There’s been a lot of talk about “mean girls” and bullying lately. The terrible suicide of a 12-year-old Florida girl, who jumped off a tower after being tormented by schoolmates, is just the latest in a series of incidents that have people questioning whether young girls — and for that matter, young boys — are just getting meaner.
Some of the prevailing wisdom is that the internet, and social media, have contributed to the relentless bullying. The notion is that what used to be one-on-one bullying can quickly become a much wider form of inflicting humiliation. Rather than just mortifying someone on the school bus or in the gym class locker, the thinking goes, social media allows the bullies to broadcast and heighten their taunts and attempts to shame and ridicule to the point where the object of the bullying feels that death is their only escape. The youthful targets doesn’t quite realize that their teenage years will pass, that the school year embarrassments will fade into distant memories, and that the jerk who is torturing them doesn’t represent what lies ahead.
I think social media is a big part of the problem — but also for a different reason. It’s harder to be mean to someone to their face. When you are posting something insulting or humiliating about someone on Facebook, you’re typing something into a computer. When you’re texting a mean picture, you’re thumbing a message into a smartphone. It’s all an abstraction, where the power trip can be taken without directly experiencing the reaction. You don’t see the hurt that your words or actions inflict; instead, you just get a few LOLs from the sycophantic friends in your clique.
I’m convinced that only truly evil people would be capable of tormenting someone, in person, to the point of suicide. If I’m wrong about that, and we actually are raising a generation of kids so malevolent and disconnected from human decency that they don’t care about the consequences of their mean-spirited actions, then we’ve got much bigger problems as a society.