Cyberbullying means collapse of moral code
Internet abuse is a symptom of the passing of everyday values such as kindness
CYBERBULLYING HAS been everywhere this week. It was implicated in the tragic death of an Irish teenager. It was a core element in a Canadian Supreme Court judgment regarding the right of minors to remain anonymous while trying to force internet providers to reveal the identities of cyberbullies.
It’s even a key part of the plot in JK Rowling’s new book (warning – spoilers ahead.) But probably the most discussed incident of cyberbullying this week was the fascinating, but very frightening, case of Leo Traynor.
For three years he and his wife were subjected to torrents of abuse on Twitter and elsewhere. He then began to receive objects in the mail. He is of Jewish background, and he received a Tupperware container of ashes, along with a note that said: “Say hello to your relatives from Auschwitz.” Threats against his wife followed.
He reported the matter to the Garda, but nothing happened. Then, a friend began to track the IP addresses relating to the messages.
They led straight to the 17-year-old son of a friend. The horrified parents offered to turn their son over to the police, but instead, with their help, Traynor took another route.
He pretended to bump into the family and told them his story, showing screen shots and images, without ever accusing the young man. The young man began to cry and then apologised, saying it was all meant to be a kind of game.
In a great act of generosity, the victim did not press charges, but – on condition that the young man would receive counselling – shook hands with him instead.
The story spread rapidly on the internet. Many criticised his decision, saying a 17-year-old who could target anyone so viciously needed far more than counselling.
Rowling’s new book, The Casual Vacancy, also features the devastating effects of internet attacks. Sukhinder, a gentle Sikh girl, is being systematically bullied by a repellent character, Stuart Wall, known as Fats, who has abandoned all kindness or empathy in a quest for “authenticity”.
She has some facial hair, and his chosen method of attack is constant posting of images of hirsutism on her Facebook page. He spends time researching images like one of a Victorian child covered in soft brown hair.
Sukhinder begins to self-harm. Like many victims, she is inexorably drawn to her Facebook page, and cannot force herself to stop checking it.
Critics have been harsh about Rowling’s book, but whether it is great fiction or not, she provides a horribly realistic glimpse into the lives of unhappy adolescents. But as Leo Traynor’s story demonstrates, such experience is by no means confined to teens.
There have always been malicious people who take delight in the pain of others.