Bullying on social media is rife and it can become so severe that indivuduals commit suicide over the hateful messages they receive. I decided to do some research of my own and spent a few weeks on a social media platform. I engaged with other users and left comments. What I found quite disturbing was the concept of “legitimate bullying”. If I commented in any way that disagreed with others, I would be viciously attacked by the fans of that page. Even if my comment wasn’t in the least offensive or personal but simply expressed a different viewpoint, I would be bombarded with users calling me “Stupid”, “A troll”, “an idiot” and so on. In their minds they see this as legitimate as I had dared to be a naysayer. The reality though is that these individuals are bullies too, trying to hide behind the idea that it is okay to harrass me because I don’t agree.
I mean, we all like a good debate and if someone had replied saying that my viewpoint was interesting but that they didn’t agree, that would be different. It seems people are looking for any excuse to bully others. It makes sense especially when we think about ‘legitimate bullying’ and here’s why.
We all like to consider ourselves to be kind decent people but bullying someone else goes against that belief. This creates “mental incongruence”. Another good example is when a married person has an affair. It’s common to believe that a decent ethical person wouldn’t have an affair, so to deal with the incongruency of wanting to behave one way but doing another, we look for ways to legitimise our behaviour. I have often noticed how when one person has an affair they justify their behaviour by saying their spouse wasn’t very loving or was neglectful. We all do this to a degree in various areas of our lives but we are telling ourselves little fibs. We are still responsible for our behaviour no matter the motivation for that behaviour.
Inner misery encourages and exacerbates online bullying
And so it is the same with online bullies. Sadly we live in a society that is overwhelmed with problems – debt, heartbreak, rejection, failure, fear of uncertainty, illness etc…. this creates stress and negative energy. Many of us try to find way to dissipate the stress and online bullying can be an easy outlet. It is very rare that you will find a person who is content and has peace of mind, bullying others online. When you are happy within yourself you do not have this excess negative energy to project onto others nor feel the need to upset others to help you feel a little better about your own situation.
Stressful living and many unhappy people
So social media bullying is partly a product of the stressful living conditions we are subjected to. You may not be able to tell your boss or your partner what you really think of them but when you go online, you can be as mean as you like. Dissatisfaction in our own lives get directed at others online. We tend to have far more tolerance and understanding for someone we can talk to and get to know. A stranger online can easily (in the mind of an online bully) possess all the qualities they hate in others (or in themselves). I’ll bet that if I could’ve spoken to one of those bullies face to face and we had sat down for a proper chat we would have ended up with far more empathy for each other. It’s the anonymity and the ability that we have to stereo type others and believe our negative thoughts about others (from reading one comment) that creates this mood of hate online.
What disturbs me the most is how bullies feel it is okay to get personal and insult your intelligence and make sweeping statements about you as a person in order to maximise the hurt. And it’s so easy to do because they get to hide behind their computer screens or mobile phones.
Advice for online users
It is never acceptable to insult another person even if they don’t agree with you. We live in a world where freedom of speech should be prized above all (and it isn’t).
Social media bullying seems unavoidable online but you can protect yourself by being selective about the sites you visit and your privacy settings.
Getting sucked into negative comments can affect your mental health and it’s best to steer clear of the comments section if it becomes contentious. Don’t invite that negativity into your life.
T.H.I.N.K. If you would not say it in person, do not say it online!
- T – is it True?
- H – is it Helpful?
- I – is it Inspiring?
- N – is it Nice?
- K – is it Kind?
If you have been or currently are a victim of online bullying here is where you can find help:
- For teens and young adults ages 13-24, contact STOMP Out Bullying at 1-877-602-8559
- Contact STOP Cyberbullying at 1-201-463-8663
TELEPHONE: 0845 22 55 787