Cyber Bullies, Facebook, Twitter, SMS and the art of conversation


We are now in the era of online communication.  What with Facebook, Twitter, Text Messaging, Forums, Chat Rooms, Skype etc. etc.  there would appear little need to actually meet up physically with anyone any more.  As an added bonus (or not) we can take on an online persona or “avatar” where we can be “tinkerbell” or and show the world a corresponding graphic image of our “other side” and live out our fantasy thoughts.  In essence we can be anonymous and/or become someone else we would prefer to be for both good or bad reasons.

Being not quite a silver surfer but not quite a newbie either, I like technology and think online communication can be a real asset.  Such mediums as Email and Skype provide a level of communication which can be a blessing if communicating with friends and family which do not live close by.  Professionally, as an online counsellor working through email and Skype, it provides anonymity for clients who want it but more importantly it allows clients who wouldn’t visit me as a face to face counsellor because they would find it difficult or because they are not physically able to due to location or work commitments to gain access to counselling.  Online communication also provides a great benefit to businesses who, in this economic climate, would be severely hampered if they could not have online correspondence and communication with their global counterparts.   However whilst communicating online can be a very positive thing, the results of conducting our lives or the lives we wish to lead in such a public, yet private way, is very mixed.

Social networking, whilst it brings people together, is open to abuse as we have seen by recent articles of “Cyber Bullying”.  Such sites as Facebook in particular is well known for being open to abusers and is a curse for all those who are harassed and bullied by the contents on it.  A BBC article quoted an interviewee as saying that Facebook was hiding behind a “smokescreen of free speech” which they agreed they “need to do better – and we will” which confirmed this.   The same article quotes Psychology professor Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University saying that the two main motives for trolling activity are amusement and revenge.

For people who experience abuse online, it can be psychologically devastating.   But unless it’s done out of revenge the abuser is not thinking about how the other person will feel- its about how it makes the perpetrator feel.  The anonymity offered by the web tempts people to behave in a way they would not do in a face to face environment.   Obviously this is the bad side of social networking.

I am aware of many people who use social networking sites and who have no hesitation in sharing all the minute details of their life on line but find the thought of talking to a trained professional to resolve issues a no go area.   Counselling is confidential and it does provide anonymity which is what all these sites purport to do but Facebook and similar sites  also invites people to say exactly what they think, as they think it, which is not always helpful.

Viral marketing is just that and is why people use Facebook for business purposes but it works in the non business world just the same.  So if someone says publically “Fred is a scumbag” without really considering if they really mean it past that moment, before you know it everyone could be commenting and having a view on whether they think Fred actually is a scumbag.  This makes social networking, as we have seen, so dangerous, as many people conduct arguments about really important things in a public forum where everyone else can put their “two pennies” worth to it and fan the flames even higher.  Discussing issues in a live chat room or on a Facebook page invites all “friends” ,who undoubtedly will all have a view which has been coloured by their particular ups and downs in life as well as their regard or otherwise to a person, to comment.  Is this healthy?  Is it rational?

So what happened to the art of conversation? What happened to people conducting their relationships and conversations face to face?  By conducting relationships and breakups online it invites people to comment and it also allows people to say things without tone or body language, both of which are so important in interpreting the meaning of a person’s words.  If you take the words “I love you too” they can be the warmest words in the World but they can also be meant sarcastically such as “Cheers, I love you too” giving a whole different meaning.

My point is that with all this judgement being input into issues aired on line, more people will become more confused which eventually means that I will potentially have more clients to sort out their mixed feelings at a later date.  So, as a counsellor just as I would ask a client with self defeating thoughts that they take a breath and really think about what is going on for them before they act on those thoughts and feelings, I would ask someone writing emotionally on Facebook to really think about the potential chain of events their comments will undoubtedly take.  In that way be exercising a bit of caution we could all be spared a lot of additional stress and anxiety.



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