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Bullying and the Lord Of The Flies


The death of Amanda Todd has touched many. It has also put the issue of bullying on the agenda once again and there is a considerable amount of talk about bullying and its causes. Experts are appearing on newscasts, committees are being formed, meetings called and even a Member of Canada’s Parliament has called on the formation of a group to study the issue of bullying.

They could save a lot of time and money if they stopped meeting and consulting and simply spent an hour on Twitter. Nowhere is the descent from civilized behaviour into intolerance and bullying better exemplified than in that world of 140 character messages.

In his novel Lord of the Flies, William Golding told the story of a group of English schoolboys stranded on a deserted tropical island. It is an allegory for what happens to a society without rules or respect for the rights and lives of others within their society.

As the fear of being stranded gives way to a temporary sense of unbridled freedom, one young boy says with delight, “We can do whatever we like.” And so began an accelerated erosion of civility and a descent into brutal savagery.

Welcome to the dark side of the Internet and social media; a once deserted island that has become a violent jungle of anger and brutal bullying.

In the past week, I have seen people like Sandra Dash bullied and threatened by mobs of the sanctimonious and self-righteous for no other reason than because she had the temerity to voice her support for Mitt Romney. She was called an idiot, had racial slurs thrown at her and received death threats.

I saw the same happen to Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, who experienced the same bullying behaviour when he announced his support for Romney. Supporters of President Obama have been attacked and vilified by ultra right wing supporters and through it all, misinformation and confusion fuel anger and intransigence that polarize the society into flexible and momentary tribes of thugs.

No moment better illustrates this than the tragic story of Amanda Todd who produced a video reaching out for help and understanding. Instead she was attacked, bullied and threatened by those who were entertained by tormenting her.

How many times have we read news stories of similar situations where amoral gangs have logged in to encourage someone to commit suicide online for their entertainment?

Since Amanda’s death, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have been awash in expressions of sympathy for her, in many cases by many of the same people who harassed her in life. There are demands to fight bullying and inevitably, there are the trolls who find a twisted validation  in surfing the Internet looking for opportunities to lash out and hurt people.

Two days ago what was purported to be an autopsy photograph of Amanda Todd was circulated all over Twitter. Even I received a copy of it in a tweet sent to me. I didn’t forward it to my followers, I sent it to the police who are better equipped to investigate and deal with issues like this than we are.

Later in the day, Anonymous released information that it claimed was the phone number and address of the person who originally posted the photograph and the twisted tweets that went with it. Again, one of my followers on Twitter contacted me and my advice was to forward it to the police and let them deal with it.

The problem is that while some people’s intentions may be good, by circulating things like this around the Internet we are merely escalating a climate of hostility. Today someone posted that once again Anonymous had exposed the person who took the photograph. They posted the name and address of that person online.

People were outraged and there has been an outpouring of self-righteous condemnation of the photographer. The problem is that Anonymous was wrong. Everyone was wrong. The photograph was not of Amanda Todd, it was a fake.

The RCMP, Canada’s federal police force, investigated the information and determined that the person tagged by Anonymous had nothing to do with either the fake photograph or the original bullying of Amanda Todd. They now are protecting that person from a potential crackpot vigilante who saw the original information but never learned that the information was wrong.

What has this to do with bullying? Everything!

Our children learn their behaviour from us and we are in a perpetual state of rush to judgment. We conduct ourselves online without regard for things like due process, presumption of innocence or even accuracy of information.

We trust information posted by anonymous tipsters without stopping to think for a moment that we have no clue who these people are or what their motives may be. When it comes to Anonymous, the hacker group, we suddenly see them as white hats after a decade of illegal activity.

We throw out the very common sense and caution we expect from our children in our rush to take action. We are, in many ways, as naïve as children.

And that’s when the bullying starts.

We become angry and sanctimonious. We start posting our opinions online, expressing our anger and disgust. It becomes a game of one-upmanship with each person trying to outdo the next. The issue gets escalated until it has moved from expressions of sympathy to calls for a hanging. We become a virtual lynch mob.

We saw it during the Occupy farce and again over the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin. It is almost like a collective hysteria that grips the online community and that ultimately leads to a lynch-mob mentality that bullies whomever it encounters, that holds or voices a different opinion.

We are like the school boys in Lord of the Flies. We thought we were capable of governing ourselves without rules and regulation on the Internet but we were wrong. We quickly became tribal, painting our faces with metaphorical masks called Avatars and AVIs. Hiding behind the anonymityour masks provide. We were free to say and do virtually anything and so we did. It was intoxicating and it has led many of us down very dark paths.

It is as if many simply check their values and morals at the log-in screen.

A nurse in Minnesota counsels a young Canadian university student to commit suicide rather than guiding her to find help. She was one of five people he encouraged to take their own lives on line while he watched. When he was charged, he said he did it for, “the thrill of the chase.”  He was not some troll hiding in a cave, he was a professional, married and a father with small children.

This past week Michael Brutsch, Reddit’s infamous troll, was finally outed for disgusting and violent posts. Using the online name of Violentacrez, Brutsch created or moderated sections dedicated to pornographic and violent images, including subreddits called r/rapebait, r/incest, r/picsofdeadkids, r/jailbait, and r/chokeabitch. When contacted by the media, his response was, “I just like riling people up in my spare time.”

In other words, he was free online to explore the darkest side of his imagination without regard to the damage it might do others or the very society in which his own children are being raised.

We want to cleanse our society of bullying and yet fight any attempt to provide protective regulation on the Internet where it is most prevalent. We support a moral anarchy on the Internet that we would never dream of supporting in the real world and we do so without understanding that it is spilling over into our world from this virtual jungle that we are not merely supporting but encouraging to flourish.

And all the while we protect our children from the innocuous with politically correct mediocrity while letting them roam the virtual wasteland unprotected.

In the end, our children are becoming bullies because we have become bullies.

We lack respect for the rights of others, unmercifully taunting and criticizing those with whom we disagree. We support groups like Anonymous and Mega Download and people like Julian Assange despite the fact that, in many cases, their actions are unethical and illegal.

We attack the innocent and support the guilty. We see websites devoted to serial killers like Luca Magnotta and child pornography as if it it isn’t our children who may be exposed to them or threatened by them. We arbitrarily choose sides without facts or information and we refuse to listen to any voice of reason that does not support what we feel or believe.

Pro-choice and pro-life mobs attack each other with rhetorical brutality and no regard for the feelings, beliefs or opinions of the other side. Fundamentalist religious groups attack the gay and lesbian community with a savagery that denies the basic fact that they are people just like us. If you announce your support for Mitt Romney, you are labeled a racist by the extreme left. If you announce your support for Barrack Obama, you are labeled a socialist, a communist or an idiot.

And that attitude and behaviour is increasingly becoming part of our real world with increased violence in our cities. Protesters hide behind masks and demonstrations are more about the destruction and vandalizing of public and private property now than they are about the issues. Extremist religious fanatics demonstrate funerals for fallen soldiers, burn the religious scripture of other religions and attack gays and lesbians or anyone else that doesn’t fit their narrow definition of what is morally right.

And shootings and random acts of violence are becoming all to common place.

Politicians lie to us. Governments erode our fundamental rights and all the while, we argue and attack each other with increasing savagery that teaches our children that bullying is an acceptable form of social interaction.

We have taught them that it is permissable to prey on the weak because we prey on the weak and those who cannot defend themselves.

Bullying is more than the refusal to accept the rights and safety of those we don’t like or with whom we disagree. It is the belief, that we have the right to impose our dislike on them, to intimidate them and to threaten even harm them. It is the failure to see them with the same respect we demand for ourselves.

When that happens, we become no different than English schoolboys on deserted desert island.

At some point, after the breakdown of their group into tribes, the school boys in Lord of The Flies become afraid of a monster they called The Beast. They searched for it in order to kill it without realizing that the beast was within them. The fear they were feeling came from what they were doing to themselves and to each other.

We search for answers about the savagery of bullying without realizing that the Beast is within us.

“Are we ever going home?”  asked Peter in Lord of the Flies. It is a question we should be asking ourselves for we are a long way from the home we thought we were building.

Instead we have chosen to live on the virtual island without rules but we have lacked the strength to maintain our morality and decency when we made that choice. Now we are creating a violent, angry place without civility and without respect for the rights and lives of others. We have chosen to set free The Beast at risk to each other, to ourselves and to our children.

Are we ever going home?

The answer lies in the behaviour we are seeing in our children. Increasingly they are bullying each other  but  it was us who taught, and who continue to teach, them how.

© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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