you could be sued according to US law. I have yet to check this out further.)

    In general, in international law, if you sue someone, they have to defend themselves either where they live or where the incident took place. In other words, if you defame an American, you can only be sued according to US law if it happens on a US server, and even then, it would be unlikely. However, if an American defames you on his own server, you can sue him according to US law, but only in the US.

    Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and all that, but I have had a bit of international law in my time.

    A good example of someone getting sued in another country isthe case where David Irwing sued Deborah Lipstadt and lost. It could only become a case in the UK because Lipstadt’s book was published in the UK (at least to my understanding).

  33. [Jeremy Sears’] outing last year and the continued sneering hostility directed at him are probably Oz’s strongest examples of the cyberbullying mindset.

    I read the Blair post and the first few comments and gave up in disgust. That really is nasty and personal and full of the desire to hurt people.

    And I don’t even like Sears’ blog, it’s angry and boring. But the Blairblog post and comments are just rotten and are a threat to many other than Sears.

    Humphrey McQueen said in a recent-ish collection of essays (Temper Democratic) that the price of free speech is the need to boycott and protest now and again. He meant that if you are not going to have a heavy-handed government censor, then things will get through that the community will have to organise against.

    In the same way, I think the crucial questions of cyber-bullying are:

    1) What advice and practical support be given to those who face potential exposure to cyberbullying?

    2) What support can be directly given to those who are cyber-bullied?

    3) What means exist to bring down consequences (within all legal limits) upon those who indulge in cyberbullying? EG exposure of their own behaviour? And, of course, the related question of what consequences are suitable in each case, and how that is decided and who gets to decide.

  34. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Sheesh! Feeding the troll even over here!

    And cyberbullying him too, actually. See how easy it is?

    Sorry.

    *hangs head*

  35. TimT says:

    Oh, now, that’s just over-egging the pudding. Surely a chocolate-chip hot cross bun spiked with Valium would be more to the point.

    OT, but Coburg Woolworths is selling ‘Hot Cross Buns Without Fruit’. YUCK!

    Have to agree that the latest Blair post on Jeremy was cruel, though I would note that several commenters in that thread criticised Blair or expressed sympathy for Jeremy. At first, I was inclined to agree with Flashman, who noted that it might have been a hoax. (Turns out it was genuine.)

    Trouble is Jeremy has a way of responding to these posts. Every time he does something like that, I shake my head and think back to what my mother said to me about playground bullies: “Just ignore them, Timothy, just ignore them!”

  36. I shake my head and think back to what my mother said to me about playground bullies: “Just ignore them, Timothy, just ignore them!â€?

    That is the worst advice that has ever been given to anyone about bullies, cyber or physical.

    I agree that Sears has the wrong response, but ‘ignoring’ bullies does nothing except justify them in their behaviour. At best, it means that someone weaker than you will be the victim.

  37. TimT says:

    Obviously I disagree. The point is that especially in the cyber-realm, bullying, insofar as it exists, is psychological, and depends on eliciting certain responses from victims.

  38. bullying, insofar as it exists, is psychological, and depends on eliciting certain responses from victims.

    Agreed. But as a victim of vicious bullying as a child, for several years, I can tell you that the most disheartening advice I ever received was to ignore it. It was an adult’s way of telling me I was on my own, when dealing with bullying that was, at least for me, impossible not to react to. I spent a long time in despair at the way I was treated.

    I believe that bullying should be swiftly acted against. Bullying comments should be deleted on blogs where those against it have the power to do so, and it should be called out – in the most unpleasant way possible for the perpertrators. I don’t mean bullying them back, but whatever action is taken should put consequences for their actions squarely back on them.

    Otherwise, at worst their day’s ‘fishing’ just won’t get them a bite. That’s not going to stop them having another go.

  39. Adam Gall says:

    I agree David. Real bullying uses interpellation (to borrow from Althusser), it constitutes the victim, it produces them as such, which is why they cannot escape it’s circle by themselves. In that way it’s like an abusive relationship. It doesn’t just seek to elicit responses, although I’m sure there are other sorts of harrassment that do, it also seeks to remake it’s victim. That is why it has to be stopped by an external power.

  40. TimT says:

    Oh yes, there are different levels of bullying, and while the ‘ignore’ technique might work with some lighter types of bullying (teasing, etc), obviously nastier types of bullying should be confronted head on.

  41. Adam Gall says:

    I would imagine it’s a very difficult thing to approach in a uniform way, for precisely the reasons that you suggest TimT.

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