by Sue Scheff
Cyberbullying, harassment, bullying, shaming, digital cruelty, just downright being mean to each other.
The modern human race (at all ages) has become a culture of cruelty. The real issue is that it isn’t done privately anymore, it’s now magnified across the world on computer and smartphone screens.
Monica Lewinsky put it best when she said, “death by humiliation.”
In December 2003, I nearly lost my career as well as my emotional well-being due to cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and a gang-like cyber-beating of my online reputation. Again, like Monica Lewinsky stated about her own experiences, it’s like blood sport — the cyber-mobs have no conscience about the damage they do to the human on the other side of the screen. People judged me without knowing me.
September 2006 was my vindication day. I fought back, and won a landmark case for Internet defamation and invasion of privacy. An $11.3M jury verdict for the damages caused by cruel keystrokes spread through media outlets and my story is still helping others today.
Lady Justice cleared my name but it didn’t eliminate the cyber-scum. It has taken me years to recover, not only digitally, but emotionally.
I wrote the above as an introduction, because I am the most unlikely source to give social media the stroking I am about to deliver.
On July 8, my day went dark. I lost my best friend, Tybee, my Golden Retriever of thirteen years. This loss was compounded on July 17, when my grandmother, who was like my mother, crossed over to meet my grandfather on the other side. At ninety-nine years old, she lived an amazing life and was ready for her peaceful passing. However, it is still a devastating loss.
You would think that I could spiral into a dark tornado in the middle of a summer filled with so much gloom.
Losing Tybee has been extremely difficult. The cliché that a dog is man’s best friend is true. He has been with me through the hardest and ugliest of times — when I feared the Internet (Google), pulled the blanket over my head, and refused to get out of bed, my dog was next to me, never leaving my side. I am confident many readers can relate to this. And, on top of all that, how many readers can attest to their grandparents being their rock? I know I can.
The purpose of this article is to celebrate technology!
The fact is Facebook has a way of making you feel like a rock star on your birthday, and giving you strength from virtual friends (your barely know) when you need it most.
Tybee died on a Wednesday. Many think of Wednesday as hump day, but in the cyber-world it is considered #HappyHelpDay, which was started by iCanHelp Delete Negativity. A day to reach out to others and lift them up, even if it is with simple words of thoughtfulness and kindness given online. I certainly was on the receiving end of many words and virtual gifts of kindness on that Wednesday.
Through the loss of my best friend, I have received many texts, hundreds of Facebooks comments, private messages, emails, calls, and flowers — a Facebook friend (whom I have never meet) is making me a memory box for his toys and especially those tennis balls. Many cyber-friends and relatives have thoughtfully sent me the Rainbow Bridgepoem that every pet owner needs at times like this.
Friends have sent me flowers and cards, and even people I haven’t talked to in years who remembered Tybee have reached out to me. (They saw the posts on social media.)
I used to post frequently of Tybee’s days at the beach. My Facebook page would frequently have status updates of him surfing the waves — never without a tennis ball, or just taking a stroll down the beach in low tide. I had no idea so many people looked forward to Tybee’s updates. I received so many notes from people saying they will miss seeing Tybee in their newsfeeds. It was very heartwarming knowing he has touched so many others.
It was only week later that I had to make another depressing status update with the news of my grandmother, and immediately, the cyber-support poured in.
It’s amazing how pets can bring out compassion in people and it’s not any different when I posted my ninety-nine year-old grandmother. The caring keystrokes were overwhelming.
Did I mention I barely know a fraction of these virtual friends? Unless you are Tanja Hollander, rarely will you meet anyone that truly knows all their Facebook friends in real life. However, they came together to share cyber-hugs, hearts, prayers, thoughts, support, and kindness that is priceless. I felt the sincere warmth and cyber-love flowing through the screen, digitally hugging me and telling me “It’s going to be okay” — just as strongly as I felt the pain of cyber-bullets when keystrokes were used against me for cruelty. I have been on both sides, and cyber-empathy is definitely the side we need to emulate.
I watch the newsfeeds. We all have choices. I never miss an opportunity to send well wishes or lift someone up, even if I don’t know them well. I also check the birthday notices. It takes you five seconds to give them a day of joy. In reality, most of us have friends on Facebook we barely know. Speaking for myself, there are some virtual friends that are more sensitive to my emotional needs than my own family. I would venture to say many of you are nodding your heads in agreement.
Yes, we may complain that technology has taken over socialization, but in reality, it has enhanced the ability to give us more ways to reach out to those who need us.
You are a keystroke away from kindness. Your words or a cyber-heart can make all the difference in someone’s day.
Of course, there are people that still want to use their words for public shaming. We have to take it upon ourselves to overpower them with positive and uplifting words. When you see a cruel comment, take a moment to combat it with a kind one. You can be the difference.
This is my public thank you for the empowerment of kindness.
• Start reading your newsfeeds with a new set of eyes.
• Check your birthday updates. Let’s make others feel good.
• Don’t skip past a person struggling. A simple cyber-hug will warm their heart.
• Let’s learn to embrace social media for positive messaging.
Sue Scheff is an author and parent advocate. She founded Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, Inc in 2001. You can find Sue on Twitter at @SueSheff. Read more about her here.