“If someone says something rude to me online is it okay to say something rude back? At that point I’m just standing up for myself, right?”
Hi there! Thank you for this week’s important — and indeed, super nuanced and, at times, tricky — question. Right off the bat, the title of this blog post probably makes it clear where I stand on this. With that said, let me start by validating your instinct: when we’re hurt, especially for trivial or unclear reasons, it can not only make sense to “fight back,” but seem like we’re justified in doing so. I mean, c’mon! we think. I didn’t start this; you did!
Unfortunately, that first instinct isn’t quite right. You’re justified in being hurt, and you certainly deserve an apology, space to heal (including space from your cyberbully), and even potentially — with the support of an arbitrator, like a parent or a teacher — some set of consequences for the cyberbully. But taking matters into your own hands…that’s just not the way to go, for a number of reasons.
First, there’s the issue of your safety. Provoking an already-thorny situation online can actually be dangerous, especially if that person has other ammunition they can wield or is willing to go to great lengths to hurt you. Of course, not all online harassment situations are created equal, and situations like these are pretty rare. Even so, when they do occur, they’re extremely damaging…and thus, best avoided. With that said, note that the answer is also not to be ruled by fear or intimidated into silence; instead, turn to a trusted adult, who can help you navigate the situation.
In most cases, though, the biggest reason not to let digital harassment — especially single instance — spiral into an online catfight is because all you see is what you see, and what you see is pretty limited. As we talked about last week, most bullies are not “bad people.” Behind that a-little-off, rude comment on Insta may be someone struggling with their own insecurities, or with a range of other issues, whether mental health challenges or troubled relationships. None of that — nor the actual person you’d be choosing to attack — is visible when you decide to “take them on.” And that makes your decision a pretty poor, uninformed one. Ultimately, it’s possible your choice actually has unintended, far-worse consequences for your cyberbullying, consequences that will make you regret your decision.
Finally, it’s worth reflecting on what engaging in an online fight makes you. Once you’ve attacked your cyberbully, you’re no longer standing on a moral high ground, even if “they started it” — you’ve stooped to their level. Not only does that make your decision problematic, it can actually mean negative consequences for you. Imagine how frustrating it would be if you got in trouble. Instead, best to reflect on some wise words of advice from the amazing Michelle Obama: “when they go low, we go high.”
Once again, thank you for tuning into another week of Ask Trish! Help keep these incredibly important conversations going by sharing any internet-related questions, thoughts, or perspectives here (and your topic might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post!). You don’t need to have a sophisticated situation or an incredibly clever question to reach out; even if it’s just something you’ve been feeling or have observed, and you’d like to learn more, this community and I are here for it. 💙 And don’t forget: if you see an Ask Trish video you like, share it on your social media. Let’s get that #AskTrishhype!
Until next Tuesday,