Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Standing tall the answer to bullies

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Teuila Blakely. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Teuila Blakely. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

Stand up to bullies. They hammered that into us at school. If you were the victim, stand up. If you saw it happening, stand up. Never allow it to continue unchecked.

And yet sometime in the 15-or-so years since I left school that advice has changed. Now we tell kids to ignore the bullying and pretend it isn't happening. Kids, if you're reading this, ignore that nonsense.

It's not every day you hear advice to be more like a former Shortland Street star but I reckon it might just do us all a little good to follow Teuila Blakely's example and go back to standing up to bullies.

For a couple of years now, Blakely has suffered varying degrees of internet trolling. It started when someone posted online an intimate video of her with Warriors player Konrad Hurrell. Since then, the trolling has always been there, buzzing at a low blowfly hum you can almost ignore.

Then, it hit a new level of crazy last week. After bumping into Hurrell at the airport, Blakely posted a picture of the pair of them on her Facebook page. By the time she had jumped off her flight in Sydney, the hatred was going off like shotguns at a Midwest party.

The experts say Blakely should have ignored the hateful vibrating of her phone every time someone mouthed off about her.

This is Netsafe's advice: "If you don't engage the bully, they often lose interest and stop harassing you".

Blakely did the opposite.

She posted a video telling the trolls what a great time she was having in Sydney and that she gave roughly zero cares about the haters (this is a heavily censored interpretation of her comments). Then, when the trolling continued, she posted glamorous picture after glamorous picture after glamorous video in response, throwing all the sass she could at them.

Don't tell me Blakely's courage didn't pay off.

Fewer strangers felt entitled to graffiti their opinions all over her social media page. Supporters are sending online love to her.

There are kids all over this country being bullied on their Facebook pages. They're suffering it without anyone knowing until - like a 12-year-old earlier this year - they take their own lives in anguish.

It is estimated four in 10 kids are bullied online. Last year, 10 children between 10 and 14 committed suicide. The advice isn't working.

Of course, it shouldn't be up to these kids to always have to stand up for themselves. The rest of us should intervene on their behalf.

If we click on someone's Facebook photo and read a nasty message posted beneath it, we should have the courage and the conviction to post a comment back saying "that's not okay and naff off".

And trust me, as someone who occasionally finds online gems like "Heather, you're a disfigured tramp" it is lovely to have others stand up for you. But to intervene, sometimes we need to know the victim needs help. So I think we should employ the online version of my proudest anti-bullying moment from high school.

A skinny boy used to pick on me. It felt like, day after day, he'd say horrible things and I'd feel upset.

Then one day, I'd had enough. I slammed my hands on my desk, stood up and challenged him to a fist fight. At that point, everyone knew I needed help, and if it happened again, someone would have told him to put a lid on it. Like a good Hollywood ending, the kid was so embarrassed he never bullied me again. That's what Blakely has done. That's what kids should do.

Pity those who lose civility online.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan is a thirty-something trying very hard to avoid growing up. So far it’s working, except for the husband, the mortgage and the proper job. She lives between Auckland and Wellington. When she’s not writing for the Herald on Sunday, she co-hosts TV3’s 7pm current affairs programme Story.

Read more by Heather du Plessis-Allan

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