Dec 19, 2012

Spotted: CyberBullying

Paul Doyle | Contributing Writer

Since their inception, I have hitherto ignored comments made in poor taste about people on ‘Spotted’ Facebook pages. Although not very pleasant, frankly, I wasn’t bothered. I must however vocalize my discontent in the wake of being threatened by whoever runs the ‘Spotted: In Coppers’, and ‘Spotted: Dublin Bus’ pages.

After highlighting that a particularly vicious post made about a young girl amounted to cyberbullying and indeed telling the pages administrators exactly how I felt about them, the page they are running, and indeed the contemptible nature of bullying, I was informed that I should watch what I was saying, because this brave anonymous group are ‘‘closer to you than you think’’, I was also told that ‘‘you obviously have no friends or life, actually we’ve looked into it. You don’t’’.


For the past number of weeks, newspaper headlines have been telling us horrendous tales of young teens taking their own lives as a result of the distress caused by online bullying – this is becoming a serious national issue. We are faced with the question, ‘why are these kids doing this?’. If we look at the behaviour of many university students, the generation above them, it’s easy to come to a conclusion; they’re learning it from adults. The anonymity of the internet has enabled a kind of flippant vitriol, throwaway malevolence that we would dare not say in person but are free to utilize behind the subterfuge of online.

A screenshot of a conversation between the writer and an administrator of the ‘Spotted: On Dublin Bus’ Facebook page.

A beautiful thing about university, and indeed university life, is supposed to be that one is free from the threat of bullying, judgement and condemnation present in primary and secondary school. Generally people feel more comfortable in their own skin once they reach college, and many previous victims of bullying and intimidation begin to flourish; people can join student societies, meet others with similar interests, actively take part in many aspects of the running of the college, join sports teams, and so on. Innumerable possibilities are present with regard to taking part and socializing. These are all of course banal platitudes told to first years during opening lectures, and you may be inclined to roll your eyes when reminded of them. However, it’s worth noting that we take them for granted, it doesn’t occur to us that bullying and intimidation can happen in the context of our supposedly socially benign university. This is what is most insidious about cyberbullying, we ‘adults’ operate on the default assumption that bullying is not a thing that needs to be worried about anymore – tacitly enabling people to engage in it. Children, in all of their attempts to be mature, inevitably adopt this point of view too. It’s never bullying – it’s only a bit of craic. Where else do you think they could have picked it up from? In the past number of weeks; ‘Spotted’ pages have reminded us of the puerile and unpleasant nature of a pastime we thought left in the past.

The sinister undertones present on these pages are difficult to miss for those of us that are looking. Among the harmless ‘Hey good looking; I’ll ride ya’-esqe posts, are the mean-spirited and malicious. Beginning as a playful way of procrastinating during study for university students, in less than one week, Facebook pages in which people shared amusing anecdotal stories have metamorphosed into forums for anonymous bragging about unnecessary cruelty to others on nights out, and making derogatory comments about people that have no way to respond – well, that escalated quickly. One particularly harsh comment, which was eventually deleted, read something like,

To the girl in the green dress the other night, everyone could see the balloons down your top #flattest chest ever’.

These kinds of insults about someone’s appearance on a night out are utterly vile. It may also be worth mentioning that perhaps some students studying in the library don’t particularly wish to be lecherously stared at, or have to worry about descriptions of how they are sexually alluring (or not) to a complete stranger posted online when studying for exams.

“To the med student dressed as an orange high-lighter on the second floor. Sort out your shit.”

The standard student night out is now confronted with the hazard of anonymous commentary with regard to how one looks and behaves on any given occasion. Your weight, height, hair, and indeed any aspect of your appearance that you may be anxious or self conscious about is now subject to being posted online for a cheap laugh.

No one is saying that these pages should be taken down, and when they began they were just a bit of harmless fun. But as more and more ‘Spotted’ pages emerge, it’s becoming apparent that if nothing harmless is available to be said; those looking for a laugh will resort to all kinds of derogatory comments. ‘Spotted in the Library’, ‘Spotted in the gym’, ‘Spotted on the bus’ – If you asked most students, I’d imagine that they don’t particularly embrace the idea that if they’re looking worse for wear in public, they run the risk of being sniggered at on some online forum. The fact that those posting are looking for ‘likes’ is a textbook demonstration of the ingratiating and pathetic nature of bullies – if you see a particularly mean post, don’t approve, inform everyone of how disgusting you think it is.

I was assured “We’re not here to “bully” people, we are only here to post up things sent in by others” – Don’t you realize that by running this kind of page, and allowing these mean things to be said that you are actively participating in the ridicule?

I’m not for moment suggesting that you should ‘unlike’ these pages, boycott them, or any such nonsense, who am I to do so? Please though, watch what you say, because contrary to what we ‘grown-ups’ have come to believe; words can really hurt. But what do I know, I ‘clearly have no friends or life’.


Anyone affected by cyberbulling should contact the TCDSU Welfare Officer at [email protected].

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