Not at all about a pressing issue

I’ll tell you what the problem is. The problem is that there are no playgrounds anymore.  

Playgrounds are where this sort of thing used to happen, as nearly every school movie has depicted. A large, tall brute finds a puny, helpless kid, pushes him down into the dirt, viciously threatens to punch him, perhaps even lands a blow or two, and walks away to the awe of the observers, who have congregated en masse to passively witness the entertainment.  

The playgrounds of today have become virtual; with the surreptitious slithering of social media into our everyday lives, some have found in it an avenue to discharge the duties they would otherwise perform face to face.  

Or perhaps not. Perhaps it is the disconnect afforded by technology, the opportunity to evade direct interpersonal contact, the advantage of not having to witness the direct, immediate impact of hurtful actions. Perhaps this is the underlying security that gives strength to the newly emerged antagonist – the cyber bully.

This person, like any other typical bully, is one who identifies and relentlessly targets an individual, oftentimes without a reason, sometimes with a poor excuse for one. Motivation for this may stem from a grandiose sense of superiority, an egotistic desire for appreciation and popularity, or simply misanthropic schadenfreude – deriving pleasure from others’ suffering.  

While the things that motivate and enable a bully are fairly straightforward to discern, it is rather challenging to define what constitutes bullying itself, especially in its online avatar. Targeting someone, relentlessly or even otherwise, is a good place to start the definition, but that is not clear enough. Am I a bully for publicly posting an embarrassing picture of my closest friend? Or ten pictures? How about for unearthing a series of ancient, embarrassing online activities? Or for commenting on every friendship notification that comes up on my news feed?

Logically, none of this sounds like a problem. Indeed, it isn’t – provided that this ‘friend’ is close enough and has no objection. It boils down to a question of the relationship between the individuals involved as well as the severity of the action. The situation becomes far more serious when the concerned parties don’t know each other very well. This is where ‘harmless fun between friends’ can turn into a serious case of cyber bullying.

Adding a clause to the definition may account for this. Bullying is targeting someone whom you don’t know very well.  

Targeting how, though? One way of doing this is to make derogatory posts and comments, which serve no purpose but to humiliate and embarrass. Incessantly messaging hateful statements and threats of violence is yet another common manifestation of cyber bullying.  

Up until now, everything seems rather black and white – people who hurt others are bad, those who get hurt deserve sympathy. As we consider the next aspect, which is exactly what triggers this form of response from a bully, the line between right and wrong gets blurred, but not so much that it becomes impossible to make a distinction.  

Cyber bullies, or trolls, as they are commonly known, by and large do not admit that their actions are unwarranted. They, as well as other passive onlookers, rather choose to blame the victim for their actions. “The pompous ass was asking for it,” goes the refrain, closely followed by the rather haughty claim that the subject was “asking for it”, insinuating that bullying is not a situation where the troll engages in publicly disparaging a person’s reputation, but rather an altruistic service offered by an instructive saint, free of charge.

This claim, that an individual was asking for it, cannot simply be dismissed offhand, which is where the entire business starts to get murky. The omnipresence of social media in our daily lives almost guarantees that each of us will encounter people whom we regard with hate, avid dislike, or simply find annoying. There will be people who infuriate us with constant status updates, irk us with their uninteresting ‘stories’, and induce nausea with their unbearable comments. Then again, the same reactions of annoyance and anger may just as well be produced by an irritating co-passenger on a train making pointless chitchat.

Another class of people who supposedly deserve bad treatment are ones whose opinions do not match our own. It is easy to berate somebody for expressing an opinion that differs from our own; it is far harder to make a cohesive argument that spurs debate. This is where the troll takes the easy path – sarcasm and mockery are useful tools to inflict hurt without providing any constructive input. While there is no guarantee that a rational argument will be effective, it undoubtedly has more potential to make an impact than merely unleashing savage remarks.  

When confronted, trolls are quick to crouch behind the shield of the freedom of speech, which they seem to understand as a real world ‘Get out of jail free’ card, entitling them to be recklessly bitter and malicious. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to take a step back and make a judgment based on empathy and human emotion – “Is this necessary? Is this hurtful? Is this bullying?” Cyber bullying is a criminal offense and the freedom of speech isn’t the key to unlock the handcuffs.  

Feeds does not claim to have the legal experience and understanding that undoubtedly goes into classifying a case as a legitimate cyber crime as per a court of law. What it does claim to have is a firm conviction that there exists a line that ought not to be crossed, which is more than bullies can say for themselves.

– Team Feeds


The official media house of NIT Trichy.

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