Cyber-bullies are intent on spreading fear and loathing

Border Mail Column Wednesday 8 June 2011

One thing I’ve enjoyed about writing this column for the past eleven months is joining the dots that are out there in the stratosphere with certain subjects and having a picture emerge as my thoughts translated into the words on the page.

Sometimes the subjects have been light hearted, sometimes heartfelt and other times more serious.
But, in the case of some of the more serious subjects, I can become deeply concerned at the picture that materialises, and so it is with the subject of this column: the rise in the incidence of people hiding behind modern technology to express their opinion in opposition to particular groups and in a threatening way.

There are those in the community who appear to believe that he with the loudest and most coercive tone wins; that by enveloping their argument with intimidation and abusive language they will have those who they see as an enemy to their freedoms cower and withdraw from their position on the issue in dispute.

And the temperature is rising on a number of topics from climate change, the inhumane slaughter of animals to dissatisfaction with teachers and principals in schools.

In our own backyard we have seen the harassment of women attending a clinic where abortions are performed. In this case the group is very up front about its stance and although its methods can be questioned, to date there have been no reports of physical threats.

Fearing for physical safety though is a reality for scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra involved in researching climate change.

According ANU’s vice chancellor, Professor Ian Young a large number of emails with threatening and abusive language have been received and a number of the scientists have been moved to a safer location.

As you can imagine, more familiar with conducting their business based on science and  not emotion, this is not a situation these scientists usually deal with, but it is one which can only be described as appalling.

Those who have sent the emails might argue that they have a right to voice their opinion, but this is not a true argument: true argument supposes a level of logic and deduction and is based on a true premise.

What they may disagree about is what the true premise is, but there is little doubt that the scientists have a better grasp of the issue than those sending the emails. Their position on climate change has grown from a fear of the unknown and this is often the catalyst for aggressive behaviour, but this does not excuse it.

In another instance, in the wake of last week’s Four Corners report on the inhumane treatment of animals, a Victorian dairy farmer found herself in the firing line and posted on Facebook that she had been told to commit suicide as all she did was “commit injury and cruelty on her animals.”

And the rage is also being felt by school teachers and principals as parents use Facebook, Twitter and blogs to post derogatory comments about school staff or even to accuse staff of inappropriate behaviour with their child.

Where once parents would have gone directly to the school to discuss any difficulties, some are choosing to shoot from behind the cloak of social networking; however, they are being warned they could face legal ramifications.

A greater issue is that children may see this behaviour as a valid way to deal with any situation with which they don’t agree, rather than learn the strategies to cope with it.

It’s in the connection of these last dots that the most disturbing image emerges.



About Robyne Young

Writer, creative writing teacher, editor, columnist. Literary lover. Short story collections, The Only Constant and The Basket and the Briefcase available via website.
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