It’s National Bullying Prevention month and I’m at heightened awareness, since I cover the subject over at About.com. Cyberbullying is a rising problem, and we’ve seen it covered everywhere, from blogs, to newscasts to tabloids. We’re all worried about our kids and the influence of technology on their lives. We’re all hoping that they avoid getting bullied or, in some ways worse from a parental perspective, bullying someone else. I believe that cyberbullying is, in many ways, more damaging than traditional bullying. I’ve written several articles about the subject, but I think the bottom line is that it’s easier to be mean to someone who you’re not looking in the eye.
In the midst of all of this is another disturbing trend. Bullying in the mom blogging community. Now, I don’t particularly enjoy drama. I refuse to follow people who create it or engage in it and I generally try not to get involved. Middle school is over, and I prefer to keep it that way. And I tend to get irritated by articles talking about how “mean” our community is. I have come to know some of the kindest and most generous people I have ever encountered. There is not one person in my (vast and rapidly growing) circle of mom blogging friends that I would consider to be a mean person. They don’t do mean things. That said, there are quite a few bullies out there, and some probably don’t know they’re doing it.
Posting names, photos and personal information about another person in an attacking post. Bloggers have been known to vent about a company or brand in a post. The theoretical idea behind this is to share stories of negative customer service or product experiences, so other people can make educated choices. Venting about a specific individual serves no productive purpose. And sharing their personal information in an attacking post, while encouraging your readers to bash them, too, is cyberbullying. If someone said something that annoyed you in a live meeting, would you call over all of your friends, point to that person and call them names? I would hope not. If you wouldn’t say/do it in person, it’s not ok to say/do it online. And this holds especially true for blogger/PR relations. We don’t always see eye to eye, but there is a person behind every URL and Twitter ID. We can disagree without resorting to mean behavior.
Asking your friends to post or tweet negative things about another person. I believe that people are drawn to social media, in part, by a feeling of increased power. You have a voice. You have people following you. Asking people to tweet or post negative things about another person on your behalf is an abuse of power. It’s the same thing that happened in the 7th grade when randomgirl dared to speak to someone else’s boyfriend and she got all of her friends to gang up on randomgirl. I say that we move beyond this.
Repeatedly posting negative things about another person online. You gain very little by constantly badmouthing someone else online. It makes you look childish and petty. ’nuff said.
Stop the Bullying
At the risk of sounding like an afterschool special, we all have the power to stop cyberbullying. It’s about making choices that aren’t intended to harm another person online. And by the way, it doesn’t matter who said what first. You can’t control other people, but you can control yourself.
Keep it private. If you have a personal issue with another person, keep it that way. Many of the issues that devolve into situations of bullying could be resolved if both parties took a moment to communicate with and listen to each other privately. Calm down, and speak with the person in a respectful tone. You may be surprised at how far you get. If you want to vent about a type of situation (such as bad PR pitches, irresponsible bloggers, or, say, cyberbullying) there is no reason to specifically call out another person. You can make your greater point without hurting other people in the process.
Stand up (not in). If you see another blogger attacking someone publicly, take a stand. Start out by not joining in with the name calling. You can support your friends without attacking other people. Ask that blogger to end the cycle of cyberbullying. If enough people stand up, it does make a difference.
Don’t get involved. This goes hand-in-hand with my previous point, but it bears repeating. Do not get involved in other people’s battles online. Do not gang up with friends or jump on the attack bandwagon. And it doesn’t matter if someone else made a poor choice and called out an individual on their blog. Just stop the cycle. You can’t stop bullying with more bullying.
Think about being in the other person’s shoes. You may be convinced that you’re in the right, but there are at least two sides to every scenario. How would you feel if someone tried to get their reader’s to attack you? How would you feel about your name, photo or other personal information being displayed in a negative light on someone else’s blog. Chances are, it wouldn’t feel too good. If you don’t want someone to do it to you, don’t do it to them.
Consider the weight of the problem. Sometimes it just helps to think of the relative importance of the issue at hand. Did someone steal a photo post it as their own? Did they kidnap your children and hold them for ransom? Did they misspell your name in their PR pitch? Is this really a big deal, or is it a minor annoyance in your life? Is this something you can recover from, or have you been scarred forever? If it’s a smaller thing, write a vague venting post (without names, urls, and identifying info) and move on. If it’s a big thing, it’s likely that blogging or tweeting about it isn’t going to bring about a resolution, anyway.
Standing up for Yourself
Guess what? If you’re a parent, this is super important, because you should be giving the exact same advice to your own kids some day. Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean attacking someone else. It means saying, “No.” It means being responsible for your choices. And it means choosing your ethics over your ego.
If someone attacks you online, walk away. If you MUST, post a rebuttal (once again, no names, no links) on your blog, but otherwise ignore it. A bully who doesn’t get a response is going to stop their behavior. The only way they win is if they know they’ve hurt you. Confide (offline) in trusted friends if you’re feeling hurt.
If someone infringes on your rights, by posting your images, false information about you, harassing comments, etc., behave as though you’re building a court case. [For kids, this is the “talk to an adult” step] Take screen shots, keep emails, etc. Send them a calm and rational cease and desist message. Ask someone impartial to write it for you if you can’t do it calmly. DO NOT engage in the same behavior as revenge or threaten them with absurd lawsuits (if you’re not actually going to contact a lawyer, don’t bother threatening that you will). It merely perpetuates the problem. If the behavior doesn’t stop, contact a lawyer or law enforcement if you’re feeling physically threatened. For minor cases of stolen content, you may be able to contact their webhost or advertisers to report them. But, once again, the FIRST step is to politely and calmly request that they stop the behavior.
Mom bloggers may not realize it, but we already have power beyond what most of us are prepared to handle. We hold our children and their long-term well-being in our hands. Teaching our kids to be kind to one another and to not engage in bullying and mean behavior is a gift that only we can give. It’s the kind of gift that could save a life some day, so we need to take it seriously and be good role models. There are so many causes out there that need our voices. I’ve said this before, but let’s use our power for good.