Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cyber-Bullying in the Horse Industry

Something sad happened recently on Facebook.  A very nice woman that I know closed her FB page, saying that she was just sick and tired of all the rumors and mean-spirited comments that get passed around on the social media network.  It made me feel bad, as she is a very sweet and kind person, and I enjoyed seeing her updates.  I can't be certain, but it could be related to a falling out she recently had over the genetic testing debate.  While she would never stoop to point fingers or retaliate with insults, it is clear that she was made to feel bad because of someone's unkind words.  There seems to be a lot of that on FB lately.  While I personally get a lot out of FB - it is a great way to keep up with my widely scattered friends and family - I have seen that many use it as a way to push an agenda or spread rumors, half-truths and outright lies.  There is a certain amount of anonymity to social sites too.  People say things on FB that they would never, ever have the guts to say to someone's face, and the fact that they are separated from their audience emboldens many to be truly horrible to their fellow human beings.  Even if a person isn't commenting anonymously, the fact that they are typing their comment, rather than speaking it face to face, makes it easier for some to unleash insults, disparage someone, or embarrass them.

According to Wikipedia, cyber-bullying is the use of the internet and related technologies to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.  I have seen this in action many times in discussion forums or posted directly to someone's page, whether the subject was abusive training techniques, how well the NRHA is handling the judge tampering scandal, or what should be done about genetic disease.  In fact, I began this blog as a response to being bullied.  That experience made me realize that there are people out there who don't understand that their words have an affect on others, that they have to power to hurt, to smear, and to vilify.  To be sure, some even relish in doing that to others, as if they are lacking any kind of power in their 'real' lives, so they behave like some kind of tyrant on social media sites, just prowling to look for someone to fight with.  Many of them would hide when confronted in person; the person who bullied me has never owned up to it, even though I have seen her face to face several times since then.

The more contentious the issue, the more prevalent the bullying.  The latest hot topic, genetic testing, is no exception.  I have observed cliques of people dog piling someone who asked an innocent or rhetorical question.  I have experienced my own words being misconstrued, and have seen others get the same.  I have heard the complaints of many people wondering why a certain forum was so hostile.  And I have read people's posts that were full of speculation over an 'irresponsible breeder' or a horse that supposedly passed on a deadly gene, even though there was no actual evidence of that.  Hearsay hurts more people than just the subject of the hostility; it creates an atmosphere that doesn't allow dissension or discussion.  It divides rather than unites.  And it can truly hurt people in the horse industry, an industry where a nasty rumor can decimate a stallion's breeding career, cause a trainer to lose customers, instigate lawsuits, keep exhibitors away from competitions and cause hysteria over topics that may not have real bearing in the life of the reader.  Cyber-bullying can create real financial loss for the person targeted, as well as the loss of business relationships, friendships or even intimate relationships.  It is not to be taken lightly.

How does one deal with cyber-bullies?*  First, realize that sometimes there is no point to arguing with someone.  If a person puts their CAPS LOCK ON, and begins to use multiple exclamation points to scream their point at you, they probably aren't in their right mind.  There is no use screaming back at a crazy person.  Second, use only facts to support your argument, rather than throwing back put-downs.  While you may be completely correct in your assessment that you are communicating with a narrow-minded, pontificating jerk, in pointing it out to them, you are just fueling their mean-spirited-ness.  Don't worry, everyone can see them for what they are by their own words.  Let them look that way, and don't stoop to their level.  Say less versus more, and if all else fails, just leave the conversation.  No one will think you are 'chicken,' they will think you are smart for maintaining control.  And if you find that a group you are in is constantly embroiled in arguments, leave the group and seek out a group that fits you better (or start your own).  There are page admins out there who don't bother regulating group member's comments, or actually encourage fighting, because they like the notoriety of being 'controversial.'  If someone continues to harass you on FB, you can block them, so they no longer have access to you, your page, or your comments. And with a click of the mouse, they can be gone from your cyber life - or at least, you won't be able to see each other anymore.

It may be that someone has harassed you to the point of causing a real loss in your life.  You may need to hire an attorney, and document the instances of bullying.  Learn how to do a "screen shot" with which you can take a picture of what is on your computer screen, containing comments within a thread that are directed at you. On my computer, the screen shot button is on the top right of the keyboard.  Having evidence of bullying incidents is crucial for any prosecution to occur.

Moreover, remember that you have a right to your opinion and a right to ask questions.  While some people seem to have a know-it-all air about them, remember that no one is omnipotent, no one is always right, and no one can foretell the future.  Part of a bully's strategy is to get you to believe that you are less than them, and that they are some type of authority, when reality is that everyone has something to contribute to the conversation, no matter what the subject. 

*If you are a minor, and are being bullied online for any reason, tell an adult, and keep telling adults, until someone listens and helps you deal with it.  Please don't despair, and don't take it personally.  As you grow into an adult, you will see that some people just like to dump on others because it takes the focus off themselves.  It has nothing to do with who you are, or your value as a person, and everything to do with what kind of person they are.  I wish you well! :)