Perhaps it is only human nature to inflict suffering on anything that will endure suffering, whether by reason of its genuine humility, or indifference, or sheer helplessness. - Honoré de Balzac, Père Goriot
I have hesitated over whether to write this post for a couple of reasons; mainly because I don't want to be seen as jumping on the Charlotte Dawson bandwagon - I didn't know her, I didn't follow her, and I found it frustrating that she seemed to keep returning, almost like an addict, to the very environment which was seemingly destroying her.
However. This is about more than Charlotte Dawson. It is about everyday people, as well as 'celebrities' being affected; it may, after this post, be about me. It is about undercurrents of nastiness and the way the web is used as a weapon.
There have been some really big bullies in the online space of late. And they aren't necessarily trolls, or the usual suspects - those who find pleasure in other people's pain. In one instance, it has been a sporting club's own marketing department using social media in a way that is mindblowingly petty.
Recently, a SuperRugby franchise, which just happens to be based in Melbourne (yes, we all know it's the Rebels) - or rather their marketing team - put out advertisements with the hashtag #REBdemption, which has got to be one of the most awkward words of all time for a start. In it, they can Buddy Franklin for his move to the Swans and therefore his lack of loyalty to Victoria, whilst talking about putting the club first, playing for each other and winning more games (the dig at Franklin is in response to his friendship with, and public defence of, James O'Connor, who was dropped from the Rebels after off-field issues last year).
Don't get me wrong. O'Connor behaved like a twit. And Buddy Franklin... well, to be honest, I don't sit around thinking 'wow, who do I wish I could be'. But this is a case of using social media - and print media as well - to push a personal vendetta in the guise of 'we are all about the game'.
This is not the spirit of rugby union. Just as the way Charlotte Dawson was treated is not what I like to think Twitter is all about. It's certainly not the way the people I follow use it, nor the way I use it.
The level of malice - and malice aforethought - present online is disturbing. What is also disturbing is how little responsibility is being taken for it. Bullying is not seen as acceptable in the playground, the workplace, or in a normal social setting. So why is it OK on a computer screen? And what is scary as hell is that it is adults who are embracing it - and thus making it acceptable behaviour for children.
If you put an opinion out there, then yes, you are going to get opinions back. If you make a comment that is based in ignorance, then yes, again, you are going to get very strong comments back. But the vitriol is astonishing. And for me, to see a professional organisation resorting to a campaign which is basically a 'ner, ner, ner, ner, we'll show you, sitting on Bondi Beach, Mister Swan Smarty Pants' - what on earth has that got to do with playing a game of rugby? What value does that have in promoting the game, the players, or the good name of the club?
Some people may not see this as bullying. They may see it as harmless. But I don't. James O'Connor behaved like an immature little twit; but you know what? We all make mistakes. He has lost massive opportunities because of his behaviour. That ad has now dredged up his past, rather than just 'playfully' having a dig at Buddy, and saying 'we are Rebel'.
If that's not bullying, I don't know what is.
From the feedback I have seen on Twitter and other social media, it seems as though most Rebels fans agree that this is not an approach that is acceptable - which is heartening in the least. And I must state that I don't see this as something the players have endorsed either.
There is so much depression associated with being a tall poppy of any kind in Australia - and it seems to be particularly prevalent in the sporting arena, unsurprisingly given the pressure the public places on our golden children to win, win, win. One only has to look to Ian Thorpe. Or, to bring it back to rugby union, the funny, smart and determined Clyde Rathbone. He went through hell and came out the other side.
The thought of what online bullies could do to his hard-won confidence... I'll leave you with that thought.
And with, for myself, perhaps a little more compassion for people whom I have had little time for. And an even bigger determination to think before I reply online.
Maybe some marketing people might like to do that too.