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The bullying issue - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
The bullying issue
I shouldn't be online. It's Pesach. I also shouldn't be at work, but G-d seems to have forgotten to consult the City before scheduling our redemption from Egypt, and with us being short staffed, I couldn't get time off. I suppose I could have demanded it or just called in sick, but being pushy or being a rather obvious liar in the name of my religion would be a chillul ha-Shem (a Desecration of the Name of G-d), so would be forbidden anyway. Next year, I'll check the calendar earlier, and make sure to claim the time before someone else spends a lot of money to go on vacation.

Anyway, I'll at least have the good grace to stay on a moral issue instead of getting fannish. There seems to be a meme going around against bullying, based on a Hate Thread in which a girl who committed suicide was mocked.

I'm not going to put up the meme, for one thing, because it links to a thread I don't want to link to (check my flist if you're interested; it appears in a few places). It got quite ugly, though I'm not convinced that the originator of the thread intended it to.

But there are other reasons.

The first reason I hesitate to put it up is that there is an element of bullying in the "Think right or you're an insensitive prat!" approach itself. Being a quasi-conservative in the liberal Northeast, I've been subject to it a few times. (For example, wearing a T-shirt that had an American flag motif on it--it was part of a summer reading program--I was accosted by undergraduate protestors who, when I stated that I did, in fact, believe the strike on Afghanistan was called for, sneered at me, questioned my intelligence, and said, "What would we expect from someone wearing a shirt like that?") I don't mind people making reasoned arguments with which I disagree, but this kind of bullying is meant not to engage debate, but to silence any sort of dissent from the orthodoxy. And yes, I'm sure there are places where it comes from the right as well; it just hasn't been something I've experienced from that direction.

The second reason is that I think one of the reasons that thread spun out of control was that no one was sure what it was. I assumed it was a joke, after the run of "crush threads" that went around, and the tone of the first few pages, in which the originator of the list was herself "hated," seemed to confirm that. I certainly wouldn't have made the assumption that the people listed were actually hated by the people mentioning them. Coming from the outside and seeing no names that I knew, I guessed they were all kind of a little flist circle, at least until the thread was widely reported and "outsiders" came in. So by the time the thread was that deep, the mood was a kind of snarkiness that, while I don't always find it appealing, is also not necessarily vicious in itself. And the story told sounded so over-the-top that I'm guessing people assumed it was a hoax (look at all the false stories that go around in e-mail; it's easy to make up a tragedy online--kind of a low-grade Munchausen-by-proxy), or one of the aforementioned emotional bullies--"You're not thinking right, so I'm going to make you feel bad!!" And they responded with a defensive snarkiness over being browbeaten.

This is part of reason three--what's commonly called "compassion fatigue." More colloquially, it's "The boy who cried wolf." Overblown drama and emotionalism are such constants online that people stop taking them seriously out of self-defense. You can only be asked to bleed for strangers so often before you start punching and kicking as soon as the knife is drawn. For me (please excuse the fannish interjection; it's just something that most people reading this are likely to know), this is what happened in the Pensieve scene in Order of the Phoenix--it was just one step too much. I had been interested in Snape, but at that point, without being given any reason at all to like him, I was asked to identify with him and then keep doing so while he's throwing the innocent Harry across the room. Instead, I found myself wanting to smack him across the face and say, "Get over yourself!" And I was a bullied kid. It was just one step too far. And the obsession with then painting James and Sirius as irredeemably bad because they were prats at fifteen just makes me nuts.

Ironically, the point of this long and rambling post is that maybe it's better to leave this alone rather than to escalate it. What we started with, at worst, was a troll, and the cardinal rule about dealing with trolls is to not feed them. If the whole point is to cause drama, then the most devastating response you can give is disinterest. With the more generous interpretation--that it was a joke among a particular flist circle, making fun of the cliqueishness in the crush threads--then the people who came in and took it seriously are the trolls. (Who also shouldn't have been fed.)

This doesn't mean that if you see someone being bullied, you should walk on by. Of course you help. Ignoring bullying in the schoolyard should be prosecutable. But what I see here (and in a lot of troll scenarios) is a group of people who would have better been left alone. Instead, a stranger came in and deliberately pushed their buttons, which turned up the volume and--bonus--spread the thread around for other people to go in and push more buttons. And they get their own pushed in return. And the beat goes on. I don't like the tune.
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Comments
awelkin From: awelkin Date: April 6th, 2004 09:09 am (UTC) (Link)
This seems to be a very fair and logical assessment of the issue as a whole.

Catherine
narcissam From: narcissam Date: April 6th, 2004 09:21 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, I did begin to write an essay about Sirius, then realized I was doing so, so I c&ped the essay into Word and will post it when finished in my journal!

But about the meme, I think that it gave form to a statement that a lot of people have been wanting to make for a while. That bullying is not a laughing matter. It doesn't matter to me whether the story or not is true. I haven't any deep sympathy for this 'Emily,' but I am at a point where I think it's important to get out the message that this sort of callousness is *wrong*. Which seems very straightforward, and why would a meme help? but you'd be surprised what I've heard from nice young teenagers who read my LJ. I think they would very much benefit from being warned away from callousness. Call me a moralist, but there we are.

NM
mafdet From: mafdet Date: April 6th, 2004 09:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I've really been out of the LJ loop lately due to rampant busyness, so I missed this particular kerfluffle. I agree with Catherine that you've written a very fair and balanced view of this whole issue. It's so hard these days to tell what is a real issue and what is "crying wolf" or a hoax.
fiatincantatum From: fiatincantatum Date: April 6th, 2004 10:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you!

I tried to explain almost exactly the same thing to someone and did it nowhere near as well... would you mind if I linked them here?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 6th, 2004 11:07 am (UTC) (Link)
No problem.
hughroe From: hughroe Date: April 6th, 2004 11:08 am (UTC) (Link)
The first reason I hesitate to put it up is that there is an element of bullying in the "Think right or you're an insensitive prat!" approach itself.

Do I ever know this feeling.

This is part of reason three--what's commonly called "compassion fatigue." More colloquially, it's "The boy who cried wolf." Overblown drama and emotionalism are such constants online that people stop taking them seriously out of self-defense. You can only be asked to bleed for strangers so often before you start punching and kicking as soon as the knife is drawn.

Think that happened to me around 1989
erised1810 From: erised1810 Date: April 6th, 2004 12:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
wow. could I link this? it's just very eloquent and much better phrased than what I tried to say in my lj yesterday (abouthat, adn al lthe fandom_[fil in negative word} communities that drive me nuts.)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 6th, 2004 01:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
No problem.
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