Friday, October 12, 2012

On Social Media and Cyber-Meanies

I love the Internet.

 I love that I am Facebook friends with practically every person I've ever known. Love that, with a click of the "Publish" button, I can share my life here at Life With Bellymonster with family across the pond or friends just across town.

Twitter just plain delights me and I have spent many a happy hour on Pinterest, dreaming and repinning pictures or sayings or recipes that catch my eye and my fancy.

I love the immediacy of email and the weird freedom that comes from sharing thoughts through the computer instead of face-to-face. Sometimes it's just easier, even for a person like me, who will talk to anyone, anytime.

But sometimes, even I wonder if what we've created isn't entirely good or wise.

The news today is full of Amanda Todd, a young B.C. girl who was bullied to death, via the Internet. She posted about her deepest pain via YouTube just weeks ago and earlier this week, undone by vicious words and actions of strangers, she committed suicide.

My heart aches for her parents and others who loved her. My heart aches for the thousands of other children whose self-esteem and sense of worth and safety lessen every day at the hands of faceless, nameless strangers (or enemies disguised as friends) at the other end of a keyboard.

At the other end of things, a Canadian mother named Jessica Stilwell has brought the ire of an entire nation down onto her head, in less than a dozen posts on a newly-created blog: Crazy Working Mom: Diary of a Mother on the Brink of Snapping.

 Discouraged by her family's refusal to pitch in to keep up with the housework, she gave up the picking up and (encouraged by family and friends on Facebook) blogged about the ensuing chaos.  Written with humour and heart, Jessica's story is honest and real and  messy and gosh darn it, people, going on strike from domestic drudgery is something I've wished to do myself, from time to time.

Haven't we all?

Needless to say, I was shocked and dismayed to discover that so many people, smugly seated at desks or laptops the world over, can do little more than criticize her actions, her marriage, her parenting, her intelligence, her life. Most commenters, it seems, have nothing nice to say at all.

And therein lies the rub.

Seems to me that, as time passes, more and more people log on to news feeds simply to spew venom and pass along hatred. And, it seems to me, more and more people will have their voices silenced - some, like Amanda Todd, forever - because a virtual stranger typed before s/he thought

What are we becoming, as a social media society? Is THIS what it's all about? Tearing down our mothers, our daughters for sharing themselves with us? Does it make those who rip into a stranger feel bigger, wiser, stronger, better when they do? Do those who write things like, "She did it to herself!" or "Sorry, but it's all your own stupid fault!" truly believe that and if so, WHY?

Why do you think it's OK to blast a young girl or a middle-aged mother or a troubled boy or a lonely man for sharing their truth? When did we all become virtual judges and when, pray tell, did we get so damned mean about it?

And finally, why would you choose to hurt with words - typed, spoken, hurled, sung - instead of heal?


  1. Nicely said, L. Today I was workshopping an essay with one of my Grade 9 boys (they got to choose their own "rant" topic). He wrote eloquently about how social media/technology permits (some) people to say whatever they say.

    In some ways, it's like road rage. People believe their hidden from the protective veneer of their car and it's okay to be me mean/angry/impatient. Same thing with computers, often.

    But boys like C (mentioned above) remind me there's hope. :)

  2. Powerful visual that: On the "Information Highway", rage has taken over. It defeats me, some days, this barrage of negativity and profound societal dysfunction.

    I'm glad that there are boys like C out there, questioning the value of it all. I can only hope my sons will do the same.

  3. Very well said, Liz. Thank you.

  4. Thanks, Sheila - great to have you here. What are your thoughts on negative comments? Do you find things have gotten out of hand or do you see things differently?

  5. A few thousand years ago Solomon wrote, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." Today he would probably swap "tongue" for "keyboard." I don't think we should be surprised when a medium made almost exclusively of words and unprecedented in its efficiency in communication becomes dangerous.

    The other day someone told me that they keep their 11 year old daughter insanely busy to keep her from being online because the girls she is friends with on facebook can be quite mean and awful. Weird solution, I think. We keep our 11 year old daughter mildly busy with some sports, reading, church, etc. but our strategy to manage the cyber world is simple. She's not on facebook, she has no access to a webcam, and she doesn't have a cellphone. Someday she'll have those things and we'll be there to ease her into it, but I refuse to let an online presence be an entitlement or a necessity. It is neither.

    1. "I refuse to let an online presence be an entitlement or a necessity." This is awesome, Greg. Your daughter is lucky to have you, easing her through all this stuff. And you're so right - it is neither. I need to remember that for myself, somedays.

      Thanks for chiming in and so wisely!

  6. Such a great post, Liz. I've thought a lot on this same subject. I've seen many scenarios lately that sadden me.

    We (some of us anyway) often feel so entitled to our opinions, good or bad, that often times we forget our words may be hurting another human being. We forget that while we are entitled to our opinions, it's not always helpful or productive to express them. In fact, sometimes it can be the exact opposite. Whatever happened to "if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all"?

    1. Hi Annie!

      It seems to come in waves, doesn't it? This sad/scary stuff, I mean. I think, like so many things, "don't say anything at all" have indeed fallen by the wayside along with "Thank you", you know?

      It worries me, for my children. Heck, for me.

  7. Liz, I feel absolutely blessed to count you as a friend. You are an exceptional human being, and I love you and your words. Please keep putting out good and kind and decent things. I firmly believe that we reap what we sow. Those people who constantly put crap out into the universe, keep receiving crap in their lives. If they only realized that happiness and kindness reaps happiness and kindness. Keep doin what you're doin girl. xoxo

    1. Aw, Mel. Thank you! I am not blameless, as I too, enjoy commenting on stories that catch my interest, but I am careful (I hope!) to temper my words so that they DON'T hurt. It's difficult to convey tone on the 'net,so I think we'd all be wise to make the extra effort