Online intimidation can never be part of civil discourse

Bullies aren’t only in the schoolyard

Online intimidation can never be part of civil discourse

A good deal of recent media attention has been directed to bullying in the schoolyard, but much less to the equally serious topic of adult bullying in the online community. While school children’s abuse rightfully occupies centre stage in our public concern, less well-documented are the long-term corrosive effects of subtler forms of public intimidation, wherein anonymity of the internet encourages covert bullies in the psychologically cruel exploitation of the solitary, weak, the defenceless and vulnerable.

The pathological world of politics comes readily to mind, but more general forms of pervasive bullying can be found in situations where one group of persons, elected or appointed, manages the affairs of a largely passive and powerless subject populace.

Incited by inflammatory rhetoric, attention-getting hyperbole, self-aggrandizement and outright lies of their principal self-anointed “suzerain,” these digital “trolls” vent their hatred on anyone whose innate qualities and perspective differs from their own, even inventing negative moral attributes to the “Other” to excuse or justify their animosity. Envious of qualities they do not possess, buttressed by the apparent approval of a putative perceived majority opinion, but echoing the vitriolic utterances of their “glorious leader” they only reinforce his inane agenda. Indeed, there is created a symbiotic relationship, albeit a dysfunctional one, since neither the principal nor the hate-monger acolytes can flourish in absence of each other.

Intimidation can never be considered a viable part of any polity, any “progressive forward society” even in the democratic process of the America of this November 2018. Contrary to the bully’s opinion, it does matter whether one is intimidated or not. There is a great deal of truth in the old sailor’s proverb: “Scratch a bully and watch a coward bleed.”

Owen Delane,