Is It Cyber-bullying When “everyone’s doing it?”

BY Dr Tomi Oladepo||

When the NSCDC staffer flunked on giving us his institution’s correct web address on Channels TV, the Nigerian Internet as I like to call it, went berserk. Soon enough memes sprung up on every Instagram page, comedians published their parodies, and upcoming music talents and disc jockey’s put their creative energy to task with remixes. T-shirts were produced for sale, and a bank subliminally used the memorable one-finger-in-the-air signalling, “my oga at the top”, in a below-the-line ad on Twitter.

Another example is Nigeria’s former First Lady. Patience Jonathan’s spoken English skills have been the source of uncountable jokes online. Although something tells me the dame is made of the kind of stuff even Nigerian Internet will find tough to crack with mean comments, not everyone is Patience Jonathan. For every meme and every joke (with a human face), raw feelings are being bruised. The meme culture one might argue, is all fun and jokes, but there might be more to what it says about the society we are living in today.

Let’s take a peep into the international scene. Everyone called for the head of Cecil the Lion’s killer. I understand he was not able to go back to work after the incident of Cecil’s demise due to threats – threats that were no longer exclusively online, but was so real he felt his life was in danger. I do not justify or condone what he did, but I am calling attention to this supposed double standard we may gradually be getting comfy in when it comes to cyber-bullying – or is it not so?

Cyber-bullying primarily means sending messages (online) of a threatening and intimidating nature. Hence, a few of the examples I have mentioned above may hardly qualify as outright cyber-bullying, but mere “fun-and-games.” However, it is my position that there is a thin line between the two. The question is, where do we draw the line? I found some interesting reactions online as to whether the oga-at-the-top frenzy constitutes cyber-bullying or not. See Nairaland forum, Yemisi Ilesanmi’s blog, and a host of other platforms. I guess I should throw this open to you reading, at what point does an innocuous online communicative activity assume a cyber-bullying stance?

Monica Lewinsky gave a Ted Talk on The Price of Shame, recanting her life experience post-ClintonGate. I can only imagine what her lot would have been if we had Facebook & Twitter back then in the 90s. As a matter of fact, she is still not well past the hate comments. According to TED’s social media editor, “I have seen a lot of nasty comments… But none have ever been as bad as the comments we got when we published Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk.” Basically, every comment of ours that was once limited to the privacy of our living rooms are now broadcast on social media for all and sundry, and the human subjects of our comments now have “painful” access to them. Suffice to say that Google never forgets, so when the masses decide to make an example of someone, justifiably or simply for the fun of it, they are writing that person’s history on digital stone – an online reputation severely guttered beyond repair.

I guess what I am trying to do in this post is to challenge you (and I) to critically assess our online habits and ourselves. When you click the share button to content that is potentially bullying of the subject, ask yourself if you really have to – or if in your own little way, you can ensure the bulk stops with you. Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t make it right. Like Mahatma Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world”, it’s not too late to make impact and become more consciously aware of when one is crossing that thin line between fun and online bullying.


Image by Steve Jurvetson under creative commons licence

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