Adults not immune from cyberbullying

MARIETTA – Teens and tweens are not the only ones flinging harsh words from behind a keyboard.

A quick glance at online forums, Facebook pages and chat rooms will quickly show that adults also take to the Internet to vent personal frustrations, gossip and bicker with one another.

“I think online bullying is just one example of keyboard bravery,” said Dr. Ryan May, clinical psychologist and chair of the psychology department at Marietta College.

Where most people would not name call or threaten another person to his or her face, the online world is rife with examples of both, said May.

On the site, which allows users to post topics and comment on articles relevant to their area, users in the Marietta forums can often be found harassing one another.

“Get off the bath salt high already, you stoner,” wrote one user in response to another who disagreed with Ohio’s decision to ban bath salts.

In another comment section, one user posted a photograph of a woman along with an explicitly worded message that she was promiscuous.

Often a heated issue will be the impetus for a negative exchange of words.

On a Facebook page dedicated to the discussion of issues relating to the Warren Local school district, one commenter alleged that a Board of Education member had a problem with understanding words.

“Maybe he should go to the Sylvan Learning Center,” the commenter quipped.

“A lot of these online comments are done with user names, not real names. Things can be said and you don’t even know who’s doing it to you,” pointed out May.

When the comments section of a Yahoo news article about Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio turned to speculation about Rubio’s future bid for the presidency, one commenter posted, “Only an idiot tool would vote for him!”

In return, a commenter whose screen name is simply a period called the initial commenter “a racist idiot.”

Marietta resident James Winch, 45, has seen just how serious adults can get online.

“A lot of people scream and yell and fight with each other online. They call each other names. It’s an everyday thing,” said Winch of adults he sees interacting online.

Those comments can get especially vicious during multiple player Internet games, he said.

He plays one game with thousands of individuals around the world, where players can type to one another in the “comms,” a sort of chat room within the game play, said Winch.

People curse at one another and make crude comments about each other’s family members, he said.

But Winch has even been seriously threatened.

“People ask where you live and say they are going to come beat you up,” he said.

Part of the problem could be that some bullying tendencies carry over from childhood, pointed out Maggie Webster, school counselor for Fort Frye Local Schools and a trainer for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

“There is a developmental trajectory. It seems to be that children who bully, if there is little intervention, will transfer that bullying later on in life to other relationships,” explained Webster.

People who bully are hungry for power and control, said Webster.

“That’s what bullying is, having power over somebody else,” she said.

Some, like Winch, can just shrug off the aggressors.

“I think they’re just cry babies. You’re on a screen and you’re a thousand miles away, so you can talk all you want,” he said.

But other adults do not have such an easy time separating themselves from the negativity.

Recently, Canadian tennis pro Rebecca Marino announced she was retiring from professional tennis, citing depression coupled with the stress of online harassment.

Marino, who was once ranked 38th in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings, told reporters she’d received tweets that she should “go die” and “go burn in hell.”

“Social media has also taken its toll on me,” 22-year-old Marino told reporters.

Those kind of comments cross the legal line, said Capt. Jeff Waite of the Marietta Police Department.

“Threats is the threshold. You can’t do that in person. You can’t do that online either,” he said.

And online tyrants can get into trouble even when they are not directly threatening anyone. Several cases have arisen where employees have been fired for negative comments made online.

In a highly publicized event in 2010, former Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell was fired for comments he posted in his blog, attacking the former University of Michigan student body president for his “radical homosexual agenda.”

Shirvell appealed his dismissal with the state’s Civil Service Commission and lost.

Oftentimes, online commenters are blindly impassioned about the topic at hand, but sometimes people are simply looking to stir up trouble.

These people are called trolls, said Bob Van Camp, an associate professor of computer science at Marietta College.

“It’s really like a regular troll from fairy tales. It is someone who lurks online and posts inflammatory remarks,” explained Van Camp.

These trolls will often have multiple accounts and do not necessarily even believe in what they post, he said.

Adults who want to avoid the negativity of adult bullying can make simple adjustments to avoid it, said May.

“I think that sometimes we have a tendency to react too quickly to hit the send button,” he said.

Instead users can simply block negative posters or ignore them, he said.

That is the approach that Marietta resident Asher Doak, 32, takes.

Comments on YouTube videos and other online forums often feature posters who curse at one another, make comments about each other’s intelligence and just generally name-call, he said.

“Most of those people don’t even know how to spell. If you’re going to get on somebody’s case, at least learn how to spell,” he said.