Today it’s different

It used to be that when you were bullied at school, you could go home and escape it. You could switch schools, towns. And leave your past behind. But today your past follows you wherever you go. Bullying doesn’t stay within the confines of school. It may start there or may start online and go there. The implications in the connected social world are serious. Just as social networks can be used for good, they can be used for evil. They give bullies more power. And more opportunities to remain anonymous.

Growing up I was bullied. I feared a lot of the kids around me. Why? I was too skinny and had a voice that just wasn’t becoming of a boy. Rather, it was most definitely soprano. Think boy meets piccolo. Painful at the time, I fortunately gained a real voice, a few needed pounds and became an avid runner. Even lifted weights for a few years but you’d never have noticed. Somehow I was not going to be a threat to any Mr. Universe candidate.

I moved on. Came into my own and have never looked back. But as Daniel Solove so eloquently writes in his book, The Future of Reputation, that’s virtually impossible today. He illustrates this with Dog Poop Girl. Go ahead, Google that. I’ll wait.

Is this what you found? The short story is that a Korean woman’s (link= dog pooped on the subway, she didn’t clean it up, someone took a picture of the scene and posted it online. She was eventually identified and had to drop out of college as a result of the pressure. What’s remarkable about this is the now famous incident happened in 2005 long before we had the myriad tools we have today. Two years before the iPhone launched the smart phone revolution.

No matter where you are in the world, you can read this story as long as you’re connected. I don’t think most people have really thought about the implications of what they share online. And what a scary-good memory Google has.

Bullies may do something in the moment not thinking about the reach. Or long term effects of their actions. Parents likely don’t realize the permanence of Google. Or have the conversations with their kids about the social web. Maybe it’s the kids teaching the parents. The concept of privacy today has been turned on its head. The reality is, we’re living our lives in public. We’re not quite living The Truman Show, but getting closer every year.

We need to start talking with our kids – and spreading the word – about the effects of bullying today. How a few hurtful words today can follow someone for years to come. Eroding their self-esteem or ability to form meaningful relationships and get a job. Or worse. Am I being overly dramatic? I don’t think so.

I encourage you not to wait to have the tough conversations. Share the story of Dog Poop Girl. We can’t assume they’ll think about the impact of their actions up front. Did you always think about the consequences of what you did then? I sure didn’t. Maybe society will catch up with technology and we’ll develop a new set of norms. Maybe we’ll become self-policing.  Maybe we can inspire our kids to spread the word. They’re often smarter than we give ‘em credit for. But for now, spread the word. In the public world, bullying is more serious than ever.

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