It's not really news to the majority of us, the fact that there is a raging dark underbelly to the internet. More than likely, you've already had experience of it yourself. I know far too many people who fall into this category. Good people, kindhearted souls that just tried to find something good to cling onto online.
The quiet soul who wouldn't say boo to a ghost that is now able to chat freely online to like-minded people, the creative artist who keeps odd and unsociable hours having the opportunity to connect with other artists, the writers who simply love to fill a little corner online with their musings. Friendships have been born, nurtured and maintained throughout many years thanks to the world wide web. There's no doubt in my mind that it can be a fantastic tool to have at your disposal, whether that's to push your business, allow your brand to have more exposure to a larger potential customer base, make friends outside of your real life social circle and you can even avail of help online for a huge number of differing issues.
But what happens when it turns sour? You get into a heated debate online, you think you're the subject of passive aggressive comments and comment threads, maybe you've experienced out and out persistent trolling. You feel unstable, you feel this positive place you've found is damaging you in a way you can't really understand. You maybe consider shutting down all your online accounts, it might seem drastic to others but when you've reached the very end of your tether with any or all of the above, sometimes it can feel like that's the only option left. Your mood is affected, your family and home life is suffering and you become reclusive online, you start to censor yourself, you second guess every comment and soon, the very place that was your escape before can become dangerous. Yes, dangerous.
When we're chatting to kids about social media and online behaviour we are very careful to point out that online bullying is wrong. There is no room for maneuver or misinterpretation. We aim to protect kids online, to never again have a child feel such despair at something they're going through online that they feel they have no other way out... We are concise and we are direct. Online bullying. Trolling. They're wrong. In fact, they are now classed as a criminal offence.
Do we do enough for adults in the same boat?
Adults seem to be expected to take a little 'back and forth', a little 'banter', if you have an online presence there seems to be an expectation (from some) that you are 'fair game'. Every day I see mud slinging across social media. I see people hurling someone elses situation back in their face. I see people being called the most disgusting names and having to brace themselves against hugely offensive language. I see people putting personal information about others online to be judged, ridiculed and ripped apart.
Would we stand for this if it was happening to our kids......?
No. We wouldn't. We teach our kids how to be safe online but what about us? We know, in theory, how to protect ourselves online but in reality the practicality of feeling safe can all too often escape us.
A lot of you know that a while ago I gave in. I became so disenchanted, disillusioned and depressed due to goings on online. I know I'm not the first and I certainly (unfortunately) won't be the last but it is altogether far too frequent. It happens far too much. Those few years of putting up with repeated jibes, incredibly personal insults and untruths being circulated online did however give me a new perspective. After I fought my way back online and it was a battle, a lot might think it was a battle I didn't need to undertake but I was angry, so very angry that I had allowed myself to be chased offline by bullies. There's that word again... I think sometimes we forget that it also pertains to adults. We tend to expect adults to cope with it better when in actuality, bullying is bullying. It is specifically meant to diminish another person, to make them feel unworthy, a lesser person, bullying is designed to hurt, to cause damage and it's not ok. Not for kids and not for adults.
It's a raging ongoing concern online.
So how on earth does one protect themselves online? How do you shake it off? How do you let it go without allowing it to directly affect you. How do you stop it becoming a danger to your own personal mental health?
I wish I had solid answers but, in truth, I'm still learning myself. There are a few things I personally try to keep in mind when I'm trying to brush some dirt off my shoulder and these are:
My 4 p's guide to coping with online bullying or staying safe online. Any time it's brought to my attention that I've been subject to nastiness or untruths I try and remember the following:
Perspective: if it's affecting me then it's time to change perspective. What are a few tweets, even if they are hugely personal in manner and possibly damaging, what do they actually really mean to me and my family. Do they affect any part of my life in reality? Hurt feelings HURT, there's no getting away from that but when you try to actively step back and look at the bigger picture... well, a nice cup of tea, a cuddle with the kid and a few deep breaths can work wonders. Not all the time but it is a good step to keep in mind.
Perception: their opinion is theirs to have. It doesn't make it a truth. It is simply their perception of a few tweets / facebook comments / pictures. That. Is. All. Think of your own perception of people you've come across online, you don't always form a favourable opinion do you?
Prevention: This is a tricky one but I include it all the same. There is no way to prevent bullying and trolling online. There are measures we can engage to try and block it out and prevent ourselves from seeing it constantly and those measures usually involve the handy block button. Don't be afraid to use it.
Protection: The most important point. Are you safe. If a bully is publicising personal information (whether it's true or not) that could seriously impact your life, there are avenues you can explore in order to deal with this. Trolling, cyber bullying, impersonating someone online and other issues surrounding our digital day-to-day are now known criminal offences. You are protected by law from bullies.
It's not much and it does take a while to let the 4 p's sink in to the point where I can run through them automatically when I feel hurt because of something that has happened online BUT, they do help. Once I opened myself to allowing the steps to work, I cared less. Of course I still feel the sting (you know the sting I'm talking about, that inner deep pain that pops up when you see something hateful about yourself online) but I've stripped that sting of it's importance. Before I was giving that hurt validation, I was allowing myself to become so wrapped up in opinions of people I don't know and who don't know me. I allowed it to affect me so greatly that I had to shut down. Across the board. I validated the trolls. They meant nothing until I gave them meaning in my head.
Not any more.
If you are having a tough time online, if you're being bullied or trolled, if you have become the subject of a bitch-fest or campaign to tarnish your character. Step back. Remember the 4 p's. Perspective - do these people's opinions actually matter to you? Perception - Their opinion is NOT your truth, it's simply their perception. Prevention - HIT THAT BLOCK BUTTON HARD! And forget about them. Give yourself permission to forget them as much as possible. Protection - if it persists, keep a log of incidents, screenshot and compile evidence and then seek legal help where necessary.
Mostly though, cliched though it is, don't let them dull you, don't allow them to filter in to such a degree that they change you, your life, your attitude to this little corner of the world wide web you've managed to make your own (wherever that might be).
And because I have no intention of ending this piece focused on the trolls and the bullies, remember YOU have the power here. It may feel as though you are powerless when you are attacked online but you are in charge of your own power. You can change the conversation. You can choose not to validate these people. You can move on. It might not feel like it initially but you can and you will.
I'm hoping that the 4 p's help someone, I know they have helped me greatly over the last few months and I'll continue to utilise that thought process but I do believe we need to be more open eyed to the fact that online bullying and trolling between adults is such a common occurrence online that isn't being addressed to the extent it needs to be. Maybe that will change. Maybe we'll start to see more campaigns aimed at helping adults deal with the damaging effects bullying can have. Until then.... Perspective, Perception, Prevention, Protection.... for now, it's all I've got but I do hope it helps.
Have you been the subject of online hate? Do you have a coping mechanism? Get in touch and let me know and please, whatever you do, stay safe online and if you don't feel safe, chat to someone, engage the 4 p's and find out if there is any action you can take in order to change the situation.