Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Social Networking and Bullying - isn't just children and teenagers

As I sit and look at my computer screen I am stunned at what I am witnessing. I am watching a grown educated man cyber harassing another grown educated man. I am appalled that this behavior is happening between adults. Adults that should know better that words harm another in a way that cannot be visually be seen. I have been watching this one sided cyber bullying on Facebook and twitter. Just like on the playground the bully rallies and incites his/her friends for support and the person the bully is singling out now has to deal with not one but multiple people harassing and questioning his authority.

When we hear “cyber bullying” the above story is not what you imagine. You typically think of teens being mean to each other for whatever the justification. However, I personally have experienced cyber bullying in an online network and now I have witnessed a professional peer experience the same fate on social networking with much more hostile intent with the velocity of a snake attacking prey. As professionals on a social networking site, I personally expect more from other professional conduct. As adults we should know better to treat others with respect even when we don’t agree with their way of doing something. We are role models for our professional peers, friends and family. If you have children that follow your feed you as the adult set expectations for online etiquette.

In my experience watching this educated professional who knows right from wrong attack another person with words for no other reason because they disagree on philosophies was difficult to watch and more difficult to know how to respond besides to offer words of encouragement to the person that was being attacked. That is like standing and watching someone being physically assaulted and saying to them “I called the cops they will be here shortly”, there is no comfort in the words you offer. When you take on the person that is cyber harassing you then become an additional target of this person. You can engage the person in a conversation but don’t expect them to see the error of their way. Often people that engage in cyber harassing are focused on how “right” they are for their actions regardless of the harm they are doing to the person they are attacking and the people that are watching the feeds in social networks. Reporting the person for their behavior falls on deaf ears at facebook and twitter. I understand they have million of users but this is an area that is critical for the safety of others. So honestly you are stuck in a position that is a no win situation.

What surprises me is in the past people were anonymous. You used a made up screen name and you typically didn’t have a photo of yourself. Now you have your real name, profession, photo, friends, family photos, identification of your spouse, co-workers all to witness your behavior. Your cyber life is now a documented act, you can delete them from your wall but you can’t delete the records from other people’s mailboxes or text. So there is a record of your life and behavior online.

I guess what is most shocking about this behavior is that we all are about support and helping children and individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities are bullied all the time. As professionals in a field that believes in protecting the dignity of others, I am dumbfounded at how professionals can behave badly toward each other. I understand not agreeing with another. However, I also believe that others have a right to believe and do things the way they see fit. In the field of special education there is room for many different philosophies without different opinions, strategies our students would not become successful.

When you look for information on cyber bullying you see information on cyberbullying for children. As adults there are things that are different. It isn’t like you can run to your mommy and daddy and say George is being unkind and unprofessional to you on facebook and twitter. There is little you can do to get help. There are laws against cyber harassing and charges can be pressed however this would mean that your police force understands cyber-bullying. You also have to keep detailed records of all correspondences. Making sure you also print your responses.

As adults we need to realize that poor behavior should not be tolerated on or off the computer. Just because you have a computer monitor in front of you doesn’t mean the actions that you perform will not reach your real-time employer or your financial supporters. When we are in the cyber world we should give the same respect to our peers that we would if they were sitting right next to us. There is no reason for flaming, harassing, degrading or being disrespectful. We may not agree with someone or like the way they do something but that doesn’t give us the right to harass we need to be tolerant and understand that there is no one right away for something. Regardless of the field you are in there are multiple ways to do something. Humans are unique and different and we like information and resources from different sources and formats. We like guidance but we don’t like all the answers. We like to figure out the puzzles and have encouragement while doing it.

I think it is important to remember that being online is not alter ego. It is real life. Everything you say can be used against you and twisted to meet the needs of another person. Remember the written word carries no emotion, people will make meaning out of whatever is written especially if they are looking to attack you.

So in this day and age of technology it is important to take the following steps to keep your cyber harasser at a distance.

Remove the following information:

  • Your employer information
  • Your cell phone number
  • Your personal email address. If you want an email address public make it a gmail or yahoo account.

These are my rules of dealing with cyber harassment:

  • Do not engage with the cyber harasser. Try to have your friends not engage also.
  • Block the person from your social network.
  • When you have deleted the person also block the person from seeing your post regardless if they are in the same social groups as you are.
  • Don’t accept new individuals to your personal page unless you have met them in person.
  • Separate your personal and professional life. You want to keep your family and friends safe and this means not crossing the lines of professional and personal.

Articles and Resources

Articles on cyber attacking teachers

I wish for all you a safe experience online.

4 comments:

  1. What a fantastic article, highlighting the horrible damage that can never be un-done when there is bullying involved. This entire situation breaks my heart, not only for the person being bullied, but all the children with disabilities who are caught in the middle. Each person who participates on the behalf of the bully loses the resources and knowledge of the person being bullied and vice-versa for those supporting the victim by not associating with the bully. These kiddos need their parents and service providers to have every resource possible for helping them and a bully has interrupted that online collaboration. Thanks for putting this out there in such a professional, and appropriately grown-up, manner.

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  2. Jeannette, I am so glad that you wrote this post. I have been struggling with the way to handle this, and this is so much better than I ever could have written!

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  3. Hmm, I'm sure this will get me banned but I am going to repost this as it is how many of us have felt watching this unfold over the past month. Thanks Jeannette!!

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  4. This is the reason I don't blog, there is no way I could have said all of this as eloquently as you did. Thanks for writing what I think many of us have been feeling. It took guts to post and you are to be commended.

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