Monday 22 August 2016

What Is Bullying - And What Isn't

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of accusations of bullying thrown about in our Facebook groups, or on people’s personal pages, and I find it troubling. And no, I am not going to name names, as they are not my stories to tell. Suffice to say, I’ve noticed that often, the ones crying loudest and longest about being ‘bullied’ are the ones actually doing it, while their supposed ‘bullies’ can do little but grit their teeth and suffer in silence.
It also seems to me that many of us, lacking in social skills and intuition as we are, have difficulty defining exactly what is happening when someone has a negative reaction to something they’ve said, so tend to call any behaviour they don’t like ‘bullying’. So I thought I’d get it clear just what is bullying, and what isn’t.

The following are not pleasant, certainly, but they are NOT bullying.

Arguing with you. We are a quarrelsome lot, with many different outlooks on life. So people will disagree with your opinion, often forcefully. Which is okay, as long as it’s done respectfully. If you really don’t want to argue, you can always simply say “let’s agree to disagree.”

Challenging your perceived racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. Being told that you’re displaying one of the ‘isms’ is never nice. But sometimes it’s necessary, at least in the other person’s eyes. Even if you don’t feel that you are prejudiced, your being willing to at least look at what you’ve said is usually all that they want.

Challenging your thinking processes. We often pride ourselves on being logical, and hate seeing others thinking illogically. So you’ll occasionally get challenged on this. In itself, it doesn’t mean they hate you or anything, or are putting you down. Once again, respect is the key.

The other person losing their temper. None of us are saints. A lot of us are emotionally volatile. And yes, sometimes somebody will lose their cool and end up saying things they know they shouldn’t. And yes, it can be hurtful. But if this isn’t their usual behaviour, then maybe it’s time to step back and let things cool down.

Teasing and joking. This can actually be done affectionately. Unfortunately, not every autie will recognise when it’s being done. But as long as it’s not done maliciously, then it’s still not bullying.

So what IS bullying?

We’re all familiar with the physical “schoolyard bully”, but online is a different matter. There are many different ways bullying can be perpetuated via social media, but I’ve focussed here on the ones I’ve personally seen happening.

Harassment. People can be harassed online much as they are in real life, through repeated insults, scorn, putdowns, contempt, or even ‘gaslighting’. Harassers can also slavishly follow someone around from group to group, so that their victim never feels safe.

Slander. Some seem to take delight in spreading malicious rumours and false allegations about others they dislike, in order to damage their reputations. Even if the person being slandered is blocked, they usually hear about the rumours anyway.

“Hate so-and-so” groups. These are an outgrowth of the slander method, where a bunch of people who have decided they dislike someone, start a group designed solely to attack that person, rounding up others to join them in their viciousness. By this time, no matter how little truth there is in the allegations, they’ve taken on a life of their own. Unfortunately, many who don’t know the person concerned just accept what they’re told, and fail to do their own research.

Dumping/blocking. Another method of the haters. They actively campaign to have the hated one discredited in and/or dumped from as many groups as possible, even ones they’re admins of. Often accompanied by blocking, this leaves their victim without any means of responding, or counteracting the vileness being spread about them.

Trolling. A troll is traditionally someone who comes into a group or chat room, etc, and baits the members with inflammatory statements. But by repeatedly doing so, trolls can also bully those groups and their members, to the point where they no longer feel safe there.

Videos. Youtube is a great thing. You can make a video about anything you want. Trouble is, no veracity, no double-checking of your story, is required. The result can be a very spiteful and hurtful smear of others, with little chance for them to set the record straight, or counteract the harmful impressions given.

Intimidation. If none of the other techniques satisfy them, the bully might step up their efforts, including threatening to get their victim ejected from offline organisations, or even of tracking them down in real life (“I can trace your URL”).

There are lots of websites on how to cope and deal with bullies, so I’m not going to discuss that here. What I’m concerned with is two things – firstly, that often if the victim tries to respond in kind, they can end up being seen as the ‘bully’, as the original bully or bullies’ campaigns have been largely in the shadows, or misinterpreted by others.

My second and even bigger concern is how so many of us don’t recognise these people as bullies, or allow them too much latitude, simply because they’re autistic (“They just made a few mistakes, they didn’t really mean it”, etc). We can be extremely na├»ve in this regard, and tend to take others’ words at face value, not recognising what’s happening, or the awful toll it takes on their victims.

I hate to admit it, but not every aspie/autie is a beautiful person. We have our ‘bad eggs’ like any other group. Make no mistake, these people are extraordinarily manipulative and dangerous creatures. Please, if you notice anything like this happening, do not give the bullies any of your support.