Rosemary McLeod: Net gives cowardly malice free rein

By Rosemary McLeod

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Charlotte Dawson should have known that you can't challenge bullies and succeed.
Charlotte Dawson should have known that you can't challenge bullies and succeed.

It's a hard fact to swallow, but swallow you must: some people won't like you. I mean, really really won't like you - and never will.

Incredible as it seems (we are all nice, surely) these people are prepared to be as nasty as they can get away with, which is a good reason not to read about yourself on the internet, engage in chatrooms and Twitter, or for that matter, read your hate mail. That way lies madness.

It's not arrogance that drives my belief, but experience of life. Once you have a public profile, people mistake you for public property that can be tagged and vandalised, like town halls and railway stations. They want you to wear their unkindness like an indelible scribble on a bus stop, and to pee on your paintwork.

Charlotte Dawson should have known that you can't challenge bullies and succeed; that's a myth. Bullies are like shooting range targets at fun fairs: You think you've shot them down, but they bounce right back up again.

You can't change their nature, or your own, so self-protection is the best course.

Legendary editor Frank Haden used to say people who write letters to the editor all live in boarding houses and have nothing to do on wet Sundays, and the same applies to hate-mongers like those who shot Dawson down on Twitter.

The big difference is that letter writers have to have commitment.

They have to bother to find a stamp and envelope, or email a letter in a given format, providing personal details, while on the internet malice is instant.

Your flippant nastiness can strike without a name and address for possible repercussions to reach you, which is why cowards prosper there.

I didn't know Charlotte Dawson, but I saw the strangely disturbing documentary about finding her birth mother.

A loving adoptive family wasn't going to be enough to save this fragile person from self-doubt and depression, you could tell.

Was she talented? I don't know. Attractive as she was, Dawson had fat from her bottom injected into her face and the inevitable boob job.

That amounts to self-mutilation by surgeon. Few people look perfect, but surely we know we're more than our random genetic allotment of face and breasts, and that it's the brain, which nobody sees, that determines what we really are.

The internet has broken down many barriers, including cruelty and malice. A virtual society has grown up in which people believe they know people they've never met, and normal social constraints don't apply. This gives malice free rein, with no fear of repercussions.

Social media? I don't think so. What happens there suddenly makes censorship make sense.

Surely the saddest comment on Dawson's death came from a friend who said: "When ... she hadn't tweeted in a day, it was clear something was wrong." That made her sound like a canary whose trill would be heard no more, as if the cat got it. The internet isn't the only place where people's sensitivity is heightened.

It's not new for Green Party co-leader Russel Norman to show carnivorous fangs, then, but it's surprising that he wounded Conservative Party leader Colin Craig by saying Craig thought a woman's place was in the kitchen, and a gay man's in the closet.

Eh? I'd have thought a Conservative would call that high praise, but Craig threatened a libel suit, and then belatedly seemed to realise legal actions cost heaps of money.

Those who engage lawyers over mild remarks live in a different world from the rough-and-tumble of cyberspace, let alone Planet Real.

We who survived the schoolroom know it's a mistake to let an attacker know how much they hurt you; it gives them too much satisfaction.

So all in all, Craig looked like a Wally, or perhaps a Richard, after last week's exchange, and Norman looked like a Sylvester who'd downed Tweetie Pie in one gulp.

- Northern Advocate

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