Facebook Savaging
Friday, 01 October 2010 13:58

Cyber-Brutalizing, Bullying, and Bruising


While I have recently spoken out about the well-strategized, cyber-nightmares that adolescents (and children) experience at the hands of their school mates, I am surprised to find that adults are getting together and actually contriving to humiliate acquaintances at work or in communities. Just when I thought Lord of the Flies in the extreme had gone the way of 80% of the “blah blah” bloggers in the last two years, cyber-attacking is becoming downright de rigeur.

A few individuals who are not exactly adults and not exactly children (but who can tell the difference these days?) pushed a talented Rutgers student to suicide on September 29th. He jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and another friend–student posted a video of his private time with a same-gender date in his dorm room. The room had been set up ahead of time after another friend-student had read his private email and noted the planned evening tryst. The same chap, it had been determined and calculated, was to meet again with his love interest, and again, the camera was going to be safely hidden. The young man's death nipped in the bud what was to have been taping day and Video #2. Facebook (its ready audience, and other video streams) went without the second feed.

I have counseled and written on the serious topic of teen suicide – both with and without the influence of the internet. But, lately, my corporate work had formally drawn me into the area of adult Facebook malfeasance. What about adults? Say, those over 35 years of age? I was recently informed (as part of my work as a psychological consultant), that a “super cool” albeit small group of employees had posted unfortunate pictures of less-than-attractive (and, therefore, apparently deserving of hard jail time or a public stoning) employees on a more popular-than-ever company Facebook page. The sneak pics had what were considered to be really, really funny (insulting and hurtful) sayings attributed to them, along with some downright obscene and cruel (somewhere between painful and annihilating) slander that caused two single mothers to quit without ceremony. Each woman had at least four mouths to feed. Neither can talk about the incident without breaking into sweats, panic and agoraphobic paralysis. So goes the omni-popular, anti-social media.

As I pondered my next professional step (with respect to the injured and those with freedom of savage expression), I went online to check my ever-demanding email. My young nephew had sent me something from Facebook. I responded with a half-smile, a minute and a half’s relief from worry and responsibility.

Then, I saw it. I was in “The Space”. I couldn’t miss it. If you sign up or respond or wander in “The Space” to reply to a relative, for example, you are fair game for anyone who is somehow linked to you. I think. I haven’t quite figured it out, but that night there were Canadian speakers bureau “marketers” (read, salespeople, women impossible not to like), from one old and one new agency I have been affiliated with as an author, professional speaker, and the only Canadian satirist and screenwriter who does not live full-time in the United States. I have been busy (I have personal and corporate practices, write books, and do critical incident and trauma counseling), but it had occurred to me that I was not hearing from the bureau mainstays. And, given my temperament, even with corporate discretionary spending at an all-time low, I have wondered if it was, well…me. Have I missed something? Did I miss something? (Now, that, the missing of an engagement, would be worthy of obloquy or worse! An end-of-career Facebook collage, perhaps?). However, I’ve been too busy to get into trouble (full disclosure: I gobbled up all the episodes of AMC’s Mad Men in three sittings). When I saw all the grown-up happy faces and tried but failed to resist reading the endless number of playful, personal posts, I felt left out, forgotten. Even a little hurt. After all, my picture is there, staring down at all the chatter and I don’t think I am the only one who can see it (I will have to ask my social networking guru – the one who might have set up an account for promotional reasons). I don’t think I like or benefit from being front and center, but not part of (or invited into) the blissful banter. As I said, these folk are impossible not to like. The work they get for speakers (with a healthy percentage take) becomes secondary to the relationships. In my (over) 20 years of speaking and commentary, these co-workers have been among those for whom I’d take a low caliber bullet. Though both thick-skinned and thin-skinned depending on the circumstances and my role and professional mandate, I wondered about my child-like reaction. Just how overtired was I?

I ‘x’d out and went back to work - I had to formulate a way to address adult employee cruelty on Facebook. In addition, under the aegis of a responsible corporation’s care for its employees, I prepared to tend to the broken hearts and torn souls of two hardworking, women with children to feed and subsidized rent to pay. I took a deep breath, checked the clock at 2:30 a.m., and knuckled down – heart first.

And there is the spectrum. Yet another ‘Facebook Suicide” (five, I know of, this year), dangerously malicious and clandestine adult-employee annihilation, and an already sublimated bruising as a result of feeling shunned by those with whom I have shared years of good works and “speaker trials”.

All in a day amid an intensifying period in human history when technology allows for tricky secrets, invasion of privacy, blatant cruelty, and new ways to drive oneself mad – or worse.

So we go.

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