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  • Writer's pictureKim Matlock

Social Media has created a Bully Culture

No one likes a bully.

It's that kid at school that intimidates the other kids to make them feel weak, threatened and unprotected. A debilitating feeling that leads to hopelessness, powerlessness and fear. No one likes any kid to be picked on by someone else. As a society, we frown on bullying behavior. We feel compelled to protect the weak and punish the more powerful. Our moral sense of right and wrong is ignited. Many times, the best of human nature and community comes out on display for a common good.

The rise of social media created a faceless bully that is now moving into acting out in the mainstream. People who think that because they can say it...they should say whoever they want for whatever reason they want without repercussion. People can make any comment on a review site, a tweet, a blog entry or a newsfeed post on Facebook all under the protection of the First Amendment for guaranteeing their rights as individuals to speak freely. Because anyone can say anything they want in any channel, we've watched governments topple, politicians and school administrators unseated and people's reputations ruined. Social media has become the great equalizer because all voices can carry the same weight.

However, what got lost in all of this empowerment was respect.

Respect for people's privacy, respect for someone else's differing opinion, respect for another's way of believing what is right or wrong and mostly, respecting the common decency of letting someone else coming first instead of it being "all about me".

In essence, we've become a society of bullies.

A harsh indictment that may not fit every person or certainly not all of the time. The U.S. Center for Education Statistics suggested in 2001 that bullying can be classified into two categories:

1. direct bullying

2. indirect bullying (which is also known as social aggression)

Direct bullying might include physical attacks like hitting or punching, or verbal abuse, like name calling or teasing.

Indirect bullying might include saying mean or untrue things, spreading rumors or ignoring someone.

Let's take this Vanity Fair tweet as an example:

Vanity Fair has always been known for their liberal leanings. This isn't about political beliefs or whether Vanity Fair is right or wrong. It's about seeing what they posted as bullying whether they know it or not. The way the tweet was crafted automatically disrespects anyone who may think that last night's debate was a good debate. They've openly judged Donald Trump as being insulting and worse, they are openly antogonist to Christians by using a quote that references God as a worst line, like anyone would be crazy to vote for someone who would invoke the name of God to endorse a plan. This is cyber direct bullying as it has the same effect of hitting or punching someone emotionally.

Here's an example of bullying begetting bullying:

Racial tensions are soaring to an all time high in the United States. For hundreds of years, our nation has been a melting pot of racial and cultural bias bullying. With the rise of social media and mobile devices, these tensions are exacerbated and escalting as we've seen during the Ferguson riots, the Treyvon Martin case, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Baltimore riots and now the most recent incidents of racial slurs and hate actions on the Mizzou campus which prompted the Legions of Black Collegians to make a list of demands for the University to comply with starting with the resignation of the University President.

The Washington Post has a great article on bullying whether they know it or not with "How the Missouri Football Team just took down it's University President" which articulates the economic power of bullying together that could result in a punch to the school's wallet. The players & coaches bullied the University by refusing to play which is like saying "you need me more than I need you paying for my education, room and board or salary". It's the equivalent of telling your employer that if they don't meet your demands you aren't coming into work but they still have to pay you. In the real world, these people would probably lose their job. It was a brave stance that could have backfired on them. After all, the Football players could have protested peacefully along with the other students but they chose to make a statement that potentially put their education and athletic career in jeopardy for their stance.

In the case of the University of Missouri board, they could have released any player or coach holding them to this ransom. After all, it's usually a privilege to play collegiate ball that is denied to many. The boosters could have threatened to withhold their money if the players didn't play because it's the ticket sales that pays for the player's tuition and those coaches salaries. Yet, the University was intimidated by the protest for fear of the potential media backlash on the presumption that to call out these bully tactics would be perceived as not caring about black lives on campus instead of being honest that it was probably all about the money. So, they gave into the players demands. Intimidation won as a successful tactic for the world to see.

Our great nation was founded on fighting tyranny. It was standing up to a monarchy that lacked virtue. The founding fathers worded the First Amendment so that the government could "not interfere with the right to peacably assemble". We were given a peaceful way to express how we felt about what isn't good, decent or moral in order to gain public agreement. However, because of social media, we are evolving into Ochlocracy which is the "rule of the general populace" or "mob rule". We are spoiling our democracy with demagoguery which plays to peoples emotions and prejudice rather than to their rational side. If we can get enough of the "mob" on our side, which is now possible through social media, we have power to say whatever we want without any respect for the target.

How often do any of us get upset at a restaurant, a hotel, a retail store, a sports event, a politician, a religious or divisive issue debate that we are so compelled to put our opinions out on Facebook, Yelp, Trip Advisor or a rant on Twitter in an effort to gain "mob" support? How often do we really think that our words are respectful to the other party? How often does our need to be right and justified cross the line into being a bully?

Just because you can say it, doesn't mean that you should. A little respect can go a long way to heal the world.

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