Cyberbullying: by Loren Heaphy

The Ruminator’s Loren Heaphy (LOZ!) is a finalist in the Westpac Millennial Women of Influence competition. And we think she deserves it. Because she’s both a millennial AND influential (and secretly quite awesome too). We’d love you to vote for her at: super long link! (just click her name and then you have to put in an email address, sorry about that, we didn’t design it).

The below is a speech and presentation she gave on cyberbullying that is a large part of why she’s been nominated. It makes a compelling case.

“How could Tom ever marry someone so ugly as Loz. She thinks she’s ‘curvy’ and hot but actually she’s just fat and old. Tom should leave Loz and marry me – then Tom could have babies without him having to worry about an infertile fugly wife.”

“If I were Tom I would have slapped that sulky look off her face and told her to harden the fuck up. What a whingey spolit brat. He’s right – she’s a total princess and the kind of white, upper class woman who needs to be taken down a peg or two.”

“What a cow, I feel sorry for her hubby. Does anyone else think that when Tom looks at Loz he looks like he’s can’t stand his own wife?”

Loz30% of the global population is on some form of social media, with New Zealand having almost 80% of those aged 2+ accessing a social media site. We’re now not world famous for a mere 15 minutes, instead each and every one of us is famous from almost the moment we are born and long past our deaths – immortalised online.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – these all enable us the incredible opportunity to have our own ‘world famous’ profile online, to form new relationships, interests, take pictures of our dinner or even post photos of our cute cat.

But we need to be aware that almost everything we do online becomes permanent and that our personal brand is at risk. What we post – and what is written about us – appears any time someone does a google search of our name.

If you consider that your brand is what people say about you when you leave the room, then what is posted on social media about you – be it of your own doing or someone else’s – is the easiest way for anyone to find out what the world thinks of you. It helps to think of it as a ‘digital tattoo’ and like tattoos things that are online are very difficult to remove.

But what can you do when someone – known to you or not, is posting and commenting things online about you, with the powerful control of anonymity to protect them? What is it about being behind a computer screen that empowers someone to type something they would never normally utter out loud?

We certainly can’t ask Charlotte Dawson, a woman who famously battled online bullies and finally and tragically succumbed to incitements of suicide on Twitter on what was eerily the ten year anniversary of Facebook. Although high profile, we only have to look at the Nelson Mail website to know that online bullies (or trolls) are alive and thriving in our community.

I’m here today to speak to you about my very painful experience with online bullying and hopefully help you understand and protect those who you love from going through a similar situation – or at least start the conversation around how we can set some standards to prevent this.

As many of you may know, my husband Tom and I appeared on the TV show The Block NZ last year. And while we were prepared for hard work, sleepless nights, tough challenges and a few marital tiffs, neither of us were prepared for the level of fame that comes with being a well-known couple on reality TV.

Except, not everyone loved us. Well, to be honest not everyone loved me. Deprived of sleep, food and wine, I wasn’t at my best – but god did I try my very best. I’m proud of what we achieved and gained and yet that wasn’t enough for the trolls of New Zealand’s online world.

What I read to you at the start of this presentation are just some of the very brutal comments written about me online. And I started to notice a trend – all of the women on our TV show were abused daily online, and yet the men had very little directed at them.

Tom is a sweetie but Loz came across as a first-class whinger who bawled her eyes out constantly . I felt for the winners tonight –  they probably felt as comfortable as me, knowing that their “friend” sourpuss bitchface Loz, was just giving them the evils.”

So how did I deal with this unflattering attention? Messages to kill myself, or let my husband divorce me? To be honest, I didn’t. I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t sleep, eat or even communicate with my loved ones, as I became so consumed with the nasty, negative things people were saying about me online. And let’s put this in perspective – of 588 comments to one post, 10 of them were negative.

Although the number one piece of advice I was given while this online maelstrom happened around me was “don’t look at it” – I simply couldn’t look away. It’s a little like watching a train wreck – you don’t want to look, but you have to. You’re drawn to it – as if somehow, by seeing the things written about you negates them, or at least allows you to defend yourself. And trust me, don’t try and defend yourself. And even if you don’t look – it’s still there, for the rest of the world to see!

And don’t forget the power of anonymity. If they don’t like you, they can make your life hell.

Sure, Grant Smithies didn’t write the most flattering things in the NZ Herald – but at least he had the courage to put his name to what he wrote. I’m all for journalistic integrity and objectivity, but a user called ‘Ilovecats2000’ doesn’t have the same the same accountability.

Having experienced this online bullying first hand I delved a little deeper only to find some rather disturbing facts: More than two in five New Zealand children have been harmed by cyber-crime during 2013, and almost two in three children hide what they do online. And tellingly, more than twice as many Kiwi girls – 17 per cent – have been bullied online than boys – 8 per cent. If you are a parent of a young girl, I’m asking you, talk to them about being safe online.

To deal with this parliament has introduced a new bill to criminalise such behaviour.

The Harmful Digital Communications Bill, intends to crack down on bullying via social networking, email, mobile phones and websites. It creates a new criminal offence for sending messages or posting material online with intent to cause harm.

But we know that the hazy online world can be difficult to police when anonymous users who protect their identity are bullying online. So what can we as a community do? I’d propose first that we lead by example. Why do we allow our own news websites to allow users to abuse fantastic community events or people with no moderation?

Ultimately it all comes down to what we were taught when we were growing up “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. So why doesn’t New Zealand set a standard and use that as a template for what we type online?

 

 

 

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