Bullying is widely considered a serious social issue. Bullying is not tolerated in schools, workplaces or in everyday life. Where bullies are identified they are held accountable for their actions.
The rise and affordability of the Internet and technology has led bullies to move online. Laptops, smart phones and tablets aid connectivity around the world. People are now able to connect and communicate with people twenty-four/seven. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have further aided connectivity by allowing people to network with billions of people across the world. These platforms encourage people to interact with people they have never met before. Although the innovative quality of modern day technology has benefited society in a multitude of ways it has also produced a new generation of bullies – cyber bullies or trolls as they are currently being referred to.
Most social media platforms encourage users to create a network of friends (this usually includes people they don’t know) and share their thoughts and opinions with them. In doing so people construct a personal identity. This can in turn leave people open to ridicule, abuse and torment from people who oppose their opinions and or ideals.
But what is it specifically about the digital medium that attracts bullies? Why do people think it is ok to say things to someone online that they wouldn’t say in person?
In Rebecca Rafferty’s thesis “Motvations Behind Cyber Bullying and Online Aggression: Cyber Sanctions, Dominance, and Trolling Online” she states that there is widespread disagreement about what actually constitutes cyber bullying. One of the studies Raffety discussed was undertaken by Mishna, Saini, and Solomon (2009). Rather than offering a concrete definitions these theorists presented five themes that emerged in their study.
“…technology being embraced at a younger age, views of cyber bullying as being ‘just another way to bully,’ factors unique to cyberbullying, anonymity, types of cyber bullying (masquerading and posting, coercing, and backstabbing), and telling adults” (p. 1224-5)
Anonymity is one factor that strikes a chord with me. The anonymous nature of the Internet makes it an ideal environment for bullies to breed. Anonymity ensures zero accountability and thus zero consequences for bullies.
People are easily able to create fake email addresses and then create fake Twitter and Facebook accounts. This makes tracing people a difficult task and no easy feat for the average person.
Ask someone if they have ever partaken in trolling and 9 out of 10 times they say yes. (Disclaimer: this is in my personal experience). From my personal research this is because of two key factors. The first being the anonymous nature of social media accounts and the second being this value associate with social media that it is a platform where you have the right to say whatever you want. Most of us have been guilty of saying things to people over social media that we would never dream of saying face to face.
As discussed there is a fine line between venting your spleen and being a downright bully. But if trolling is simply bulling on a digital medium then why is it acceptable. Why is that we are told to stand up to bullies in real life but are told to ignore trolls? I am going to leave you with that question for now. Would love to hear your thoughts on the issue.
Rufferty, R (2011) “Motvations Behind Cyber Bullying and Online Aggression: Cyber Sanctions, Dominance, and Trolling Online”