Colorado Springs – The issue of cyberbullying continues to slowly crawl throughout the blogosphere, and by early indications, additional laws against cyberbullying may finally be on the way. For many, laws against cyberbullying will be a welcome relief from constant barrages of mean-spirited, nasty and often blatantly hateful actions done via the Internet. Change is needed, but at what cost?
Some bloggers suffer through discrediting campaigns; publishing of personal and private information by other vindicative people; and other acts designed to somehow discredit, embarrass, humiliate, and harass people into submission. And it seems the more “controversial” a person’s opinions are, the more likely they will be subjected to many forms of cyberbullying.
Support women’s right to choose an abortion? God help you if an anti-abortionist found out you once had an abortion and published that information on their blog just because you question the validity of the government’s role in citizen’s private lives.
Other people will defend the fact that we enjoy freedom of speech on the Internet. They argue that the federal government at the least, should not make federal laws regarding cyberbullying – that’s a job left for states and local municipalities.
If art imitates life and life imitates art, then where does that leave the Internet? If anything, the Internet has imitated the best and worst of both life and art, but the extremes between person-to-person conversations and blogging, for example, are so vastly great that the worst of society becomes painfully evident to all: the Internet is a free-for-fall with no clear rules of accountability, as the sad story of Megan Meier painfully demonstrates.
Lots of people are angry about the poor girl, who suffered from depression, and the perception that a cyberbully caused her to kill herself. Some argue Meier, 13, already had previously unresolved issues relating to depression; additional questions about the family, the family’s history and other variables are being challenged as possible additional and mitigating circumstances involved in the suicide.
Still, others maintain that Lori Drew directly caused Meier’s death. They insist that the woman – masquerading on MySpace as a teenage boy seeking a romantic interest – deliberately and cruelly caused the suicide that sparked international interest in cyberbullying. They argue that Drew knew what she was doing and took advantage of a child’s confusion and depression to fulfill an ulterior motive: to find out rumors about Drew’s own daughter.
Prior to reports of Meier’s suicide circulating throughout the blogosphere, the town of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri reacted in much the same way cyberbullies operate: they began launching a series of attacks on Drew, and many people went to such extremes as publishing her identity, along with other personal and private information about Drew’s family and herself. The result of the cyber-lynching of Drew? A cyberbullying law being passed.
I don’t know about you, but the last sentence disturbs me. A mob of people essentially took free reign to act out publicly against a woman who has not yet been charged of a crime. Because they launched, by all definitions, a smear campaign and a witch-hunt against Drew, they were able to have a law passed to protect future children from committing suicide – or at the least, make someone accountable when cyberbullying occurs.
Out on the blogosphere, or the super highway of information, there is little in the way of accountability. The Internet is the modern-day Wild West, a free-for-all system that rewards a National Enquirer-like obsession. Know somebody you don’t like? Use the blogosphere to get even. That’s the way things are now. And you need not look further than Dardenne Prairie to see evidence of both the Wild West and mob mentalities at work.
I confess to having launched my own form of commentary grenades towards people that I felt deserved it. I admit that for me to complain about cyberbullying would make me a hypocrite – except I’m not complaining. I knew people would try to discredit me the first chance they had if they became angry with me. Much has changed since I first logged on to the original Internet Relay Chats in the very early 1990′s while in college.
It is no longer about your opinion – it is now about somebody else’s opinion when people become angry with you. If you say you like Ford cars, you stand a good chance of being harassed by Chevy drivers if you dare to make the claim that, “Chevy sucks. I buy Ford.” In the old days on the Internet, the usual flak you’d have gotten would mostly be restricted to the sites you visited online, such as a Yahoo! chat room.
Today, though, you’re liable to be firebombed either by some Internet Al Sharpton wannabe, or the girl you looked at yesterday turned out to be a potential blackmailer who will publish wild (and false) claims on her blog that you had sex with her whilst your wife was attending a sex-toy party last Sunday night. It’s just not the same anymore.
Many citizens of Dardenne Prairie reacted very much like the cyberbullies they intend to protect their children from. They engaged in not just cyberbullying against Drew in a tit-for-tat game of “an eye for an eye,” but they also reacted with a mob mentality. Of course, they didn’t break any laws and neither has Drew – yet.
We need more accountability for cyberbullies. I don’t claim to have the answer to how to best do that, but change is needed. I’d just rather not see people act like crazed idiots, engaging in the very same crimes they seek to outlaw. We don’t need mobs of people acting stupid to make a law – that’s what elected public officials are for. If you’re angry that they don’t respond to you, then take it out on them. Don’t take it out on your neighbor because an empty gallon of milk drifted from his trash can into your front yard.
As for MySpace, sadly, the blogging site iself has become a microcosm of society. And in a perverse sense, the acts of the townsfolk suggests very strongly that American society has also regressed from the representative republic that is America to a spiraling democratic society, hell-bent on electronically lynching anyone standing in the way. Not much further from democracy is anarchy, and the Internet is just that – an anarchist’s wet dream come true.
Finally, I welcome changes to somehow regulate the Internet. I’d just prefer if we’d not praise the mob-mentality that the town of Dardenne Prairie, Missouri engaged in – the very same acts that occur routinely all across the blogosphere, and some might argue, caused the death of a young girl.
Be good .. or be good at it.
Sphere: Related Content