I love Instagram. I think it’s one of the greatest social media platforms out there…it took me a while to get into it but it’s now a bit addicting for me and I love scrolling through all the photos in the morning with my cup of tea. (If I find Instagram addicting, can you imagine how I’d be with Pokemon Go? It may be a good thing that when I’m walking I have the dog in one hand and the stroller in the other – no room for a phone.)
I rarely read comments on large social media accounts but I was caught by surprise when the Star Wars account posted a photo of some female fans cosplaying recently and I happened to read one of the comments. The comment was not friendly so I decided to go into the comments and read more. Maybe I’m naïve but I was surprised at how much bullying was going on in the comments.
I want to copy and paste the comments here, but then everyone will know what picture it was referring to and I’d rather not go there.
Instead, what I did was begin to scout the internet for photos of people labeled “geeks” or “nerds” and read comments where it was allowed to see what people were saying.
In one of my more popular posts, I discussed bullying and how there has been talk about how geeks/nerds are now “cool” or that since Star Wars is popular once more, being labeled as a geek or nerd is not as derogatory as it once was.
I’ve now come to realize that though there may be less bullying (if that’s even true; I’m skeptical on what the media says) IRL, the bullying has transferred to online – specifically through social media.
And why not?
It’s so easy to bully someone via the internet. Bullying in person means you are owning up to what you are doing and it takes a certain amount of guts. It means that you might get caught and chastised in person. Online allows all the people who may not bully in person, bully behind a screen and think they will never get caught. Sure, some people may be caught, but it also allows people thousands of miles away to comment on someone they do not know or never plan on meeting.
What I’ve found from reading comments on photos online is that passionate fans are still labeled a geek or nerd but that seems to be the least of the bullying. I wanted to break it down more concisely. (PLEASE keep in mind this just from my experience, not any kind of scientific analysis. Also – Mr. R. says I’m overgeneralizing but based on the comments I’ve looked at over the past few weeks, I don’t think I am.)
First, let’s start with the term “geek” or “nerd”. It can be used affectionately and I often use it proudly, but it connotes something different and is usually in reference to someone who is passionate about something that is not mainstream.
When a social media bullies uses that term, I feel like that is the first level of bullying and often the least egregious. I’ve then noticed that it’s broken up very differently between men and women.
If there was a man cosplaying or photos of him at a convention, there were very few comments on his appearance unless the internet trolls thought he was overweight. And what constituted overweight seemed vastly different between men and women. If the man in the photo was overweight, then he got labeled “fat” and sometimes there were comments on how he probably lived alone in his mother’s basement playing video games. (That image has got to go. Seriously. Plenty of men play videogames and do not live in a basement but have high paying jobs and their own place.)
But when you compare it to photos of women, the women have three levels of labels underneath the umbrella term of geek or nerd.
It seems like women cannot be only labeled as a geek or nerd. The trolls have to go one step further and give them another label. I found that either a woman is a “hot” geek, an “ugly” geek, or a “fat” geek/nerd. Sometimes fat and ugly are used at the same time.
All three of those labels are an indication of their looks, as opposed to the men who only had one reference to their looks and one for their lifestyle.
I can’t speak for men obviously since I am not a man, but I will say that as a woman, our society puts a lot of pressure on us to obtain this Western notion of “beauty” – i.e. thin, large breasts, no wrinkles, etc. We cosplay in what we hope is a judgement-free zone and when people take photos of us, we hope that if it ends up online, the comments are on our outfits, not our looks. (I do want to point out that there are definitely comments out there on the outfits, but unfortunately, a lot center around looks as well.)
We can’t control what other people say about us online…especially on open social media platforms like facebook, twitter, or Instagram. What we CAN control is teaching our children about cyber bullying. I feel like as a society, we are still playing catch-up, in some ways, to the Internet. Only in the past 5 or 6 years has cyber bullying begun to be brought to the forefront of our attention as social media has become more of a norm in our society.
You might think that this is extra sensitive to me all of a sudden because I just had a child. Not so. When I was at Mount Holyoke, located in the sleepy town of South Hadley, a girl at the local high school committed suicide due to cyber bullying. It brought back my years in middle school and how I was tormented for loving Star Wars and I wondered what it would have been like if social media was as rampant as it is today. I think it would have been worse. Much worse.
I’m frustrated at what I’m seeing online, especially as more and more attention has been brought to bullying in schools and how there has been a decrease of it. However, cyber bullying still seems to happen more to females than males. The last place I want it to happen is on a Star Wars social media account. (In all fairness – starwars.com has been doing an amazing job with showcasing all kinds of different cosplay on shapes and figures of all sexes. The problem is with the trolls, not LFL or Disney.)
By starting early, when our children are under our care, I think this would help prevent bullying in adults. Is it so hard to put rules around your children’s social media accounts? I look at ARM and I think about social media and the rules that will be placed in our household revolving around it. I know a family where the dad allowed social media, but insisted he have the password to all his 14 year old daughters accounts. When she changed it once and refused to tell him her password, he took away her phone and shut down the internet at the house. Is it so hard to be strict nowadays and monitor your children? Combating any form of bullying should not just be left up to the school but should start at home.
I will be monitoring ARM’s use of social media as well. I hope and pray that she is never one to bully others online and I intend to educate her very early about bullying. But on top of that, I hope I raise her to be a confident woman, so much so that if she is ever bullied, she knows that she is better than any comment on an internet page.