A problem once associated mainly with school playgrounds often follows people into adulthood, and the anonymity of the Internet has aided its proliferation. People have been shamed for being overweight, underweight, too conservative, too revealing, too young, too old, too plastic or too real.
Bullying and harassment are very real problems not only for children, but also for countless adults — as evidenced by Playboy playmate Dani Mathers’ recent Snapchat post of a nude 70-something woman who had a reasonable expectation of privacy in a locker room shower.
“If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either,” Mathers commented with her post of the victim’s photo.
The Los Angeles Police Department has asked the victim to identify herself and aid in its criminal investigation of the incident — but who could blame her if she doesn’t?
Before It Had a Name
Back in 2006, before body shaming had a name, author Sue Scheff won a landmark case for Internet defamation and invasion of privacy. That victory ultimately gave Scheff a platform to advocate for those have been “silently and quietly suffering,” she said.
Body shaming and other forms of online abuse are destroying lives emotionally, physically and financially.
“What people don’t recognize is that although we speak a lot about what it does to our youth, we are failing to understand how it affects adults,” Scheff told TechNewsWorld. “The saddest part is that it’s also adults that are acting like children with their keypads.”
“The feeling of hopelessness is overwhelming, as well as the fear. Fear takes over and can literally paralyze you so that you can become ill,” Scheff said. “It’s truly a vicious cycle. Cyberbullying, stalking, virtual threats are real — I’ve been there.”
There now are more avenues for victims to seek out help than there were 10 years ago, including organizations such as the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, Heart Mob and the SOS Online Network.
Therapists now are now recognizing the emotional damage these attacks can inflict on adults, but that wasn’t always the case.
During a 2007 interview on national TV, Scheff was advised to “just move on from it,” she recalled.
“She obviously didn’t understand this cybertrash was floating online every time someone put my name through the Google rinse cycle,” Scheff said. “It literally made me a social hermit. I feared giving my name out for years! That anxiety of someone googling my name was paralyzing.”
The Internet and Social Shaming
Even when data has been deleted from the Web, it takes just one person who has preserved the information offline to revive it and spread it like a viral contagion.
European regulators have tasked Google with accommodating citizens’ “right to be forgotten.” What’s posted on the Internet may stay on the Internet, but links that constantly surface humiliating information don’t have to.
The Internet is a tool, and whether it’s used to build or destroy is up to the persons who wield it, according to April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert.
“When used for evil, the Internet is very dangerous,” she told TechNewsWorld. “Teens, as well as adults, have committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying.”
There’s no easy way to suppress body shaming and other forms of abuse, Masini conceded, especially when considering the protections of the First Amendment and the double-edged sword of anonymity. Without it, whistle-blowers would be unable to make the revelations that so often are required to bring about positive change.
Teach Your Children Well
Instead of looking to change the Internet, people should work to improve their own behavior, suggested motivational speaker Mel Jones, and a great place to start is with the youngest among us.
“The only way to stomp out online abuse it to build up the kids’ self-esteem in school so that they don’t reflect their own insecurities about themselves on others,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Also, we must teach the kids empathy. It’s hard to understand how you’re making someone else feel if you’ve never had somebody do it to you.”