A few weeks back, I heard this story on The Current on CBC radio, and it affected me deeply. It was an interview with Pam Murchison, a woman from Truro, who lost her 15-year-old daughter just a few months back. Jenna committed suicide. She had a long history (or as long a history a 15-year-old can have) of depression, but she had also been bullied. And some of that bullying came in the form of cyber-bullying through a social network called Formspring (which is based on a post-a-question-get-an-answer format), which allows users to post anonymously, or even from someone else’s account.
In my experience, when you allow people to post anonymously, they will be much, much less nice than if they have to take responsibility for what they are saying. If you allow them to hide behind a different or anonymous persona, they will feel like it’s safer for them to basically say anything they want, because no one is going to call them on it or challenge them.
My blog requires that you sign in with your name and an email address before you can post a comment to my blog. I’m okay with people posting controversial comments, I’m okay with people not agreeing with me, but a few times I’ve caught people trying to post less-than-positive comments who have logged in with fake email addresses.
Cyber-bullying, clearly, is not cool under any circumstances. And in this new 2.0 world of transparency and communication and engaging in dialogue, I’d hope that it’s okay to say clearly when you don’t agree with someone. As long as it’s done in a respectful way.
One of the major resistances that I hear from people that I work with who are just getting into social media is that they are afraid that people will flame them if they put themselves out there. And that’s a very real fear. But I’ve been blogging for three years, now, and I find that, when controversy happens in the blogosphere, as it inevitably does, there is always someone there to take your side.
Now, get out there and comment responsibly.