This is a tough one. It’s personal and I’m a bit fired up, so apologies in advance if this gets a little strident.
This morning, around 6.45 my seven year old son George was getting changed for his sports camp when he quietly told me he was being bullied at the school holiday sports camp. He sat on my knees and told me that a couple of boys had been teasing him and saying how they hated the Sydney Swans, his favourite team. They pushed him around and tripped his sister over while they were playing soccer. He wasn’t overly upset, it was me who felt more gutted; I guess it’s what every parent fears. You’re told about it but you really don’t know how to respond. I asked if the camp staff had been told. “Yep” he responded. “I’m not really that worried about it dad” he told me – but I still felt sick. “Who do they go for?” I asked him as if this was going to reveal all. Well it did, sort of. “Collingwood”. “Of course”.
Predictably I rolled my eyes but I felt really confused and conflicted – do I want him to dob, to fight, to run, to speak up, to cower? I had no idea.
So I went for a walk and still couldn’t quite figure out what to do. Every parent must face this dilemma. There’s no text book. And then I got home. I walked up the hallway and the kids had my answer for me.
Both of them. Sitting there having breakfast, head to toe in their Swans gear. They hadn’t worn Swans gear all week, there was no reason to wear it today and when I asked them both why, they just shrugged as kids do and said they just felt like it.
They had stood up and said “we are proud and we won’t cower and we are together”. I know it sounds all too bloody sentimental but I hugged them and told them how proud I was. They didn’t have a clue what I was on about.
But then I got to thinking about an issue that has been bubbling under the surface of the media and marketing industries for a couple of years that needs to be addressed. And today is the day. A couple of people have said their piece but not enough serious action has taken place.
I’m talking about anonymous postings and comments on websites and blogs where people harass, bully and potentially defame people through a veil of internet-enabled anonymity.
It’s disgusting. It’s bullying and it has to be stopped. And the industry in which I work – media and marketing, is one of the worst culprits. And it really angers me.
The culture on the fringes of the media and marketing industries to shit on each other is hideous and embarrassing, and honestly bizarre – what has led to this culture I do not know. Yesterday I spoke with two separate groups of graduates hoping to make their way in our industry and I felt compelled to apologise for this type of behaviour that they must see each day.
We want good, decent, brave, adventurous, curious minds in this industry – we don’t want people cowering in a corner fearing that if they stuff up they will be publically humiliated on an industry website.
The fact is that the enablers – the websites and newsletters themselves, have to be called to account and made to realise that their laissez-faire attitude to the people making comments on their articles, is perpetuating behaviour that ought never be encouraged.
They have the opportunity to cut off the oxygen of these people and despite their protestations to the contrary, they choose not to because I can only assume that they like the attention and the hits.
Well that’s just not good enough. So now I’m going to speak my mind about one of the main culprits, mUmBRELLA, as one of its friends, not foes.
For those not aware, mUmBRELLA is a widely read website and daily newsletter that covers all the activities of the media and marketing industries. It is well written and produced by decent people with solid knowledge, contacts and journalistic style. They are not bad people at all; in fact a couple are friends. mUmBRELLA, on the whole, serves our industry well. It has given a voice to all levels of the industry, it has given us a place to gather and chat and it has organised many fine events where I have spoken and engaged. mUmBRELLA and its people have been really good to me and my business and even awarded us their inaugural PR Agency of the Year. So I like them, I’m NOT embittered and I have no grudge to bear. I am just frustrated, angry and fed-up. The good work they do is being diminished by their inaction on this important issue.
Put simply, on the issue of anonymous posting and online bullying, they ARE being negligent and they HAVE to do better.
As Chair of the Public Relations Council, I can tell you that our members are appalled by the way mUmBRELLA (and admittedly a few other sites) allow trolls and serial abusers to post comments that are just plain mean. There is no defence of public interest and we have been told by lawyers that all it will take is one victim to “have a go” at them, legally speaking, to realise, the hard way, that it has to stop. They will be caught out and held liable for the comments on their site. That’s just the law, and they should know that.
But it shouldn’t take that. Sites like mUmBRELLA should take a stand because they are leaders and because bullying, whether in the playground or online is despicable and should never be tolerated.
And we, the silent majority, need to do what we can from our end. Every single one of us must take a stand, I’m not sure exactly how, but for starters surely we ought to say we are fed up, we aren’t willing to take it anymore. We will not give the trolls and the bullies the time of day.
Then, of course, we have to start to work on effective ways to reduce its occurrence. It might not be easy but we have to give it a real shot. Twitter is being effectively coerced into more responsible behaviour and all other media should be treated similarly.
As we walked out to the car this morning I looked at his kit and said to George; “Are you sure?” And he just nodded. Nothing needed to be said. The innocent child knew the right thing to do. It’s time we grown-ups followed his lead. It’s time we all pulled on our Swans jerseys and stood tall.
For more info: www.stopbullying.gov