Today I read about a small - even a little - matter which arose yesterday as an indirect result of the rather famous Justin Bieber visiting Vancouver on his concert tour. Whether we will still be discussing the merits of his impact upon the music industry in a couple of years is irrelevant (NO, by the way) because it is the actions of one of his fans which has stirred up a hornet's nest of reaction.
Perhaps I should use the term 'rat's nest' because the matter has brought to light some pretty ugly and unpleasant human behaviour. Let me set the scene;
Not very long ago a professional Ice Hockey player who had until a short time before played for the local Vancouver team, committed suicide. It was a tragedy, as are all instances when a young person feels that life has nothing positive in store for them to the extent that they end their existence. At the time there was a local outpouring of sympathy and visible (if a little disproportionate at times) grief over this young sportsman's untimely death. The story was carried for several days on the TV with diminishing detail until, within a week, it was all but forgotten by the media.
It seems now, however, that die-hard local hockey fans had at the time begun an impromptu and informal memorial to the player in question - it would appear to be a series of messages attached to or written upon one small part of the exterior fabric of the hockey arena. From photographs I have seen, it looked rather scruffy and certainly did not have an air of a monument - but it meant something to the people who left their messages upon it. Since then it would seem to have fallen quietly into gentle decay.
Yesterday, however, a young girl seems to have angered the hockey gods. Photographs of the monument have illustrated a message scrawled across the faded piece of concrete - a message not to the fallen hockey hero, but to young Mr. Bieber himself. Gasp! Sacrilege! The online reaction has been instant and ferocious. Because the young girl made the mistake of signing her full name, it seems that she has been hunted down and attacked online for her cardinal 'sin'.
How brave these knights of the internet must feel. It is a feature of the internet which frankly appalls me - the apparent sense of entitlement to bully others which some people seem to possess. In this case, some people posting on facebook and other sites have encouraged the young girl to kill herself over this really rather meaningless mistake. Since we know of highly publicized instances where vulnerable kids have done exactly this as a result of online bullying, I believe that this kind of vitriol passes beyond disgusting and becomes criminal.
The internet seems to have created an arena for two groups of bullies:
- A tiny minority of pathological individuals who prey upon the vulnerable and who would be prepared to enact threats of violence, and;
- A vast majority of keyboard warriors who, from the safety of their homes seem to feel empowered to frighten, bully and demean others just for the fun of it. they haunt social media sites and pages waiting to unleash their feeble intellects upon anyone they identify as vulnerable.
With no audience, with no gang of supporters behind them, these internet bullies are nothing - they are pathetic excuses for human beings who shout their vile, disgusting abuse and hide behind their anonymity. It is high time that such behaviour is recognized for what it is - an assault - and more frequently investigated by the authorities. Unless this kind of thing is managed, I fear that society's rules will become more and more elastic, stretching to the point where acceptable behaviour is defined by what the bullies can get away with and leaving vulnerable people with little choice but to be alone with their fears. We risk losing almost everything by allowing behaviour like this to go unpunished. It may already be too late.