Online Bullying: Think Before You Pile On

With the addition of social media to our everyday lives, we have a whole new medium for communication, information, promotion of our businesses, and side hustles – we also have an entirely new world of bullying. Chances are, you’ve probably participated in some kind of online bullying – and I’m not just saying that because I manage an online group of over 4,000 women in the area and see it weekly.

It’s easy to just take part in the bullying and not pay too much attention to the dozens, sometimes hundreds, of other people doing the same thing. Sometimes, you don’t even realize it’s bullying. A social media pile-on isn’t a new term: I do think it’s something that needs to be addressed more often.

A social media pile-on can happen in a few ways. Here are two examples I’ve seen first hand:

The first: A person posts about an organization. They are upset about something that the organization has done or said – and they tag the organization or the person responsible. Comments start rolling in that are akin to an angry mob – folks adding more and more aggression and hate to the original post, and that tagged person or organization may or may not respond, but it doesn’t matter – no one is thinking about the actual individual involved. They are thinking about the fight.

The second: A person or organization posts an opinion, and it’s either a bad take or unpopular. Bring out the pitchforks, and everyone goes to attack mode behind their keyboards, insulting that person or organization. The angry mob forms again and conversation is worthless here on out. And if the person or organization deletes the offending post? It might be worse for them because, hello screenshots.

Full stop before we move forward: if the take is something racist, hurtful, damaging in itself, and people are standing up for a group of folks, this is a very, very different thing. Hurtful and harmful things have no place being out there in the first place. I’m talking about events like the recent famous author pile on that happened when a 2017 Northern State grad didn’t think novelist Sarah Dessen’s work was worthy of inclusion in a university program Specifically, graduate Brooke Nelson said “She’s fine for teen girls but definitely not up to the level of Common Read. So I became involved simply, so I could stop them from ever choosing Sarah Dessen.”

Sounds harmless enough, right? Authors write books, and not everyone is going to love them. And that’s OK!

Or not…Dessen tweeted a screenshot of the article saying that authors are real people, too, and she hoped “it made you [Nelson] feel good” because Dessen was having a “hard time” with how “mean and cruel” the sentiment was. Cue other best-selling authors like Roxane Gay, Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Jenny Han, and Angie Thomas – all piling on, insulting Nelson for her opinion, from name-calling to saying how Nelson has a nemesis, implying that Nelson was being sinister and misogynistic on books written for teenage girls.

You might be reading this in shock – and yet, you might have contributed to a social media pile-on by liking criticism of an opinion, commenting, or being a keyboard warrior from the comfort of your home, saying things you would never say in real life to someone’s face.

While this piece is more to make you aware of it, and hopefully give pause to your next pile on, here’s a pro tip moving forward: don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in real life to that person or organization’s face.


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