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June, 2012

Dangers of Facebook – think they’ll never happen to you? Think again.

A rather unpleasant thing happened to me on Facebook this week. The first time, it’s happened.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love social media and for me, a journalist and writer, the pros far, far outweigh the cons. If you use a little common sense of course. I must stress that this still holds true.

However, one should always remember that what you post on Facebook or any other similar site can have consequences.  There is an etiquette to what you do and getting it wrong and cause hurt, suspicion, fear and anger.

And it can happen to anyone…

How do you use Facebook? I tend to use it for friends and acquaintances where I feel I’ve established enough of a rapport for them to see a little more of my personality. The non-business, other side of my character. So if you are a Facebook friend with me, we will generally have had some contact at some point.

This week, a close friend both on and off line, put up a comment about a celebrity in the news. I responded to that comment with my personal take. It wasn’t all that positive to be fair. Suddenly a third person butted in, refuting my comment. I assumed she was a friend of my friend. She had nothing to do with me. I disagreed with what she said – just that, I said ‘I disagree’.

Another friend joined the conversation outlining why he admired this celebrity rather more than I did. I responded to him and he liked my comment. In this comment I said referred to a family member going through a hard time being more deserving of my admiration. This stranger then made a very disparaging comment about my family member. Her words were ‘why are we weeping in our hankies over a widow with three children’.

I responded saying what she had said was horrible, I was not aware that she knew any of us in the conversation and that  I would be asking my friend who posted the original comment to block her. And I did do that.

She responded slagging me off personally (she doesn’t know me nor I her). At that point I knew there was no point in carrying on with this person as I would never win. She was enjoying the venom, relishing the toxic nature of our exchange. So I then shut down the conversation by saying her comments were noted.  Believe me, that’s my way of saying two words – “…k off”.

I was quickly able to find out how she could be part of the conversation and through which mutual acquaintance, who did not hesitate in blocking her. Apparently she was elderly with problems and alone. Did I feel sorry for her? Not in the least. I felt that she had shown no compassion.

Later I must admit I raised a sly smile when another person joined that conversation (a true friend) telling her to go away  – with those immortal words ‘…k off!’

What lesson can we learn from this? For me, it’s about realising earlier when someone is just not ‘right’, their comments just don’t fit, are over the top from someone who doesn’t know you – and it’s best to exit such a conversation as soon as possible. It’s surprising how angry you can get even remotely through a computer.

For us generally, engaging in such a way on FB or any other site has consequences. For this woman,  lonely or not, she’s been blocked from two of her friends and possibly others who saw sight of the conversation. If you feel you want to rant about something or someone then do it quietly,  privately, even in the old fashioned way of writing it down – but don’t put it on line.

You know the old saying ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at  all’ – that’s so true for social media. And remember what you do say can come back to bite you in unexpected ways. So you’ve been warned!

Welcome to the school which has no bullies! (Really?)

Today I felt a flash of anger – as the issue of bullying came up in the news yet again. For us in the west, there’s a very sad news story about a young girl who died from hanging in Somerset.

Her parents have spoken at the inquest of bullying at school, being teased because of her weight, an eating disorder….the poor girl’s experiences now held up for public scrutiny. A terrible, terrible time for her parents. There’s that sense of needing, wanting to blame…but a verdict has yet to be reached, the inquest is still going on.

However, inquests are so important as they can throw up issues which enter the public domain for discussion and debate even if we should bear in mind the human costs involved. Bullying and its effect will surely be a theme with this story.

Today the head teacher of the school where this girl was a pupil gave evidence. I was not there at the inquest, so I’m taking information from the item I saw and heard on the local news bulletin. This head teacher apparently said that there was no bullying at school, the girls who were identified as teasing their fellow pupil about her weight, had denied it. The bulletin said it was simply a ‘clash of personalities’.

Is your child being bullied?

It’s this kind of tepid, ridiculous response which makes me seethe. It’s the kind of line I’ve heard more than once. It’s an adult casting his judgement on what a so-called ‘clash of personalities’ can do to a child. An adult has to understand that what he/she might see as ‘banter’ or ‘childish pranks’ or  ‘pettiness’ , may be having a more profound effect on the victim of it. It’s no different than the dynamics of a workplace. Sometimes friendly banter from one person may be extremely offensive to someone else. How that person feels about that ‘friendly banter’ really matters.

While I don’t wish for one moment to suggest that my experiences are on a par with this terrible tragedy – it serves to highlight a point. Over the years, I’ve been the subject of ‘friendly banter’ and it’s been fine, I give as I much as I get. But on the odd occasion that friendly banter has crossed the line of what I think is acceptable. And that’s the key  – WHAT I THINK IS ACCEPTABLE. So I have had to ensure that the person knows that a line has been crossed.

Transfer this experience to a child. To me, if a child feels bullied and gives off all the signs that they are feeling victimised – surely a head teacher cannot dismiss this as a ‘clash of personalities’ or ‘pettiness’. And claiming that there’s no bullying worries me – where’s the school which truly has no bullying? and which way does a child turn if he/she feels no one is listening and nothing is going to change. At best it’s something they’ll never forget, at worst – well…..

Another thing which bothers me is that if parents are continually fed lines like this, they interpret it as it’s their child which is the problem and will often move schools. Therefore it can be the case that it’s the victim who pays – and not the bully. I often wonder when this happens, if the bullies who got away with it have gone on in later life to display similar behaviour.

Let’s be frank about this. Schools need to get to grips with bullying and deal with it more intelligently. Don’t pretend it’s not a problem, or it’s two people clashing where one is as responsible as another. Look at each case critically and apportion blame where it lies. Children need justice too.

When you left school, how did you feel? Share your experience.

My stepdaughter is a few days away from finishing school, A levels completed. It’s a time that she, and many like her, have been waiting for – that moment when you are free and able to take charge of your own destiny.

Or is it? Looking back, I wonder just how much it’s ‘the world’s your oyster’ or is it really ‘I’m all at sea”? It’s easy to think what a wonderful time this is – but for those young people who don’t have a clear plan of where they are going, it’s a scary time.

Before you know it - she's 18.....

Suddenly you are an adult, almost overnight. You are expected to take a certain path – is it university? is it college? is it a job?  Which way do you go? And how much time do you have to get there? Some young people are expected to immediately start earning in order to pay their way. But right now, it’s not that easy. Our young people communicate in a totally different way to us – so picking up the phone to push yourself, or going in to personally hand in a CV is something which scares them. E-mail is great, but it keeps those experiences, those rejections at arms’ length.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing – but today, it’s a hard, hard thing. This is especially true if you are not driven in any particular direction. Passion for a certain profession comes through so strongly and can be infectious but if you don’t know what you want to do – how can you be passionate?

For me, there was never any question of not going into higher education – even though no one else in my family had ever done it. Indeed my Gran thought I was mad to continue ‘studying at school’. For her it was all about getting a job, getting married and having children. That was a woman’s path and any woman who didn’t follow that path was slightly odd.

When I was 16, my father made me go out and get a Saturday job. He said I needed to earn my own money. I remember him putting pressure on me, I have no memory of finding said job or how that came about. But I worked in the Littlewoods store in Southgate, Bath in the small food hall. My monthly earnings came to about £23 – and I felt so rich.

When I finished school, I floundered horribly – I had a steady boyfriend who worked and didn’t get the whole education thing – students were a drain on taxpayers. No surprise we didn’t last the distance.

In fact I didn’t do well enough to get to university to study my beloved English literature, but I did get on to a course in a college of higher education. It was a wonderful period of my life and I’ve never regretted it. I worked every summer holiday so that I could pay off debts and save some cash. Somehow my life bounced along. I wanted to train to be a teacher. Little did I know that would not be the case.

As I look at my beautiful step-daughter and see her juggling her options, I understand how she feels and I haven’t got the heart to tell her that grand plans at her age generally go completely to pieces.

I haven’t got the heart to tell her that life is like that, you make a plan and something comes along to mix things up unexpectedly.

I suppose the lesson is that, the crossroads before her is the start of a scary  adventure – one of many – and that’s okay.

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