Online Bullying is an Equal Opportunity Scourge
Bluntness isn’t for everyone.
The ability to say what you mean and mean what you say calls for the willingness to embrace accountability, which still isn’t standard online.
To a large extent, it is also cultural. Having the courage of one’s opinions and the ability to state them clearly calls for critical thinking and openness.
If you choose to take a stand about certain issues on the digital public square, be prepared to defend and debate your ideas at length. And expect people to question them, push back against them, and seek clarification because they will get curious.
When you stick your neck out, fellow humans who harbor different opinions will inevitably engage. Before you proceed, are you sure you can handle different ways of thinking or even facts that may directly contradict your opinions?
If not, you would probably be safer staying in your echo chamber of choice where disagreement is as rare as self-awareness and peers worship you.
Venturing out of the cave — oops, echo chamber — to play messiah to the unsuspecting plebs while invoking the power of feminism grates.
Because feminism or indeed equality isn’t contingent on emulating the worst traits of the patriarchy. Nor does one woman represent all others.
And yet, the internet is awash with self-appointed feminist spokespersons who have no vested interest in equality. Not only are they destroying the credibility generations have worked hard to build, but they’re fanning the flames of outrage.
Because it pays.
“Men are being mean to women on the internet” is a lucrative niche.
Sometimes, it also doubles up as a textbook illustration of the British phrase “The pot calling the kettle black.” Under the guise of selflessness and doing others a good turn, women end up perpetrating exactly what they’re accusing men of.
And the unquestioning cave dwellers give them a standing ovation, oblivious to what is going on.
Because resentment is a hard drug and where there are junkies, there are dealers. There isn’t a woman in the world who hasn’t had run-ins with men and I’m certainly no exception but I refuse to see myself as a victim. Doing so would be tantamount to abdicating my agency as well as a tacit admission of inferiority and, in my culture, all humans are equals. Granted, the French Republic is still trying to live up to its ideals but when those are the values you grow up with, you tend to act as if equality were a done deal.
And when it’s not, you know it’s your responsibility to figure out how to make it so in a mutually respectful and ideally intelligent way. Mediation and a diplomatic approach are far more effective than confrontational self-righteousness.
But it also takes more intellectual bandwidth and humility than bullying and implies compromise is always an option. I’m not interested in having my way but in finding a way that works for everyone because the common good always trumps individualism.
This is why calling out bad behavior without offering reflection or solutions just serves to further reinforce bias. It is unhelpful to both digital culture and society at large and perpetuates resentment. There’s only one reason the same people on both sides — men and women — keep doing it, day in, day out.
Because it pays.
Online civility will be a community effort or it won’t be.
If we approach any disagreement or opposing viewpoint as an opportunity for dialogue, we can and we will make it happen.
However, setting our enormous egos aside is key. As is refusing to give in to the urge to line our pockets with the proceeds of anyone’s disempowerment or frustration. Polarizing pieces that offer little to no analysis and pander to confirmation bias get traction and enrich their authors.
Whether we support them or not, we all end up paying the price of their greed, and this is something we could avoid if only we thought out loud, together.
In the same vein, focusing on message rather than tone may help get our point across without alienating too many people. The internet wasn’t designed for popularity contests but as a communication tool so it’s high time we reclaimed it.
A society where people look out for one another will always be a more tolerant and tolerable place to live than one where greed and the “cult of me” rule.
There’s no reason we cannot use the digital agora as an incubator for a better society. If we manage to get it right, the rewards will be far greater than cash for bullies; instead, they’ll benefit everyone and enrich the global discourse.
As the anti-terrorism maxim registered as a trademark by Homeland Security in the US goes, “If you see something, say something.”
But make sure you say it with humanity and heart, always leaving the door open for discussion.
And please let go of resentment, it doesn’t serve anyone, least of all you.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.