I’ve learnt a lesson about online behaviour recently. I read a blog post on an education issue written by a mum concerned about an incident at her child’s school. I will not provide a link to this post as I don’t want to inflame this issue any more but I do want to discuss the responses to it. The post attracted a number of negative and judgemental responses from people who did not know the school or the facts of the case. It was hugely worrying to read such negative reactions being directed towards someone and I felt incredibly uncomfortable reading it. I did wonder if people felt that in order to support the blogger that they had to make negative comments about the individual(s) concerned. I also wondered whether once this negativity started it just built up as everyone else followed suit. It is the sort of behaviour that I sometimes see on FB where discussions can end up emotional and lacking any sort of balance.
I have no issue with people supporting one another; this is one of the great benefits of the online world where people can support one another through difficult situations. However, I do think people need to consider their views more carefully before criticising a nameless person online. Negativity breeds negativity and when such comments build up it is tantamount to bullying in my opinion. I appreciate that that was probably not the intention of many of the commenters but when mass criticism builds up then unfortunately that is how it appears. We all need to remember that behind cases like this are people with feelings and children with feelings. How would we feel if we and our children were discussed like this online? How would we feel if we didn’t have the opportunity to defend ourselves or explain our position? Not everyone has access to the online world.
Claire Louise raises a very important point in her post when she said it reminded her of being at the school gate and I have to say I agree with her. In my experience the school gate is a hive of gossip based on rumour and speculation. It reminded me of the time when a number of parents had been gossiping about my son behind my back. I didn’t realise we were the subject of gossip until a parent dared to challenge me and say to my face that my son did not have autism! I took the opportunity to explain my son’s autism though I resented being forced to defend my son’s disability like this! (You can read more about this incident here.) Not surprisingly I have not spoken to her again; in fact I don’t talk to anyone from school anymore. Many of them don’t care if a vulnerable child or their parents become the objects of idle gossip.
It saddens me a lot when people behave like this whether it is at the school gate or online. Gossip when based on rumour is damaging and has the power to really hurt the people at the centre of these discussions. I appreciate it is easy for all of us to be drawn into these conversations but we need to think carefully before we judge other people, particularly when we do not know all the facts. We also need to think about what message we are sending to our children? Do we want our children to copy our behaviour in the playground and online? I don’t. I want children to learn to respect one another regardless of who they are and where they come from. So it makes sense that if our children are to learn respect for one another then we must behave in an appropriate way as well.