Social networking sites are supposed to be a place for friends to connect and chat, right? That’s what I thought until I was the victim of aggression that spilled over from Facebook into real life.
One day, I was harmlessly joking around with a friend on Facebook. We were commenting back and forth on his status when all of a sudden, one of his friends—we’ll call her Sara—rudely stuck her nose into our conversation.
For some reason I still don’t know, she immediately began insulting me. For instance, she said that I shouldn’t have been born because my father was too busy having sex with other men. She didn’t even know me or my father; how could she make that kind of accusation?
I was angered by her senseless attacks. But instead of stooping to her level, I simply called her out: “I don’t even know you. Why are you acting immature and insulting someone you don’t know?!” I might’ve used the word “insane,” but that was only to point out how irrational she was acting.
It was no use trying to reason with her, so eventually I dropped it and walked away from the computer. When I later asked our mutual Facebook friend about Sara, he said she was crazy and always looking to start a fight. In the moment, I was disgusted and taken aback at how some people thrive off senseless drama.
It was my first encounter with online aggression. I wasn’t blind to stories on the news about cyberbullying, but I’d never heard of anything like this happening to anyone I knew, and I found it confusing. Why would this complete stranger come out of nowhere and, totally unprovoked, start insulting me? It seemed she was doing it purely for her own entertainment. I guessed she enjoyed instigating conflict from the safe distance the Internet allows.
From Virtual to Surreal
I was wrong about that last part. A couple of months later, I was at a friend’s party. As I was about to leave, I saw a girl I recognized from her profile picture as Sara. She obviously recognized me too, because she lunged at me.
The situation felt surreal. What had been a virtual-world dispute was now landing at my feet, literally, in the physical world. I was shocked at what happened next.
Sara started wrestling with me, as I tried to keep her off me and prevent the situation from escalating. For two minutes we were going around the room in circles, holding each other’s hair with death grips while she tried to kick and punch me.
Someone stepped between us. She was still pulling my hair, bending me at an angle toward her. Then, I felt a blunt force against my eye, and everything went white.
She released me, and I leaned against the wall to catch my breath. When I regained my vision, I noticed blood on my hand. I lifted up my head and saw a blurry room full of people waiting to see more violence. Clearly, this was like a dramatic reality show to them. One person was even videotaping it.
Feeling immense pain, I hurried to the bathroom to look in the mirror. There was a gash on the corner of my eye next to my nose, and the whole right side of my face was already starting to swell and bruise. I could hear Sara in the other room boasting about her vicious kick to my face. When she saw me, she pointed and laughed.
Disgusted with everyone in that room, I left immediately. The next day, my mom decided it was best to go to the hospital since my face was badly bruised and swollen. It was a good thing we did, since X-rays showed I had four facial fractures and several scratches on my eye.
What happened to me points to one serious danger of cyberdrama. Yes, online bullying can be bad enough in itself, pushing people to depression and other psychological problems. But we should also be aware of the risk that a virtual confrontation will escalate into a real-life situation, maybe even a life-threatening one.
It seems as if interactions on the Internet bring out the most immature and vicious elements in people like Sara, who are probably prone to anger and violence in the first place. I believe that such people have been bullied or abused themselves and feel a need to make others share their pain. But the Internet, by letting them hide behind a profile or a username while launching virtual attacks, may embolden them to lash out in physical ways, too. The Internet seems like an ideal place for bullying tendencies to intensify.
Online communication can intensify other unpleasant tendencies, too. Humans have always had an instinct to look at violent acts, so I wasn’t surprised when the 30 or so people at that party were glued to the fight between Sara and me. It did, however, sicken me that someone had the audacity to record it on their phone, and that the video found its way to Facebook, where many others would view it.
The world of reality TV shows has made people quick to view conflict as pure entertainment. When you combine that with the ability we now have to record things easily with our phones and post them to a large online audience, you have a giant step downhill for our society. The urge to turn everything into visual entertainment desensitizes people and makes them less likely to feel sympathy.
It also blinds them to the fact that when it happens in your own life, it’s no longer entertaining. In fact, it is downright frightening and perilous, as I discovered when I was singled out and assaulted.