This month a couple of writers quit because of online bullying. I don’t want to re-hash all that – I’m sure Google will oblige you if you don’t already know. What I want to comment on is the people criticising these writers for their decision.

Most of that criticism has been in the vein of ‘If you can’t take criticism, you’re in the wrong business’.

I want to be clear – criticism of their work is not why these writers quit.

Criticism of the work is part and parcel of the job. When we talk about bullying, we are not talking about impersonal criticism of the person’s work, but of them as a person, unrelated to their work. We are talking about harassment, death threats, personal insults against one and one’s family, and online stalking. One of the attacks stated that the writer shouldn’t be breathing. I’ve seen attacks that stated a writer deserved to be raped. I’ve heard of attacks levelled against a writer’s young child.

And this is not limited to self-published writers. Other incidents of cyber-bullying include:

  • BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler quit writing for Bioware in 2013 because of online death threats against her and her children;
  • Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian received rape threats because of her Tropes v. Women video series;
  • Rebecca Marino quit tennis in 2013 after tweets saying she should ‘burn in hell’ and ‘just die’ contributed to the depression that robbed her of any happiness in the sport.
  • Bullying on Goodreads against authors (and even against fans of authors) is well-known. Dare to contradict the bullies (even by asking an innocent question) and you could be subject to threats of assault, rape, or death.

Yes, we can say that people in the public image have to expect they may be a target. Yes, we can say they shouldn’t let it get to them, and yes, maybe there is an element of truth in that.

But wait – aren’t we tacitly condoning the bullying behaviour by advising people how to deal with the bullying rather than taking a stance against bullying all together? This is not borderline behaviour – we are talking about extreme attacks that are obviously wrong to any right-thinking individual. There’s no shades of grey when telling someone they deserve to be raped.

You can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. You can go through the same experiences. But you can’t go through those experiences as if you were them. We are all our own people, and two people in the same circumstances may not deal with that situation the same way. Not one of us can understand the anguish of another’s soul.

So I’m not going to tell someone to just ignore it, that they made the wrong decision. It’s very easy to tell someone what they ought to do when you don’t have to wake up in the morning and deal with the outcome of that decision. It’s easy to be brash when it’s not your life. 

Maybe this is a win for the bullies. But at what point does it become more important to consider one’s own health, one’s personal relationships, one’s marriage, one’s children, instead of a scoreboard?

There is a known online bullying problem. There is a known offline bullying problem. If you look up bullying statistics, you’ll see a horrifying number of people have been bullied or have seen it happen. Our children are learning this behaviour from somewhere, and sadly it’s from the adults who engage in it, who condone it, or dismiss it.

We have a problem. Stop denying it, and start doing something about it.

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