Monday, May 11, 2009

Gossip and bullying - a fine line online

Last week some year nine youngsters were expelled from a presitigious Eastern Suburbs of Sydney all-girls private school for a raft of cyber bullying offences. Now despite my dislike for stories that take delight in tearing down private schools just because they're private - like bullying, cyber or otherwise, only happens to children with money - this article by Paul Sheehan for the Sydney Morning Herald really sums it up.

Bullying has always existed but the power of online communities and social networkings means the shame of the bullied and the mirth of the bullies is multiplied and recorded for almost perpeptual posterity. Paul also blames the gossip culture our little online social bubble has created, pointing the finger at some of my (I must confess) favourite blog sites (namely GoFugYourself and Perez Hilton) who make their money being mean to others.

The relative anonymity of the online sphere also gives rise to bubbles or pockets of negativity that can easily become a swarm. Paul gives the Gretel Killeen at the Logies example where the Twitter backchannel was harsh from the word go. And I know how easy it is to be critical in 140 characters, when I went to a Social Media Club Sydney event a couple of weeks ago we were invited to tweet our comments and questions along with the events Twitter hashtag (#smcsyd). I did so liberally but the urge was always to tweet a criticism, it's the first thing to spring to mind and it's far more exciting than being positive. So I know just how easily the echo chamber becomes filled with negativity, but the problems begin when it spills over into reality.

These school girls are unfortunate to have been caught out doing what our society is doing left, right and centre - everywhere from the websites of major news publications to TV - but I'm glad they were punished for their actions. And we should remember that one day we might be too!

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