Cyberbullying: The Growing Approval of Online Hate

07/31/2017 10:52 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2017
Not everyone can be puppy lovers, but we can be kind to each other.
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Not everyone can be puppy lovers, but we can be kind to each other.

Online harassment is a growing problem as we watch civility dip in our country. As schools prepare to open, we will start reading more and more articles on cyberbullying awareness and prevention.

Monkey see monkey do.

Kids (especially teens) are aware of their parents online behavior. Many adults may not realize how much of their own actions are affecting their offspring. It used to be what goes in their ears, comes out of their mouths — when you least expect it. Today it’s on their screens, (they believe they have) permission to do the same and it’s magnified by a million.

When youth bully each other online, they can be cruel to the core. Calling each other names, isolating one person, poking fun at another, to a point of emotional distress.

Sadly, adults are not any different with their online attacks.

Hate perpetuates hate.

Grownups should know better, but do they? When cyberbullying attracts the approval of online haters, is this what empowers the Internet trolls? When one person chimes in and calls the commentator (the person posting a comment) a bitch or a horrible parent (or any rude insult), then dozens of others follow, is this the approval or applause they are seeking?

Have we become so immune to this behavior that when these trolls continue to pile on the abuse that we as adults (and society) are missing the opportunity to either become an upstander or use it as a teachable moment for our children?

In my upcoming book, Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, we discuss how one mom was verbally accosted offline for her behavior of road rage, but with 92% of Americans having their cell phones readily available, she was only a few clicks away when she became Internet famous or infamous. This mom could have been anyone of one of us having a bad day. Was her actions necessary? Probably not, however we don’t know what type of issues she was dealing with that day. Maybe she just heard some devastating news, maybe she was at her wit’s end with her children, maybe her husband just asked for a divorce, we don’t know. Either way, what happened next, no one deserves.

Her license plate and personal information was spread all over online and immediately she and her family were being taunted by strangers. These were adults acting like children — presumably wanting to teach her a lesson. Was there a purpose? What did this really accomplish? Invading the privacy of people that weren’t even part of this incident?

According to one study by Stanford and Cornell, under the right circumstances, anyone can become a troll.

Were these people trying to prove something?

The Approval Junkie.

After reading Approval Junkie, by Faith Salie, it made me realize how we all want to be validated. There’s really nothing wrong with it, until it interferes with your living. This book was absolutely amazing since it was raw, witty and sad at times — most of all, Faith Salie shared a part of her life where online cruelty was out of her control. You will never win their [trolls] approval, especially when they don’t agree with you.

Faith Salie is a CBS Sunday Morning contributor. Like with many journalists, you have to have a thick skin to handle the comments, however being an approval junkie, it can be a bit of a struggle. She plowed through her time on the O’Reilly Factor, which was twice, and had her share of online haters. However it was when she did a segment about “Not A Pet Person” did the animal world and more attack.

As a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend to many, reading the wall of digital hate is emotionally heart-wrenching. As much as people will tell you not to read the comments, even if she is a public figure or celebrity, she also has children that may someday read those comments — as we all know, there is no rewind online — it still stings.

Be constructive, not combative.

Not everyone loves pets or even likes them. There are constructive ways to leave comments and then there are hateful ways. Especially if you are a parent (or grandparent), learning to be an adult online role model is imperative. We know most of our children might be more technically savvy than you, but when it comes to netiquette (manners), your online character should be a reflection of who you are offline. Teach your children to respect people digitally as if they were in front of them. There is a person on the other-side of the screen.

When you read the vicious comments, like Faith Salie was receiving or the mom above, filled with venom and profanity over a commentary about pets or a mom having a bad day, this is a growing concern of how cyberbullying has reached a point of approval of online hate.

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Follow the leader.

Is cyberbullying like the game we played as kids? Are we trying to prove who is better at leaving a cruel comment once it gets started? We can watch the leader of the land send out a mocking tweet and people will find a million ways to condone it or condemn it — is someone looking for approval?

Aren’t we all seeking validation for our accomplishments? Don’t we like to hear, “hey, great job!” Or maybe, “you look fabulous today.” Of course we do, but when it comes to hurting others we must look for approval for being the one for putting a stop to it — not promoting it.

What do you do when you see online hate? If you disagree with the commentator you have choices. You can politely share your opinion or you can click-out. You can be the leader of civility online. Seventy-five percent of Amercians believe it starts with us - do you approve?

It’s time to bring this shame nation to a sane nation. I approve.

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