Watch What You Say Online

It’s ridiculous sometimes how much of our information is shared online, and how much is taken over by others. Ridiculous—and scary.

Pretty much everyone who’s ever online has been told to be careful what they share, but being careful has different meanings to different people. I had an experience over the summer where I’d posted something about people I knew, using pseudonyms and believing I was posting privately. Someone saw the post and reported it to one of the people mentioned—even though I never mentioned that person’s name. Somehow, the person who reported the post put pieces together, pieces I didn’t even realize existed, and found out who I was referring to.

People were hurt by that, and six months later, I still feel horrible. Not only did they see something I’d posted that they were never meant to see, but one of the people involved had children. The person who put the pieces together could just as easily have been a predator. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case, but it definitely gave me a wake-up call about being far more mindful in what and where I say things online. (As soon as I was told what had happened, I contacted one of the moderators of the forum where I’d posted and asked that the posts be removed, which they were.)

Online, people share a lot about their lives. Information. Pictures of their families. What’s going on at their job. We might think we’re taking steps to protect ourselves and the people about whom we post, but you never know who might see it and decide to dig and find out more. There’s no way to completely protect everything we post. All we can do is be even more careful than we think we need to be.

Or just not go online. But I think for most of us, that’s pretty unlikely.

Dislike vs. Bullying

I’ve noticed lately that a number of people online seem to be crying “Bully!” any time someone disagrees with them on social media or forums.

The biggest problem I have with that is when someone says they’re being bullied because of a single disagreeing–and maybe disrespectful–comment from someone they don’t even know, in my opinion they’re minimizing what people who are actually being bullied go through. It becomes like the boy who cried wolf; if someone says “Look, I’m being bullied” because another commenter said they’re stupid or that their point doesn’t make sense, people will think “Oh, that isn’t so bad”…and then when someone who is systematically and repeatedly being worn down and even physically assaulted by the same person or group says they’re being bullied, people might also think, “Oh, I know what bullying is. That isn’t so bad.”

Hopefully by now most people know what bullying really is. And I don’t mean to discount how someone feels about a comment made to them. But when teens–and even younger children–are taking their own lives because of bullying, because they are being subjected to daily or almost daily namecalling, threats, insults, and physical assault, saying “I’m being bullied” because someone you’ve never interacted with before calls you an idiot on a Facebook thread seems a little bit over the top.

If someone tells you they don’t like you, or don’t like your opinions, they probably aren’t bullying you–unless that’s part of a pattern of behavior from that same person, which is clearly an intent to make you feel like crap. If it’s just one statement from someone you don’t even know, it’s just words on a screen.

Before you cry “bully!” stop and think about whether you’re actually being bullied. The comment might make you feel bad, and your feelings are valid–but is it really bullying? Or is it just some random comment from a random person that you can try to ignore?