Ten years ago, I was writing about a new chapter in our lives as a family. My oldest was 5 and starting Kindergarten, my daughter was a toddler, and I hadn’t even entertained the thought of adding a third child to our family! The worries and issues were different and living online was different. I was brand new to Twitter, and the online world was essentially new for all of us. Mommy blogging was as brand new and bright eyed as my babies.
Today, I have a son in high school and my daughters (we did add a third baby to our family in 2011) are in grade-school. We’re managing social media with them as we see fit as parents (my teenager has more freedom than my daughters do, with my middle child having only a private IG account and my youngest having no social media). We’re working our way though navigating new friendships, being a good friend and unfortunately have dealt with some bullying via texts towards my daughter this summer (yup, on that private IG account, from boys she thought were friends.)
As a parent, it’s my job to be their voice, their protector, and help them navigate this new world with social media being a part of it. I attacked the bullying issue head on this summer, doing some sleuthing on Facebook and finding the parents of these boys, reaching out directly, and even having a face-to-face conversation with one of them on our front step when dad brought him to apologize in person. I have to ensure I’m modeling good behavior online too, but unfortunately I can’t reach out to parents of online trolls, and the world I live in is a public one online. I deal with trolls often.
Being online and in the media, it’s fun to debate the topics I bring forward on talk radio, and often times I can learn something from the other person or at the very least understand where they’re coming from and appreciate their view. Once in awhile I get a weird tweet from someone (men, it’s almost always men, I’m not sure why just stating what I see) that makes no sense at all. 5 years ago, I’d reply to the person, but I realized that only feeds the ego. I’d hesitate to block because I didn’t want to be that person who “wasn’t strong enough to withstand the criticism.” I’ve since realized that blocking someone has nothing to do with withstanding criticism and everything to do with being strong enough to know who you are and what you’ll tolerate.
This tweet was from a local SK guy after I tweeted a photo of me in a TV segment for a food brand. After looking at his profile, it was clear he had a theme. Tweet after tweet of insults thrown at women in media, mostly here in Saskatchewan but a few at TSN. “Horse face”, “Ugly”, “Fat”. I blocked.
Last week, a tweet came after my weekly radio segment on 980 CJME “What The Friday”. A listener had called in disagreeing with me, and I tweeted about how I loved hearing that – that public discussion and commentary and debate is what the show, and talk radio, is all about and it’s a good thing. The tweet in response was three words, “Get over yourself.” Again, I looked at his timeline, saw that his joy on Twitter came from arguing with and slinging insults at people, and blocked. Then this tweet followed:
Sort of like Nelson Muntz on The Simpsons, many online trolls will laugh and point at the person who blocked them. It’s a typical response, but a humorous one. Correct. You are blocked. Bye.
This has been my advice to my kids as well. A block online is like putting your hand up in the face of the bully confronting you on the playground. It’s a flat out NO. You don’t get to talk to me like that, in fact, you don’t get to talk to or see me at all.
But consider this. The age of the people who have been mean to me and others online are very likely in my age range. And that means they have kids. If they don’t have kids, they have nieces and nephews, friends with children.
What the hell are we teaching our children if this is how grown adults behave? I worry. Do people who are unhinged online behave like that in their day to day lives? Do men who tweet “ugly”, “fat”, to women have wives? Mothers?
The majority of these accounts online are anonymous. Fake names. It means I could be standing in front of one of these people in line at the grocery store. But it also means that he could be your best friend. Your coworker.
If the account isn’t anonymous, if there’s a loud and proud name attached – what would you do if you saw this behavior online from someone you know in real life? Would you call them out on it? Distance yourself? I have.
The only way we can even hope to stop behavior like this is by calling it out when we know the person, and in my opinion simply blocking their access to you when you don’t know them. I can’t call a troll’s dad after finding them online, have an adult discussion, and witness an apology for stupid behavior. Our kids are in for one hell of a journey in the years ahead with social media, and it’s all I can do to stand behind them and help guide them when I’m unsure myself where we’re going.