Always the last to know what’s really happening on the internet, the mainstream media, or to be more precise, News Limited (because Fairfax is still five years behind everyone else), has finally caught on to the fact that cyber bullying doesn’t just happen to children and teenagers. Anyone with a social media profile is at risk and this includes adults.
Over the weekend News.com.au told the story of the unfortunately named, Louise Stalker, a 24 year old university student from the NSW Central Coast, who has been the victim of cyber bullying as an adult. Ms Stalker has received death and rape threats on her blog and on Facebook. She has even received phone calls.
But what is most shocking about Ms Stalker’s experience of cyber bullying, is not that it went as far as it did, but that it’s not all that unusual.
If you maintain a blog and haven’t been ‘trolled’ as yet, odds are you will be in the not too distant future. It’s the downside of the blogosphere that bloggers rarely talk about, probably because they’re too embarrassed to admit they can’t cope. Unlike children and teenagers, adults are expected to know what to do and how to act appropriately when trolls and cyber bullies attack.
As adults we are expected to be immune from childish name-calling and threats. It’s not suppose to hurt when you’re an adult. But it does hurt and many adults, myself included, have the psychological scars to prove it.
I was bullied on the internet a few years back when I came out in support of the Rudd Government’s proposal for a mandatory internet filter. While I expected a backlash and a lot of negative comments from those who were opposed to to the internet filter. What I wasn’t prepared for were the death threats posted in comments on my blog and sent to me by email. I also wasn’t prepared for the wrath of a particularly nasty feminist blogger who spent way too much time trying to destroy my reputation online.
I also received several nuisance phone calls and one douchebag even called ‘000’ telling them “a young child was in danger at my home”. You can only imagine the depths of my humiliation when I had to explain to the six police officers who were dispatched to my house on that day, that it was all just a prank by somebody hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.
Fortunately for me, I didn’t have a young child living with me at the time. But what if I did? Would the police had been so willing to believe the truth if there was a young child in the house? It makes me shutter to think what could have happened. How much my life could have been turned upside down by a false allegation made anonymously by someone who didn’t like what I wrote on a blog.
But what I’m most thankful for is the utter stupidity of this person. Naturally, anyone stupid enough to call emergency services to make a false complaint, wasting police time and resources, is stupid enough to use their own phone to place the call. The police were able to track down said douchebag and then a funny thing happened, the nuisance phone calls abruptly stopped.
In my case, I made myself a target by publicly supporting something so many people were fundamentally opposed to and in a way, knowing this has made it much easier for me to cope. But for others, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it, which must make these adults feel so alone.
While there are lots of resources for children and teenagers – and that’s a very good thing – there is almost nothing for adults on how to cope with trolls and cyber bullying. Which is ludicrous when you consider the consequences of cyber bullying can be just as devastating for adults.
As Andrea Weckerle, founder of anti-online bullying organisation, CiviliNation told News.com.au, “Online attacks have become an epidemic and I fear it’s just a matter of time before an adult takes their own life.”