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Monday, June 10, 2013

Sophisticated Online Bullying

I am not quite sure what to make of today's social media culture. Bullying has taken a new form, and the proponents of it don't even realise the impact of their actions. One would be able to research a whole thesis' worth on today's internet subculture; different from the 90s and noughties because of how sophisticated human behaviour has evolved.

The lower caste bullies take the form of 'haters' that have no logical sense to their destructive comments. Referring to the kind that lurk on STOMP and Yahoo, that basically find reasons to spew hateful words rather than speaking up because something is truly and logically wrong. Lower caste bullies do not understand what is truly wrong and what isn't because logic eludes them. Self-policing might eventually solve this problem. For those that refuse to change their hate-for-hate's-sake stance, they will likely just gather in an echo chamber of similar folks and then be cut off like an ox-bow lake. Well, one can hope.

No, I am not actually feeling resigned about lower-caste bullies today. I am concerned about the sensible and intelligent ones. Those that propagate truth. Yes, there are such bullies.

These bullies are so sophisticated in that they find one pearl of wrongness in a tweet, Facebook post or YouTube video - you name it, they are everywhere - and correct the person it originates from. The correction might be justified but the impact is not.

In real life, if someone were to say an equally wrong statement, the correction from the people who hear it is simply not as harsh. It could even be easily ignored as just a human quirk, or will be seen in the light of its context and the originator's entire personality and character. This is not to discount that said comment really could be insensitive or obtuse. We are just kinder when faced with a real person, body language and all. We generally fight mild injustices in the form of flawed statements with more kindness for our fellow human being.

Kindness almost eludes us when we are on online platforms. Unable to see or feel the other person entirely, it frees us up to be more critical because we cannot feel the other person without any imagination on our part.

In business and other discussions this is good because the socially-sensitive will be able to speak up with fewer repercussions. Online platforms where anyone can freely have a say is the internet version of, "May I speak to you in private please?"

But when it is a simple whine-and-opine post, does it really need so much scrutiny and correction? Perhaps it does because compared to a comment said aloud at a dinner table, online stuff goes much further. But in doing this kind of police work, aren't we forgoing the type of kindness we would display if this really was said at a dinner table? Because it is so much harder to intuit a person's feelings, character and personality online, we pretty much subconsciously discount all of it about a person and he becomes an avatar.

Yes, because we do have an innate emotional intelligence quotient, we intuit subtexts of what people are saying in real life. The EQ parameter online is simply lowly weighted - fact.

And this amounts to sophisticated online bullying that breaks my heart. Not just because I feel for those being bullied, but also for the bullies, that they have become so keenly aware of all the tiny injustices online that would otherwise be insignificant. Suddenly, everything is something wrong that needs to be corrected, online police work becomes so busy they never have any rest as bullies now.

How do we change this culture of sophisticated online bullying? Perhaps we need to put the emotional intelligence back into our social media apps. It means feeling harder, trying to find clues about subtexts otherwise plainly intuited in real life, and seeing real people around our dinner table, instead of displayed avatars.

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