Earlier this week I finished reading Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. It was a really fascinating read, which traced public shaming back a couple of centuries to the use of floggings and pillories, then quickly brought it right up to date with a number of cases, some of which I’d heard of and some I hadn’t.
I’ve not exeperienced anything like the “sport” which some people seem to enjoy, but I have been on the receiving end of some unpleasant comments / posts online recently. Nothing that’s upset me and certainly nothing that would be called shaming, but there was an amount of personal invective involved.
Dee and I have both had reason to ask people recently why they are being so nasty, so unkind, or to ask for evidence to back up statements they’ve made – some of which have been quite appalling. We’ve had a lot of unpleasantness directed at us as a result. We’ve also started reporting racist, bigoted, homophobic and other abusive comments / behaviour to the organisations that run the sites where we’ve seen comments, because we’ve decided that standing by and doing nothing is no longer an option.
The press here in the UK seem to have developed a version of this over the last 20 years or so, where they build someone up and up, saying how great they are, then seem to take delight in tearing them to bits in a matter of hours and days. In my opinion it’s part of the same problem.
The point I was going to make, and which Ronson makes very well, is that the internet affords a certain amount of anonymity and freedom for most people, and it seems that more and more are using it to collude with each other – not necessarily overtly, but tacitly, by joining in – to “have a go” at some unfortunate individual. Even those who try to question the facts or in some way protect the victim often find themselves the target of these trolls.
It seems to me that this is all a disturbing trend. It’s bullying, plain and simple, yet I’m willing to bet that the majority of people who join in would never think of themselves as bullies. It’s also apparent that a lot of people are unwilling / unable to admit when their words or actions are not appropriate, and abrogate their responsibilities as a person. It seems that they would much rather turn their wrath on you than to say “Actually, you have a point, my behaviour was out of order. I’m sorry.” Don’t get mad, get even seems to be the order of the day, but it’s really unhelpful.
My question for you is, what action do you take if you see an online “attack” on an individual? Do you ignore it (which means you tacitly approve of it), do you join in (which means you actually approve of it) or do you tackle it? In my opinion, only by doing the third option can we make the world a better place, once person at a time.
And a second question: how do you react if someone calls you out on your behaviour? Are you kind? Are you honest? Are you helpful? Do you hold your hands up and apologise, or do you go on the attack?