A blowout over a boy toy. Making fun of someone’s wacky outfit. Whispers between friends about the new kid on the block. It sounds like the latest struggles among the “cool” girls at school. But mean words like these are flying between adult women…on the Internet! Experts say anytime you are harassed, humiliated, or threatened online…it’s cyberbullying, regardless of how old you are.
Dr. Cheryl Dellasega, author of Mean Girls Grown Up, says this Internet finger-pointing may be even more common among adult women.
“It’s been shocking to me to hear some of the ways in which women communicate online. Message boards get shut down. Sites get shut down. People drop off of sites. And it really becomes like a war, a cyber war, because they can’t resolve it,” she said.
This bullying can take place through e-mail, social networking sites, even instant messages. Gina-Moore Sanders has experienced this war of words firsthand. A self-proclaimed Twitter addict, she also likes chatting it up on message boards.
“I get to meet a lot of different people with diverse opinions and I like to have conversations with them,” she said.
Recently, Gina posted a creative story online. Soon, cyberbullies began taking swings.
“They said expletives, profanity, that I was stupid and I was crazy. They said things like I needed to get a life. I don’t know what I’m talking about,” said Gina.
Gina was also bullied on Twitter after posting her thoughts on healthcare. Dr. Dellasega says the list of things cyberbullies pick on is endless.
“It could be about your work habits. It could be a romance. It could be your parenting practices. I got some e-mails from a parenting website where mothers really got into it over whether they were potty training their children too soon,” she said.
It can even be about family…or physical appearance. Romi Lassally says hot button issues are always hot topics on TruuConfessions.com, her anonymous online confession booth for women. While Lassally sees positive banter daily, she also sees women bear their claws.
“We probably see cyberbullying…maybe 1 in 10 confessions, maybe 2 in 10 comments. We want to encourage lively conversation, but anything that’s too judgmental, out and out nasty, anything that’s personal, we make sure those don’t go up,” said Lassally.
Lassally says that by moderating the TruuConfessions.com, she and her staff create a judgment free zone for women. She believes part of the reason adults attack is insecurity.
“I think the platform invites conversation, but it also invites different opinions. And if one woman’s doing it one way, that just might seem wrong to someone else,” she said.
Dr. Dellasega says it may also be a case of mean women growing into mean adults.
“I certainly have run across women that learned as middle schoolers or high schoolers that intimidation and manipulation and humiliation were ways to get what they wanted,” she said.
Anonymity also comes into play. Dr. Dellasega says that sitting behind the computer screen is like wearing a mask.
“If she had to think about really owning that and taking responsibility and saying it to someone’s face, I don’t think it would come out quite the same,” she said.
Gina Moore-Sanders says that even though she’s all grown up the words cut just as deep.
“It made me feel offended. And it hurt. A lot,” she said.
So…what can you do if someone is being downright dirty online? The answer is simple. Turn off the computer. If you feel the need to get verbal revenge on a bully, Dr. Dellasega says: stop and think.
“That’s probably the thing you should not do. They want you to fire back because then they can fire back at you and then you’ve got this whole drama going.”
Now, when words turn nasty, Gina chooses to walk away.
“You pick your battles. As an adult, you can do that. As a young person, it’s very hard to do that,” she said.