Internet users as a percentage of a country’s population

McClelland & Stewart (Canada’s iconic publisher) has just published a book on “cyberbullying” by journalist and lawyer Paula Todd: Extreme Mean: Trolls, Bullies and Predators Online :

This isn’t the playground teasing and name-calling of generations before the Internet. This new abuse’s unique characteristics – anonymity, permanence, and viral audience – can relentlessly exacerbate the humiliation, pain, and danger of its victims.

Many people, of course, think that the solution is for governments to police the Internet. Maybe readers will criticize me for this position, but stop the express, I want to get off.

Two things only: George W. Bush once said (2003)“We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, Government has got to move.” But why? When did it become government’s job to heal all the hurts in the world, and how are civil servants qualified for the position?

Second, being a small person, I have some experience with trolls, bullies, and predators. So my antenna went up when I heard dismissive terms like “playground teasing and name-calling” to describe what used to happen before the Internet was even an idea. I don’t recall life then as much of a playground, but never mind.

Or “relentlessly exacerbate the humiliation, pain, and danger”?: That just does not sound right. The sociopath lying in wait in the ravine in 1958 was a far more immediate and obvious danger than some troll blogging filth from a domain name in France in 2014. Because the Internet is only a threat if you choose to take it seriously. Note: The sociopath was eventually removed by the Mounties but you could not in the meantime choose whether you wanted to take him seriously.

Maybe we should rethink the problems before we rush to legislate (it is so easy to mean well and make things worse).

Young people who spend far too much time on the Internet for their own good take it more seriously than they should. They willingly expose themselves to people they don’t know and never will. People who may even turn out to be on a list of persons not legally allowed to enter their country(!). Kids can be harmed or damaged by spite from troubled people the kids will never hear from again if they just stop listening. People who may not even turn out to exist.

And what about discovering that one’s own kid is the “evil moron” who has been writing the abuse? In short, rather than demand that the government “help,” why not work to restore civility? In all cases of doubt, stop following. Disconnect the account. Get off the page. Don’t respond.

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...