September 16, 2012
Read part two: "Self-Protection Against Cyber Haters and Other Bullies."
One of the few advantages of getting old is knowing that you really don't have to put up with other people's crap anymore. That said, the first hate mail that hit my inbox shocked me more than I expected. I almost gave up blogging there and then; the hurt was both unexpected and unjust and I had to take several breaths and remind myself that this happens millions of times a day across the world. Then I wondered why people feel the need to vent their hatred on the Internet and what could be done about it.
It started after reading an article on Positive Lite about an interview Greg Louganis did recently at the Olympics.
It wasn't the interview that was shocking -- that was quite innocuous -- but the YouTube comments afterward leave you wondering why anybody would ever want to appear on public media at all. No wonder there haven't been any major HIV-positive celebrities coming out since 1991 -- why would they expose themselves to the hatred on these sites? Here are some examples of what was said:
"Jesus Christ loves you! As a matter of fact He loved you soooo much that He came to Earth and lived a sinless life and died on the Cross for your sins and if you Repent of your sins and accept Him as Lord and Savior, then you will be saved. Jesus loves you!"
"Everybody at the Olympics loves Louganis, until he bleeds in the pool! LMAO"
"Boo hoo hoo, crybaby. Louganis got what he deserved for being a Homo. And I hope you will too! Marriage isn't a right buttboy."
"Meanwhile man pussies like you keep trying to get accepted as a normal person. There is nothing normal about taking another man's dick in your mouth or ass. Plain simple fact Homo. BTW since the lower half of the country pays no taxes, my guess is that you haven't paid a dime in taxes! Time to head back to your YMCA chump"
"Predictable. Here's the next 20 posts from the one-trick idiot who thinks he's clever when he's really just pathetic: "blah fag fag blah blah fag fag." Repeat. YAWN."
"Listen, I knew you were a moron. I also knew you didn't have the IQ of room temperature. Celsius. I also know you'll end up put away Sandusky-style for piddling little boys, like all you closet cases always do. But I thought you'd at least make an effort at new BS."
I've shown so many because they are representative of what is directed at so many people with HIV, who have social media or Internet profiles. There are thousands more; some of them less obnoxious than others but all containing elements of hate and maybe fear.
I've resisted Twitter and Facebook and other social networking media myself because I really thought they couldn't add anything to the email, or the telephone call, or even speaking face to face. To my mind they reduce language to the absolute basics of communication and discourage real conversation. This could be just age-related techno-angst (we didn't even have a TV in the house until I was five!), but I realized I needed to join the blogging community myself to provide more information about neuropathy and HIV, which of course left me exposed to other people's prejudices, and so it turned out. I do read Facebook and Twitter responses though; when they are reproduced on other sites. Many sites have a sort of rolling Twitter or Facebook feed for their general readers and it's not difficult to spot trends, especially on gay sites. I also often use chatrooms, where nastiness can easily get out of hand. I applaud the gay sites that do reveal the nastier tweets and other social comments because in that way they reveal the extent of the problem. Many people think that YouTube should censor the comments under their videos but doing that is a bit like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. The Greg Louganis comments for instance, will surely turn neutral people against the haters, rather than recruit even more who support them ... or is that wishful thinking?
Not that I've personally had it bad; I haven't, unlike some other bloggers here on The Body who have suffered from cyber bullying. The odd bit of disgusting hatred here and there has not changed my mind and as I said, I don't have to take it anymore. It gets under my skin though and I can't pretend it doesn't.
Twitter is only one social network but it's possibly the most popular at this moment and what an innocent-sounding word "tweet" is. 140 characters to send a message on the Internet and 340 million sent every day. Since its beginnings in 2006 it has become indispensable in the world of instant communication but there is a dark side which can be very dark indeed, especially when directed at the HIV positive. Twitter CEO Biz Stone told New York magazine at the beginning of the year that "(Twitter) is about the triumph of the human spirit!"
What he fails to acknowledge is that Twitter and other platforms like it can also destroy the human spirit and frequently do.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with condensing thought into a few words but you need to be an Ernest Hemingway to make it really work. He apparently loved the six word story and put his energy into making a few words so meaningful that they could represent a whole novel; for instance:
"For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn."
I would argue though that at least 339 out of the 340 million daily tweets don't put any more thought into their 140 characters than how to reduce the message to fit the tweet. And while the vast majority are normal communications, insults and hatred don't count as creative thinking.
To my mind, anger can be responsible for an angry social network reaction and maybe you can forgive people who strike out in the heat of the moment. They may not do it again but have just been sparked into action by a certain flashpoint. We've all done that in real life and said things we don't mean in a moment of anger. The hardcore haters on social media platforms, however, seem to be almost driven to get their message across. They fall under the categories of either bullies, or stalkers; both equally damaging.
What may be shocking to some is that cyber bullies and cyber stalkers can be of any age. It may seem like adolescent behavior but fully grown adults are just as often to blame. We've all seen examples of school children and teenagers whose lives have been made a misery by cyber bullies and sometimes with tragic results. We know that children and teenagers with as yet immature minds and thought processes can easily succumb to peer pressure or their own insecurities and lash out at others. For the purposes of this article, however, I'm concerned with the fact that in my opinion, it's possibly largely male adults who use social networks to bully other adult LGBT or HIV-positive people. Of course, kids and younger teens will also attack gay and HIV-positive people in cyberspace (especially younger peers) but I believe that's the result of immature minds either copying what they've seen others doing, or is a response to social convention in their own circles.
It's almost a peer-pressure response from young people who aren't yet ready to make their own minds up. It seems to be a fair assumption though that people who are sexually mature themselves and are being confronted with their own fears and insecurities are more likely to lash out with true malicious intent. Again, adult peer pressure may play a role but it's much more likely to be the reaction of someone who can't accept that he or she is fighting demons of their own. Acceptance that other people are different requires a particular mindset and maturity.
I was really interested as to what drives this phenomenon and did some research into what other people and organizations think. It seems that some people send these messages with the deliberate intention of inflaming a situation, or whipping up emotional reactions (flame-mail). Their pleasure is gained when they see a situation get out of hand. Those people existed in the playground too. We can all remember the bully on the fringes of the argument who egged on his peers and then shouted, "fight, fight!" to achieve an inevitable conclusion. They become skilled at creating conflict and provoking reactions without getting directly involved themselves. You don't have to be a psychologist to see that some of these cowards never matured socially and mentally.
The other main sort of cyber bully is of course the classic "attention-seeker." He or she throws a sort of cyber tantrum to get attention. It doesn't really matter what sort of reaction they get, as long as it is directed toward them. The easiest way to get attention is to provoke the recipient. The Internet is a perfect vehicle for this sort of behavior because nobody can physically put a stop to it; so they continue their train of thought, for as long as the victim reacts. The obvious answer as most organizations advise is, just as with a petulant child, to ignore them and not react at all. That however, is so much easier said than done and fighting back or not, the emotional damage is already done. Treating nobodies as nobodies is the ideal solution but the problem is that cyber hatred has already made them into this untouchable somebody.
More Information: How to Stop Bullying on Facebook