THE BLOG

No One Is Immune to Online Shaming, Cyberbullying and Peer Cruelty

02/24/2015 04:28 pm ET | Updated Apr 26, 2015
Steve Granitz via Getty Images

It seems as if each week, we are exposed to a new way people have found to use their keystrokes to hurt and shame each other.

The latest victim was Iggy Azalea. Her Internet trolls felt the need to body-shame her while she was on vacation.

Many believe that since she is a celebrity, she should be able to handle this. As a matter of fact, yes -- when it comes to public relations, sure -- she has a full PR team that can step in and take over for her as she takes a mental health break from social media, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have feelings.

Outside of her celebrity status, she is just like you and me. She bleeds the same as we do. Being a victim of online shaming in any form is emotionally degrading and can be paralyzing.

I cringe when I hear experts who have never experienced this type of abuse say, "you have to rise above it," or "just ignore it."

That's easy for them to say when they haven't been on the receiving end. Perhaps they think that it's easy to pretend it isn't really happening since it's online. What they don't understand is it is happening! And it feels just as real online as it does in person. Victims are left feeling isolated, alone and possibly even fearful.

Why?

Because we are powerless against the Internet.

Iggy Azalea's last tweet before handing it over to her management was:
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She is right.

We are taught as young people to believe in forgiveness. But the Internet is unforgiving. You will never get an apology from the Internet -- especially from trolls.

It is doubly hard to forget, since items on the Internet tend to sit there forever.

Celebrities still have feelings just like average people. What average people don't have, usually, is the deep pockets to defend themselves. Having a PR team gave Iggy the ability to remove herself mentally.

Some people who are attacked online have to stay online for the sake of their business or livelihood. Being attacked online can literally cripple people emotionally -- and it's not that easy to just "rise above it."

Recently, Anne Collier, Co-Director of ConnectSafely, wrote an excellent article on public shaming that not only detailed how adults are behaving online, but how this behavior is effecting the next generation, our children: "The need to address digital public shaming is getting more urgent. People are getting hurt. Second chances are going away. We can't afford to let our children grow up believing online harassment and public humiliation are just the way things are."

We often discuss children's behavior online and offline when it comes to bullying, but isn't it time we start discussing the grown-ups?

What is this culture of cruelty we are now experiencing among adults?

As someone who nearly lost my own career from this type of online social behavior, I know firsthand it is not about simply ignoring it and rising above it. It is about being proactive as well as taking care of yourself.

Blocking people is not always the answer, since they can easily morph into other alias, and worse, there are usually more than one -- I refer to this as the gang-like mentality of these trolls. They don't care about who you are. To trolls, you are nothing more than an easy target, and the more people who join in the cruelty, the more pleasure they seem to get out of it. My trolls enjoyed having cyber-slamming parties with my name as their digital punching bag, simply because they could.

My trolls were adults.

Grown-ups behaving badly online. How do we turn it around? It starts with you. One person at a time.

A new ad from Dove highlights the impact of online negativity dished out by women of all ages and implores us to start a new trend of spreading positivity.

danah boyd, a principal researcher for Microsoft, partnered with Dove on this campaign. In an article about why she joined the project she stated:

Even though only 9% of women surveyed admit to posting negative comments on social media, over 5 million negative tweets about beauty and body image were posted in 2014 alone and 4 out of 5 of those tweets appeared to come from women. Women know that negative comments are destructive to their self-esteem and to those around them and, yet, the women surveyed reported they are 50% more likely to say something negative than positive. What is happening here?

We need to understand, it's not technology, it's the humans using it. People have issues, and we aren't perfect either. Everyone is going to have a bad day or not agree with something online, but we need to learn to manage our feelings and especially our keystrokes.

I was grateful last fall when PEW Research finally did a study on Adult Online Harassment. It validated that this growing problem needs to be addressed, and it is just as urgent, if not more so, than youth online abuse -- since our children are watching us. Never forget that we are their role models. Let's teach them to look for opportunities to build others up rather than finding ways to tear them down. Lead by example and show them how a few words of kindness can make a world of difference.

Takeaway tips:

• Never be ashamed to talk to a friend offline if you are being harmed online.

• It's cliché, but worth repeating: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

• Pause before you post or hit "send."

• Kindness is contagious. Always make an effort to lift others up. #SpeakBeautiful

Eventually, you will rise above it.