By Sue Scheff:
Sadly, we live in a culture of digital cruelty that no one is immune to. Whether you are a celebrity, the child of a sports figure or an average person trying to get through life — you can be struck down by the emotional keystrokes of cyber-bullets.
Internet trolls can quickly become cyber-mobs. They can multiply in force to take you down emotionally and financially with just a few vicious, malicious comments about you or your business and soon you can be facing personal and professional devastation.
Does this scenario sound extreme?
Maybe, but unfortunately there is a lot of truth behind it. People have lost jobs, relationships, businesses and even their lives due to online cruelty. Cyberbullying is not a joke.
But then we have talk-show host Wendy Williams, who doesn’t seem to understand the importance of what Ashley Judd is doing. Is it because Wendy Williams doesn’t understand cyberbullying or, as she said, she doesn’t want Ashley Judd tying up our justice system?
In my opinion, if the courts were tied up with cyberbullying cases, maybe, just maybe, people would start thinking twice before using use their keyboards as lethal weapons!
Many people are confronted with online defamation, slander and libel almost every day; however, our laws haven’t caught up to the times yet and the majority of average people cannot afford to hire an attorney to defend themselves. It is extremely rare to find a defendant (a cyberbully) that is collectable and an attorney to take it on contingency. Most of these trolls are not only morally bankrupt, they are usually penniless too (or nearly).
If Ashley Judd decided she wanted to sue her Internet trolls, more power to her — as well as any other celebrity or person that can afford to sue a cyberbully with legitimate cause. We need more cases of precedence.
Wendy Williams, please wake up to the damage that cyber-trolls do to people’s lives. You may have a thick skin, some people do; however, it’s cruel, ignorant and unacceptable and there comes a point when real lives are literally being destroyed, both emotionally and financially.
Recent statistics from PEW Research show that 73 percent of adults have witnessed online abuse and 40 percent have been victims of it. Most likely, some of the Wendy co-hosts (her audience) have personally experienced that feeling of helplessness and despair that comes from being struck by cyber-bullets, which gave them pause when she asked for their opinions about this — they all hesitated to agree with her.
We have already heard too many stories about youth suicides in connection with bullying and cyberbullying. Have we ever thought about how many adults have considered ending their lives because of the torment of cyber-mobs? It’s a very dark place that can leave you feeling isolated and helpless.
In Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk about bringing compassion to the Internet, she speaks out about her years of struggling with shame and humiliation, both online and off. She mentioned being “humiliated to death — literally,” referring to the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi after he was humiliated online, and wrapped it back to her own experiences and feelings during in her darkest times in 1998. In today’s world of online shaming, this danger is all too real for many people, regardless of age.
Monica Lewinsky sparked some key points in her TED Talk:
“I went from being a private figure to being a publicly humiliated one worldwide. There were mobs of virtual stone-throwers.”
“I was branded a tart, a slut, a whore, a bimbo. I lost my reputation and my dignity and I almost lost my life.”
“Seventeen years ago there was no name for it but now we call it cyberbullying or online harassment.”
“It used to only extend as far as your family, your school, your village, but now it is to the whole online community.”
“The more shame, the more clicks and the more clicks the more advertising dollars. We are making money off the back of suffering.
Like her or not — the fact is, this sort of social behavior by others is unconscionable. These are cyber-mobs with gang-like mentalities. Now, more than ever, we are living in a culture of digital cruelty– and it is not only with our youth — it trickles down from the top, from grown-ups that should know better. As Lewinsky says, these were adults making these vicious comments about her.
Thankfully, there are more and more people speaking out like Ashley Judd, Curt Schilling and Monica Lewinsky. There are also many more resources available to educate us on cyberbullying prevention and awareness.
As Lewinsky noted, “shame cannot survive empathy,” the best way to combat cruelty is with compassion and kindness. It starts with you.
“Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop, we need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.” – Monica Lewinsky
• Watch the video Twitter recently launched for how to mute, block and report trolls
• Learn how to report online abuse on your social media sites
• Never engage with online trolls
• Be sure your child knows to tell an adult if they are being harassed online
• Reach out to friends and family for support if you are being abused online
Sue Scheff (@SueScheff) is an author and parent advocate.