Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wow. Just. Wow.

First something I just happened to find over at JMBzine:

Wired.com: Cyberbullying Suicide Stokes the Internet Fury Machine

Crazy, crazy. What is even more nuts to me is to see Lori Drew (the mother behind the cyberbullying case who posted the notorious myspace profile), created another blog to attack the neighbor girl AFTER the child had committed suicide called MeganHadItComing.

I try not be hateful, but I think agree with the Wired.com folks. If the law won’t prosecute these folks, then maybe social shunning does make sense. I don’t know what the answer is, but it seems insane that these folks can get away with this.

On the other hand, the Wired.com story also points out the folly of cyberjustice and how quickly it can go awry. I don’t think anyone (except for nutjobs) think that death threats and bricks thrown though windows are a good idea.

I decided to follow some of the links to see where they led to, and I have to say that Jim's comments (above) and the folks at Wired.com seem reasonably sensible. I honestly do not know how I would have reacted had I been one of Megan's parents - feelings of rage toward the perp accompanying the mourning process would probably be most likely. I do know that just simply letting bygones be bygones would not be an option, and most certainly would be making a lot of noise around the community just to make sure that Lori Drew felt at least a modicum of the discomfort her victim had experienced. Shunning I think would seem reasonable under the circumstances. It would be perfectly understandable if Lori Drew no longer found herself welcome at neighborhood gatherings, PTA meetings, local businesses (and of course that potential customers of any business she is involved with take their business elsewhere), etc., as she's proven herself to be a poor community member who could apparently with impunity choose to harm other children in the future. Heck, other types of child predators get shunned all the time. Seems fair enough. It's safe to say that since I learned about the story (first via my wife), I find Lori Drew's actions to be just plain creepy. Given her subsequent behavior since her initial presence on Myspace, it's clear that she has, to put it diplomatically, issues. That she seems hell-bent on resorting to victim blame to clear her conscience is deplorable. If she were in my neighborhood, I wouldn't, in good conscience, give her the time of day.

The vigilante behavior is not something I would endorse, though. When anonymous and semi-anonymous people feel it appropriate to engage in threatening behavior, then they cross a line that really should not be crossed. That said, it can be readily explainable, in much the same way that Lori Drew's initial behavior was explainable: diffusion of responsibility. Just as torturers can and often do mask their identities via uniforms and dark sunglasses, on the internet, individuals can create cyberfictions that make them seem at least to themselves less accountable than they would be in ordinary interpersonal encounters. Mrs. Drew was able to create a fictitious character with which to prey on a child unbeknown to that child. In a sense it wasn't "Lori Drew" who was tormenting Megan but "Josh." Similarly, we know that in dealing with mob behavior, individual identity and accountability is lost, leading to more extreme behaviors than individuals acting in isolation would have ordinarily engaged in. This again is especially true in cyberspace, in which individuals can hide behind screen names, their own identities at least partially shielded. Folks will make threats or advocate threatening behavior that they would never otherwise have done if actually required to face their target. There is a sense that what "I" do is "not me." One can then play on that ambiguity that these cyber-encounters create to deny responsibility for their actions. We'll call it the cyber equivalent to Bad Faith.

I think it wouldn't hurt, and might actually help if computer users would place a mirror right beside their computer monitors, so that they would still see a reflection of themselves periodically. There is actually some experimental evidence available to suggest that merely the sight of one's reflection in a mirror can reduce aggressive and antisocial behaviors. Perhaps this is something to think about applying to those of us who use computers as well. Maybe the realization that it is "I" who am about to engage in a particular internet exchange rather than the cyberfiction would discourage some of the nastiness we see on a regular basis on message boards, blogs, Myspace, etc.

In the meantime, it strikes me as a wise idea for parents to think more than twice before letting their kids loose on Myspace, or any of these other social networking sites. My wife and I have been talking about this for a long time, now that one of our kids is close to adolescence, and have decided that erring on the side of caution would be well advised.

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