The word bullying is tossed around liberally now. The act of bullying receives far more attention and far greater scrutiny than it has in the past. What once was written off as kids being kids is now taken more seriously, which is a very positive change in how those in authority and with the power to effect change now deal with intimidation and mistreatment. Predictably, though, whenever any societal dilemma receives greater attention than it has in the past and becomes the topic of the day, week, or decade, the issue sometimes becomes a bit too popular in that individuals lay claim victimhood to it when doing so stretches the definition of the issue.
Bullying has been defined in many ways. Most definitions encompass essentially the idea that bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, aggressively dominate, or ostracize others. The inclusion of ostracize is not absolute here, as if the ostracism were to come about as the result of extreme bad-acting on the part of the one being ostracized, the term bullying would not apply. If the ostracism were due to the victim having funny clothing or hair, the term bullying would apply. It's subjective, it's not kind and gentle, but it is society's way of self-policing its members.
Classic bullying as most of us conceive it is has probably occurred since whatever time formal institutions for the purpose of education first were created if not before. The most characteristic examples of bullying most of us have either seen or experienced probably have occurred in schools. While such is not to say that bullying happens only at school or that children are the sole perpetrators or victims of bullying, the most cut and dried cases of bullying probably continue to happen among groups of youngsters. Bullies who are not stopped, though, don't necessarily outgrow the practice, and often continue their bullying ways in whatever settings they next find themselves. Hence, we have workplace bullying, PTA bullying, Kiwanis Club bullying, church bullying, and many forms of delightful social interactions in which people show their true colors and which are all very genuine bullying.
I won't go to the length of detailing what is or isn't bullying, as I'm not the final arbiter, and we wouldn't all necessarily agree on every specific instance anyway. Still, not everything that anyone -- adult or child -- describes as bullying is technically bullying. In discussion of bullying, caution should be exercised not to overuse the word bullying, because its overuse and overextension reduce the term's impact and devalue the meaning in cases where it is legitimately applied. Moreover, unjust designation of the term bully can itself, in some cases, be a itself form of bullying.
Bullying used to be largely an on-site activity. It happened most often where young people gathered -- most frequently at schools but sometimes in other places. A brazen bully might have called a victim's home to further the abuse, but the incidence and impact were limited. A parent might have answered the phone, and if the victim knew and told the parent the identity of the abusive caller, trouble might ensue for him or her. Then came computers, the Internet, and the advent of social media. Later still came cell phones with text-messaging capacity and Internet capacity, following most young people into the privacy of their own rooms even if they did not personally own computers. Harassment came through text-messaging and on such forums as Facebook, giving birth to Internet- or cyber-bullying.
This new form of bullying was especially devastating in that young people often had no escape from it, leading at times to depression and even to suicide.
While few of us would dispute the cataclysmic potential of cyber-bullying, like old-style bullying, the term cyber-bullying can potentially be over-extended or corrupted, lessening its power and taking away from those who genuinely suffer its effects.
For illustrative purposes, let us pretend that a group of students at the Jan Crouch School for Christian Girls, in an online forum to which most of the students had access, discussed the degree to which a particular classmate possessed ugly teeth. As "ugly teeth" is a subjective term, no one who weighed in with an opinion would be guilty of libel, and no one presumably expressed a threat or incited others to harm the schoolmate with ostensibly ugly teeth. Nonetheless, in the climate of the modern-day high school, this could, without over-extension, and despite the lack of force, threat, or coercion, be construed as a from of ostracism. The ostracism, which would not have been as a consequence of bad-acting, would thereby be unjustified (even if the student's teeth really were ugly), and would, therfore, be a case of bullying.
For illustrative purposes again, let us now consider that a group of Trinity Broadcasting Network viewers, on a forum frequented by viewers of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, discussed the degree to which Jan Crouch* (may she rest in peace) possessed ugly hair. This, as with "ugly teeth," would be in the eye of the beholder and, hence, non-actionable as libel. Would it be, however, outright bullying? The non-consensus answer I accept is no, it would not be not outright bullying. Indivduals who appear in the public eye (on television, in movies, or in whatever form) earn both money and public scrutiny. Both adulation and non-libelous criticism come with the territory. Is it kind and charitable for a person to bash the looks or anything else about a celebrity on public forums or other social media? Obviously it is not. Is a person inherently protected from the wrath of God or from the forces of karma for engaging in celebrity-bashing because of the bashed's celebrity status? If the wrath of God and forces of karma actually exist, no, the bashed's celebrity status would not proyect or exempt the individual or individuals who bashed him or her from the wrath of God or from the forces of karma. Bash at your own risk in relation to karmic forces or to the wrath of God.
What if the celebrity being criticized were a minor? Would it be it intrinsically wrong to criticize a kid in an Internet forum? The kid would have, in some fashion, profited or experienced financial gain through appearing in the public eye. On the other hand, unless a minor were emancipated, he or she could not unilaterally have made the decision to appear on a television program or in a movie. In a post at a forum entitled the Tempest, https://thetempest.co/2017/02/22/entertainment/cash-me-ousside-girl-has-a-name-its-danielle-and-we-are-cyberbullying-her/ blogger Aana Syed declared that it is cyberbullying to, as I did last night, criticize Danielle Bregoli, the recent guest on Dr. Phil who behaved in a wholly uncivilized manner both on the show and in other recent instances, and who has become a quasi-celebrity as a result of her misdeeds.
By way of concession -- because a minor cannot make the final decision as to whether or not to appear on Dr.Phil or any other tV program -- I would not disparage a minor's looks or physical appearance. It could be argued that a minor had control over whether or not he or she wore a particular hairstyle, clothing, or jewelry, but even those may have been decided by the minor's guardian or by the show's producer, and the minor may have had no say. On the other hand, if the minor appears on a program such as Dr. Phil and behaves as a complete ass, it is justifiable to criticize the minor for his or her behavior. Such criticism is a form of the self-policing function of society, without which we would have far more people in our midst who behave as complete asses. Criticism and ostracism are logical consequence for behaving as an ass. I believe Ms. Syed is cutting bad-acting minors far too much slack. I will continue to criticize minors in a non-libelous manner for their bad-acting as I see fit. It is not in the best interest of society for a minor to be protected from the logical consequences of his or her actions by simple virtue of status as a minor. Calling a spade a spade, even when said spade is a minor, does not constitutes cyber-bullying. Period.
* or perhaps Roger McDuff