Tired of cyberbullies

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The community of Morinville was rocked by tragedy this past weekend when a two-year-old girl drowned in the town’s storm-water lake.

Our thoughts go out to the family during this unimaginable time of suffering.

There was a time when incidents such as these brought communities together, binding them to a common cause of helping their neighbours in need. While we know the family is already receiving an outpouring of support from neighbours and friends, some of that goodwill has already been overshadowed by the Internet’s callousness.

As soon as the story hit the news and before a lot of information became available, the keyboard warriors began their emotionally disconnected typing. Armed with no more than the lack of conscience the Internet seems to offer, some thought it appropriate to cast blame on the family, while having little to no factual information.

For those of us who grew up before the Internet was so widely used or perhaps was no more than a line from a science fiction novel, people had to account for what they said. For the most part, before technology gave cowards a safe place to vent, many of today’s cyber trolls would have had to show some testicular fortitude and look a person in the eye to spew their hate and ignorance. Otherwise they had to be satisfied to mutter to themselves from the safety of their basements because they lacked the courage required to account for their words.

The Internet’s effect of provoking these types of reactions from people is so pervasive that psychologists have given the trend a name. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, a peer reviewed journal, published an article in 2004 about the phenomenon now known as the online disinhibition effect. While noting it can manifest in benign and even positive ways, it also has its destructive and toxic side. Even when interactions are not anonymous, the dissociative nature of online interactions can erode one’s normal sense of boundaries.

We have all seen it. People making racist comments they would never dream of saying in public, others who make physical threats and even those who mock the deaths of others’ loved ones.

Gone is the time when people had to face the consequences of their verbal stupidity. No longer do they have to see the pain they cause, risk a verbal backlash that is far more impactful in person than a typed rant on social media, or, in severe situations, risk a physical altercation.

The Internet has created a global community, one that is far more impersonal than what small-town Alberta is known for. It is unfortunate that some people who join that community choose to use it to be a negative influence instead of a positive one.

Maybe next time there is a story online about a family’s personal tragedy, people can try exercising some compassion and empathy. Maybe they can even offer some support instead of kicking a family when it is at its lowest. We all face personal loss at some point and when we do we seek support from family and friends. Hurtful and childish comments plastered online during our time of grief serve to help no one.

There is an old saying that states you are the most yourself when you think no one is looking. Hopefully, the way you act in those moments is something you can be proud of.

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St. Albert Gazette

The St. Albert Gazette has been the source for news and community information in St. Albert and area since 1961. Today the twice-weekly full-colour tabloid delivers award-winning journalism in print, online and on mobile.