Addressing and deleting the cyberblog bully

I was bullied in middle school for a wide variety of reasons. I was too short, too chubby, too weak to defend myself, too much of a daydreamer, and too disinterested in the things other girls my age found important. I was also a band geek and always had my nose in a book. In addition, I hit puberty well before the other girls in my grade. Students - in particular, other girls - mocked the way I walked, dressed and talked. Matt Goerning once declared, in his Life In Hell comic, that junior high is the deepest pit in hell. I'm likely to agree.

I've never met anyone who has overwhelmingly fond memories of middle school. And it's no wonder. Between the ages of 12-14, puberty starts changing everyone, both mentally and physically, creating an atmosphere of hormonal overload, anxiety, and awkwardness. You are, as Britney would say, "not a girl, not yet a woman," but attempting to find that middle ground and shape it into some semblance of an identity can be a daunting task, particularly if you don't have anyone to show you the way. It's even more difficult when you consider the social structure of middle school: it's difficult to find a sense of self when you're constantly being judged by everyone else.

Unfortunately, bullying is not limited to adolescence. While the topic of bullying has received increasing attention, the focus has largely pertained on school-aged boys and girls. However, I can guarantee that we all have know adults - women in particular - who are just as adept at bullying as their elementary school counterparts. As adults, we are bullied because we are successful, or aren't successful; have children or choose to be child-free; are happily single, or married for years; are prosperous or living paycheck by paycheck.

As bloggers, the bullying goes further. We are bullied because of the way we dress; whether our posts contain too many photos or too few; whether we talk about our personal lives or leave that information out. Let me be clear that there is a distinction between being criticized and being bullied - criticism is constructive and contains no negative or malicious intend, while bullying is an aggressive behavior defined by personal attacks with the intent to cause harm. Some of us have been bullied through nasty comments left at the end of posts. Others are bullied on Twitter and Facebook. Some are targeted directly through email. And still others have been bullied through a particularly heinous website that specifically targets bloggers (I will not name the site, as I do not want to increase their traffic. If you are a knowledgeable blogger, you know which site I am referring to.)

The internet lends itself to bullying because of the cloak of anonymity - one can attack and avoid counterattack. Blog bullies hide behind anonymous identities and the absence of face-to-face contact. They cling to one another on forums. On the website I mentioned, members venomously target bloggers through name-calling, body snarking and outright intimidation. Specific bloggers are called hags, fatties, narcissists and worse. Psychologists say the distance between cyberbully and victim has lead to an unprecedented - and often intentional - degree of brutality. Users can inflict pain without being forced to see its effect. Cyberbullying brings meanness to a new level, as it is public, and it invites others to join in on a much wider scale than is possible in person. Anything on the web can circulate for years, and can be googled. It’s humiliation to a new depth.

These blog bullies are often the same people who were the schoolyard bullies. We teach our kids to stand their ground and inform responsible adults. Internet bloggers need to do the same. The ideal scenario is for a blog to monitor its postings and delete the many antagonistic bullying comments that occur. Deleting comments is an immediate, direct, and consistent response to bullying and simply ends the bully's virtual existence online. Responding to comments and emails doesn't work well, because the cowardice of anonymity provides defense.

In addition, resisting the temptation to address the bully through Twitter or by responding on forums is an effective way to avoid further attack. I noticed some bloggers (and their supporters) defending themselves on the website I mentioned, only to be flamed even worse as a result. I also observed that other bloggers attempted to befriend the bullies, perhaps to avoid being targeted, only to be stabbed in the back a few threads later. Don't feed the trolls.

The vast majority of readers of blogs, just like most schoolchildren, are neither bullies or willing to be bullied. They want to talk and interact like normal human beings.  They may not agree, they may not want to be friends, but at least they are willing to put their names behind their ideas, or they are willing to discuss their ideas civilly. Bloggers need to say what they want to say, and, with the delete button, nonviolently resist the bullies of the internet.   Unfortunately, as long as there are blogs, there will be cyberbullying. How we choose to respond to is up to us.

Now I ask you - have you been a target of cyberblog bullying? Have you noticed other bloggers being targeted? Were you ever bullied when you were younger? Do you have any advice for dealing with blog bullies?

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  1. I haven't been bullied through my blog, but have made myself ready for when it happens (because I know I will). I hate when I see the blogs I read being bullied in comments or through the website that shall not be named. I have always believed if you don't have something nice to say then don't say anything and that's how I approach my blog comments. I may not agree with someone's look or post, but if I don't I just don't comment that day. Great post!

  2. I have been bullied in real life in a period when you think you are over being bullied (during University). It was mainly done by 1-2 persons. Fortunately for me, I have not been bullied on the web (yet?!), but I am also ready for when it happens. I had tought of this possibility before I even started the blog. You always have great post Elissa! Thank you.

  3. I wouldn't say women have some kind of lock on cyberbullying. If you're a fashion blogger with a readership that's nearly all women, it's going to seem that way, but the classic online troll is a male. Overall, the Internet has exposed humanity's formerly hidden crappiness.

  4. I've been bullied my whole life from elementary school to middle school to high school to after college. To be honest, I've heard people call me every name in the book so if someone did cyberbully me, I'd shrug my shoulders and say, "Nothing I haven't heard before."

    Point is, bloggers put themselves on the line by sharing. I think others are jealous of that and feel compelled to be idiots.

    That site is not constructive--most of them aren't.

  5. This is such a strange world we live in, right? Bullying can mean so many different things to different people. It is such a hot button topic. I may be in a minority here, but I really feel like we need to be careful to not call "criticism" "bullying". A mean, an anonymous comment about the way I dress or the way I blog or shop is not necessarily bullying. Yes, it can hurt my feelings, but I want to be sure not to dilute the meaning of the word by calling that bullying. You know what I'm saying?

    When someone has a public blog, the one tiny drawback (among the many, many benefits!) is that we have created a forum that is (and arguably should be) open to criticism. Hurt feelings over harsh criticism is not bullying. (For the record, I'm not saying that that's what you're calling bullying; I know from conversations I've had from other bloggers, though, that sometimes they see criticism as bullying).

    So when does criticism become bullying? I'm no expert, but I'd say it crosses the line when it's done relentlessly, when it's done anonymously, when the subject feels unsafe, and when the intent is to spread untruths.

    We're dancing around the topic of a certain blog, and my opinion on that is this: yes, they've gone too far by picking on one certain blogger, but the author is free to blog whatever she wants to blog. She doesn't write anonymously, she has made it easy for a person to contact her, and she doesn't seem to be mean just for the sake of being mean-- she just has an alternative viewpoint that, yes, crosses the line in terms of her relentless coverage of one blogger but for the most part is simply getting conversation going. I wish she'd be a little more constructive, but whatever. It's her blog. I choose to ignore it because nothing I write or could say about it will change anyone's minds over there. Plus I'm not so eloquent with words and I'm sure what I write could be twisted to make me or someone else look bad.

    I guess in the end, it's about focus. We can choose to focus on the negative or the positive. We blog and do what we do because we love it. Critiques should be considered. Bullies should be ignored. The good of blogging far, far, far outweighs the bad.

  6. I didn't know we could vote more than once a day! Anyway, No and sad to find out there is a forum or blog? Specifically for trolling other sites. I guess the internet will forever more be a fourteen year old.

  7. Indiana, I could not agree more. By having a public blog, we are opening ourselves up to criticism. I do not delete the comments that offer constructive criticism, because I understand that comments along that line are not meant to be hurtful or mean spirited. However, the line is crossed when comments are directed towards my body, my children, or another means of personal attack. Foul language is another tip-off.

    I understand that the site I mentioned contains public profiles and don't all hide behind anonymity. But I believe most of the posters are mean for the sake of being mean. They do not just target one blogger - they go after many. There's a tribe mentality, and outright cruelty and body snarking is a part of it. I have no tolerance for either. Yes, I have a public blog; people are going to have their opinions, and I expected that when I started blogging. Criticism isn't bad. But personal attacks are.

  8. I like your idea about how to take the power away from the cyberbully, simply by deleting and not engaging. There is always so much temptation to try to argue some sense into a bully, but really you take power back when you give them nothing more to fuel the fire.

    Honestly, I'm glad I haven't heard about this website you mention. I fear I would check it out to see if mean things were said about me, and then have to deal with the resulting feelings! Though, if I do come across a cyber bully, I feel more prepared these days and able to let things roll off of me.

  9. Well, I think ya know I'm all too familiar with the site in question.

    I completely agree that "ignore and delete" is the only way to go. In my case, I alerted my readers to the recent post in question in an attempt to "get out in front" of the sh*itstorm that I knew would follow. That tactic had pros and cons, of course, but I'm not sorry I did it. Generally, though, I just try to remember that bullying comments aren't really about me, they're about whatever pain, anger, or insecurity the bully is battling.

    In processing the aforementioned sh*itstorm, a friend gave me a great piece of advice. She said, "When you're following your passion and making waves in the world, don't be concerned if people hate what you're doing. Be concerned if people are indifferent to what you're doing."

  10. I can't say I was bullied during my adolescence...surely I wasn't part of the "popular" and "pretty" kids...but it was ok.
    And as a blogger I never had negative comments, until 3 weeks ago I received a package with clothes that suggested that I should wear them+take my picture and put it on my blog. What shocked me is that they found my address. They took the trouble to find my address. Of course I cannot find out who they are as they used a false name (of another blogger, whom I contacted and she was as pissed as I was). Anyways, I wrote about it on my blog and that made me feel better. I just hope it doesn't happen again.

  11. Ironically, aren't they just giving more exposure to the sites they're snarking about? I would think at least a few people have to click through to the real thing, which translates into higher hit counts for their advertisers, which seems to be a major sticking point for the original site.

    I think you have the right approach with deleting negative comments. Occasionally, those comments can be a rallying point for a site's community, bringing everyone closer together, but it's not a discussion you want to have every day or every week.

    In other words, they have the right to publish whatever they want on their own site, but the second they leave a bag of flaming poo on your doorstep, you have the right to throw it away.

  12. I have to say I agree with Indiana. I think there's a line between criticism and cyberbullying. Confusing the two downplays when cyberbullying is really happening (ie: That Irish girl who killed herself over being taunted). How does that compare to someone making fun of your outfit?

    Also, I think propagating that every blogger will at one point be targeted is a bit much. It's kind of off putting. I've been blogging for over 10 years, and yes, I have been attacked many times, but it was always in debate and rarely in malice (maybe in malice .01% of the time).

    The thing about blogs is this: There's room for debate but not criticism. Maybe as bloggers we should encourage debate more often and not get offended every time someone doesn't like the colors of our walls or shirt.

  13. How have I not found this malicious site?! I'm glad I haven't, actually, because I'm sensitive. : ) Well you prove them wrong by continuing to be your lovely and sweet self girl! I don't think my blog is big enough to be bullied, but I did spend a long night crying after being sent a vicious e-mail calling me a dog abuser and questioning a comment I made about my dogs. Ridiculous. haha Now I can laugh about it, because most people here are as sweet as you.

  14. I know what site you speak of, I have been mentioned before in the comments. If Indiana hadn't already written what she had written, I would have (though probably not nearly as eloquently).

    We as bloggers have made a decision to put ourselves out there in the public. It is the same if we decided to become a reality TV star, a model, a singer, an actress. When you are in the public eye, you will get fans… and you will get haters. Some haters will hate you just because you exist, and some may hate you for valid reasons (be it just to them, or to the masses). You can’t please all of the people all of the time… but in turn I think it’s healthy to accept criticism and negative feedback.

    I delete the comments that tell me I am fat and stupid, my child ugly, my husband gay. But the rest… I keep. And I usually thank them for it, and for taking the time to visit my blog and write out a comment. When I first saw the site you speak of, I was horrified. And then I read more. Yes, there are some commenters on there who say the nastiest pointless things about bloggers… but between those troll-like comments is some really interesting commentary about bloggers and blogging.

    We made a choice to put ourselves out there. We’re not Suri Cruise or Pippa Middleton – celebrities by chance. We decided to make ourselves a public figure, and with that comes criticism. I handle it by not stalking my blog page statistics, deleting the true trolls, focusing on and writing for the real fans, and growing a thick skin. Thank you Elissa for writing this post; I know many bloggers are feeling hurt lately and I believe as a community we should support and learn from one another.

  15. Very well said, Indiana. I'm entirely with you on this one. I might as well just copy/paste your entire comment here!
    I think many bloggers out there expect only nice feedback. Almost like they need constant assurance and praise. The moment you think their outfit doesn't look right, you are a bully and the enemy. Like Indiana, I really feel like we need to be careful to not call "criticism" "bullying".

    "So when does criticism become bullying? I'm no expert, but I'd say it crosses the line when it's done relentlessly, when it's done anonymously, when the subject feels unsafe, and when the intent is to spread untruths." And also when it's done personally to you, on your blog and via your email.

  16. The line, for me, is pretty easily spotted. You don't like my outfit, and say so? Valid. I will let it stand. You tell me I'm fat, old, ugly, etc., and yeah, your comment gets deleted. I don't buy the idea that by having a blog and posting pictures of myself I'm inviting abuse.

  17. Interesting post. I know what you mean about bullying (having been bullied my whole life) & think bullying is totally disgusting. What a wimpy thing to do.

    On the other hand, it seems like often enough bloggers get really defensive about comments that say anything other than you're wonderful, great, etc.

    And I find myself thinking...well, if you publicly blog, you have to expect a certain amount of this, don't you? You have to have pretty thick skin if you're going to publicly blog.

    Recently on a blog that I especially like there was a comment that I was a little surprised at (I certainly wouldn't have said it like that), but I was more surprised at the blogger's snappy response. She usually is so inspiring, and above the petty stuff.

    While I didn't agree with the commenter's perspective, she did have some valid points, which the blogger (if she so wished) could have addressed & that could have been an interesting discussion. Or the blogger could have just ignored the comment. Or not even published it.

    Although I haven't seen anything that I would consider bullying there probably is a boatload of ugliness out there. I think consider the source, and ignore it.

  18. The only time I've had a problem like this, it was a right-wing type posting repeat comments on my blog over a feminist entry and also (or maybe another person) sending me e-mail implying they knew who I was and could "out" me. If some mocking site exists I simply don't know about it and I'm staying that way. Years ago in the early years of "online journals" there was similar drama. There's always someone who's gotta be a dick.

  19. i was bullied mildly in school, but as far as i know, i've never been bullied online. i vaguely remember coming across the site you mentioned about a year ago but i dnt remember what it was called so i don't know if i've turned up there. i think that your tactic of delete and ignore is best, but it can be SO hard to not retaliate and stand up for yourself. it's actually the reason that i still moderate al comments on my blog. i've been lucky so far, but clearly others haven't been and i'm sorry about that. thanks so much for this great post.

  20. I think any blogger has dealt with this. I got rid of my "Anon Trolls" with comment moderation and not allowing anons to post. Once they realized their comments would not be heard by others they stopped bothering. That and they couldn't post to begin with because the cowards didn't have a valid account. What I didn't get was how their harsh approach was going to get me to do what they want.

  21. Perhaps, if you find yourself the target of bullying, you can reflect on the fact that many of us have probably shared my experience regarding the site people seem to be discussing - I somehow stumbled upon it, discovered its sad mean-spiritedness, and wandered away, never to return or even give it a second thought until now. You know where I do return? To your blog, and others like it, written intelligently by brave women who share their interesting thoughts and experiences. I am grateful for your generosity.

  22. Cyber bullying is such a huge issue. I agree that the anonymity the internet affords can be terribly dangerous. I'm not against deleting comments if they aren't constructive and just malicious. Stay strong girl!

  23. I think it's unfair to label an entire website a "bully" website. Such sites are made up of many different contributors. Just because some are in fact bullying the subjects of posts, does not mean that is the original intent of the blog. The blog that I think you are referring to was actually made to hold internet users accountable for the things that they do online. Bloggers should not be immune to criticism when they have done something wrong. That's just my two-cents.


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