a group of people who condemn and punish a person without a fair trial“ ⇒ ■ He claimed that they had been the victims of a racist lynch mob.”
a group of people who criticize someone severely and try to bring about the person’s downfall“ ⇒ ■ Something approaching a lynch mob has been gathering against the Chancellor for even daring to consider higher interest rates.”, “ ⇒ ■ It is in the public interest that sleaze is exposed. But it’s time to call off the lynch mob.”
– Collins English Dictionary
We’ve all read horrifying stories about online bullying, and sadly some of us have even been the targets of a single relentless troll, but what is it that turns a seemingly “normal” group of people into an online lynch mob?
By now many of you may have read the story about the Mom who claims to have been fat-shamed at a coffee shop and in turn chose to take the high road and buy her bullies their coffee. Her story has now been featured not only on her local news stations and The Huffington Post, but on international stations as well, catapulting her into Internet stardom overnight. With her story going viral an online fundraiser was established and from where I’m standing, this is where things turned very ugly very quickly.
It would seem that this woman had posted some pretty upsetting content on her personal Facebook page over time which made fun of everything from people with developmental disabilities to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Included in the screenshots of what people captured on what they claim was her personal Facebook page are, among other things, what most would consider racist and homophobic memes. Before her account was deactivated she updated with an apology stating that she posted thousands of memes making fun of all people, from all backgrounds, ethnic origins, disabled or not, as a reflection of how she felt about herself at the time. The fundraising account has since been deactivated as well, which brings me to the point of this blog.
While I was reading this story on Facebook – again – I was redirected to a new Facebook page that has been started. I was aware of the accusations about this woman and the name of this page proudly declared their intentions to clear up any misunderstandings that the public may hold. Always curious, I decided to check it out and within thirty seconds I was horrified. Someone has decided to devote an entire Facebook page to destroying this woman’s life under the guise of “bringing her to justice” and in turn effectively forming an online lynch mob. What these people have created in under 48 hours has been a page filled with what I can only describe as online bullying under the heading of investigative journalism.
Bullying in any form is horrible but online bullying is extreme. People who bully others from behind a screen tend to take their cruelty to another level that they wouldn’t normally do in person. The semblance of anonymity that the Internet provides is a haven for people to hide. On one hand we have sociopaths delighting in their havoc and destruction online while on the other we have regular people that don’t seem to comprehend, or care, that the people that they are hurting are real people. For some people it’s terribly easy to type something snarky, rude and even merciless and then shut down the laptop and go about their day without giving a single thought to the person who is now reeling from the criticism, because they can’t see it firsthand.
Social Media Justice
You see when that page states that “we’re bringing her to justice” what they are really saying is we’re dealing out our own brand of social media justice and that is basically public shaming and humiliation which is abhorrent. Not only has this page published this woman’s phone number and encouraged people to call her, but they have also started to harass her family as well.
Because someone decided that this woman was a hypocrite and untruthful they believed that she deserved to be completely socially eviscerated and the mob mentality has hit full force. So many people have come onto this page stating that what they are doing is bullying and it needs to stop, and those people have now been the targets of name calling, threatening messages, and vile hateful language. Which leads me to my next question. Who is accountable on social media?
Obviously the social media vigilante justice servers are not being held accountable for their own actions as this page is still up and running, and sadly once it’s shut down two more will probably take its place, but if we can’t be bothered to hold ourselves accountable online, who’s doing it for us? Facebook and Twitter are notorious for letting pretty horrible stuff through their filters; look at the original content posted on this woman’s page. That’s why there are report buttons, and unfriend buttons, and block buttons. But when are we all going to realize something so fundamentally relevant to all of this? While social media justice is not real life justice, it affects real peoples lives. What we do online effects our real life and other people’s as well and everyone would do well to remember that.
The Mob Mentality
Instead of taking this woman’s story of kindness and ensuing apology and opening up a healthy dialogue, a few people set out to methodically destroy her instead. You can dress that up however you like, and even try to hide behind the free speech part, but when it comes right down to it – it’s bullying. And when you have a group of people, chiming in and glorifying it – that’s a mob mentality, have you read Lord of The Flies?
The effects of online bullying are intense, shattering and extreme. In some cases online bullying has been the catalyst for suicide. Yet here we are every single day screaming hate online with absolutely no regard for anyone. What this woman posted before was vile, and whether she made her coffee story up has yet to be determined, but for people to create this page in order to systematically destroy her is vengeful and bitter and makes me wonder about their self esteem. What makes someone proudly put his or her name on something like that? I am definitely not qualified to answer that question, but I’m sure there are a lot of great mental health experts out there out there who could.
Kindness Always Wins
Kindness is what makes the world spin. It’s horrible when we hear stories about our children being mercilessly bullied, but my goodness, where are they learning it? It’s time to step up and teach our children by example. There are no perfect people in this world, I am far from it, but it just makes sense that we should treat others, as we would like to be treated. Handing out social media justice isn’t going to get us anywhere but a ticket to the waiting room of a psychiatrist’s office or the morgue. I know picking on someone doesn’t make me feel better about myself, and I know being picked on feels even worse, let’s all just take a pause for a minute. Where there is love there is life.