Since writing about Twenty-First Century Bullying I’ve received a range of responses, but one of them in particular worried me. The comments calling me a c*nt or reminding me of what a whore Sydney Dalton is were expected; the tweets from Justin Bieber and One Direction fans telling me that they’d realised they were wrong were a little unexpected; but this comment, which I haven’t approved on the entry because I wanted to write about it and I don’t think it’s fair for the author to have their name shared, really surprised me. And unnerved me.
I’ll include the whole comment, unedited, at the bottom of this post.
I was interested to find that the person leaving this comment thought that distancing herself from the groups most responsible for Sydney’s bullying gave her the right to comment, as though she was objective because she wasn’t part of either of the ‘fandoms’. “I am not a tween girl, nor am I a ‘Belieber’ or ‘Directioner’. But Sydney Dalton is not just an innocent teenager that moved on from liking Justin Bieber like you perceive her to be.” I was pretty upset to find that someone who is suggesting that they’re an adult believes that Sydney not being “innocent” somehow makes it okay that she’s received such a huge amount of abuse.
She goes on to say that “she writes pathetically disgusting tweets about herself and her life. You would be shocked if you read them. She’s a child and she writes things that you would only expect to hear in a rated 18 + movie.” I’m not shocked. I’ve seen Sydney’s tweets. She’s a teenage girl, and like I said yesterday, teenage girls make mistakes. They say and do things they’ll come to regret, but that’s all part of growing up and learning who you are. As one girl on Twitter said to me yesterday “I guess I can tell her when I don’t agree with her but I don’t have to abuse her”.
So far the comment smacks of “she was wearing a short skirt, she was asking for it” logic. It worries me that people can think this way of each other; that they can justify the awful things they do and say by painting the other person to be guilty of some imagined crime, like being too pretty or ripping up a poster or writing “shocking” tweets. When she states that “But the bullying doesn’t affect her. In fact, she thrives on it.” I can only assume that Sydney’s failure to break down publicly is another of these invisible crimes. If she was really upset she’d tweet about it. She’d cry and shout and stamp. Maybe she’d commit suicide.
Again, Sydney’s online reaction is a reason to criticise her: “In my eyes, (even though I acknowledge the fact that she is a very young girl) she is also aa (sic) twisted human being. What state of mind do you have to be in to adore abuse that you receive?” Who could adore the kind of abuse Sydney’s received? Let’s not forget that this “very young girl”, as acknowledged in this comment, has been called a whore, a slag and a c*nt. She’s been threatened with physical violence and even death. She had so many mentions on Twitter she couldn’t even read the support from her friends without having to wade through thousands of disgusting messages. Now, those tweets are the ones I find shocking.
Sydney doesn’t adore the abuse she receives. She sent me a couple of tweets thanking me for writing the entry and telling me how important it was that this was recognised because cyberbullying is a big deal. She did ask me to edit it slightly as I had been told that she’d tweeted that she didn’t want to live like this anymore and that wasn’t true. She said that she tries to hold her head up and not let anyone see that it bothers her. She tries not to let it bother her. Could you manage that? I know I couldn’t.
I didn’t get much abuse from Beliebers or Directioners, but what I did get upset me. Yes, it upset me because they had clearly missed the message, but it also upset me to think that they thought it was okay to send me such hateful messages because they felt as though I’d got involved in something that wasn’t “any of my business”. Nothing upset me more than this comment though.
Saying that Sydney “indirectly ASKS for teenagers to vilify her, attack her and slander her.”is clearly admitting that Sydney doesn’t ask for this. There is no “indirectly” except in the analysis of someone who has already made a judgement. I’m sure she “does silly, over the top, dramatic things” but I would like to meet a teenager who doesn’t. That she does them “so people talk smack about her” is a ridiculous assumption. The person writing this comment doesn’t know Sydney, remember. This is all based on what they think of her tweets: inane babble between teenage girls on a social networking site. NOBODY “asks” to be bullied.
The writer clearly thinks she has the expertise to judge Sydney’s behaviour as she has been a victim of cyberbullying herself, but how she thinks she has the right to decide that “she is not scarred or emotionally upset by any of the online ‘attacks’. She LOVES them.” is beyond me. She has the nerve to say that “I find this utterly bizarre and strange.” without the slightest hint of irony. Being a victim of cyberbullying doesn’t give you the power to decide who else is worthy of calling themselves a victim. It doesn’t give you the right to say that someone else deserves it, asks for it, thrives off it or craves it. You don’t get to join in the bullying because you don’t perceive that person’s experience as being as bad as your own. You should learn from what happened to you and show the same compassion to others that you would have liked to be shown yourself.
Closing with “she wanted this abuse in the first place. And that disturbs me much, much more than those fangirls.” is clearly designed to be a moving and strong conclusion to a well-structured argument. Well, it is moving. It moved me to write this reply.
When I sat down to write Twenty-First Century Bullying on Monday I wasn’t simply defending a teenage girl who had been thrust into the limelight by people who inexplicably wanted her dead. Yes, it upset me that Sydney Dalton was being vilified by complete strangers, and yes that is what inspired me to write the piece. But the point of the piece wasn’t just that I wanted people to leave Sydney alone. The point was that we all need to think about the way we talk to and about everyone online. We sit behind our computer screens and we tweet along to the X Factor, forgetting that Cher Lloyd or Little Mix or even Simon Cowell are real people who don’t deserve to read the things we write about them.
Sydney has every right to a Twitter account, and to Tumblr and YouTube and Facebook accounts. She has every right to put photos of herself meeting Justin Bieber or videos of herself with One Direction in the public domain. She has every right to post tweets that other people might find “shocking”. And she has the right to do all of these things without being subjected to the kind of abuse we’ve seen this week.
One ‘Directioner’ I spoke to on Twitter was keen to express her opinions on Sydney. I asked her how she would feel if she found out later that Sydney had committed suicide, as has been the case with other victims of cyberbullying. She told me that she wouldn’t care because Sydney would have deserved it. I honestly thought this was bravado, but that was before I came across a case in which a teenage girl had killed herself after being subjected to bullying on Facebook. After her death the abuse continued on a memorial page set up in her honour. People she had known and who had contributed to her desperation were continuing to post disgusting messages about her and bragging that they were glad they had had an impact. That wasn’t the only such case.
Maybe the comments I’ve received about my post shouldn’t upset or surprise me, but they still do. I set out to encourage other people to think about cyberbullying and to ask them to educate their children so that we could foster a culture of tolerance and acceptance. That the message was either missed or ignored is a huge shame, because it will take all of us to make the internet a better and safer place.
Not just for Sydney Dalton, but for all of us.
The original comment in its entirety:
I am not a tween girl, nor am I a ‘Belieber’ or ‘Directioner’. But Sydney Dalton is not just an innocent teenager that moved on from liking Justin Bieber like you perceive her to be.
In reality, she writes pathetically disgusting tweets about herself and her life. You would be shocked if you read them. She’s a child and she writes things that you would only expect to hear in a rated 18 + movie. I know that teenagers these days are immature that way, but it’s just despicable. There’s no excuse for it.
Those tweets have disappeared into Twitter oblivion after she received abuse for it.
But the bullying doesn’t affect her. In fact, she thrives on it. In my eyes, (even though I acknowledge the fact that she is a very young girl) she is also aa twisted human being. What state of mind do you have to be in to adore abuse that you receive? When I was cyberbullied, it was traumatic and I couldn’t sleep a wink for weeks. Yet she CRAVES the attention she gets from it. She does silly, over the top, dramatic things so people talk smack about her. She gathers up the insults they hurl at her as if they are kisses blown in her direction. She indirectly ASKS for teenagers to vilify her, attack her and slander her.
The fact that you wrote this article does not soothe her non existent ‘wounds’. She is not scarred or emotionally upset by any of the online ‘attacks’. She LOVES them. And I find this utterly bizarre and strange. She needs to check herself in with a psychiatrist. You’re just piling on the attention for her and she is enveloping it, not embracing it. She thirsts for it like a starved hound. She doesn’t embrace it because she has no choice. The fact is – she wanted this abuse in the first place.
And that disturbs me much, much more than those fangirls.