When does social media bitching become bullying?

This week I have mostly been reading Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In it he tells the story of PR woman Justine Sacco who got crucified on Twitter after making a joke that was decided by the Twitter lynch mob to be racist, even though it was actually a comment against “a dire situation that does exist in post-apartheid South Africa“. As well as losing her job over the misinterpretation and vilification she received on Twitter, she became hounded by the press and stories were spread about her that were not true.

Bitching online can be fun, but we should be better than that

Now, as I am such a sweet, compassionate and kind person (this is ironic by the way, before you start tweeting about how self-deluded I am), I wouldn’t dream of joining a bitch-fest on social media. It is easy and great fun to have a go about anyone, and some targets, seem to be asking for it, hell, they even seem to revel in it – please step forward Katie Hopkins. But one of the reasons why I have deleted Facebook from my phone is because I found that the bitching some of my friends did about celebrities, from MPs to celebrity plastic surgery victims, made me feel uncomfortable. Because of the obvious pleasure everyone got from throwing stones at people they thought deserved it. Public floggings are just not for me.

Now, talking to my friends one to one, I am a right cow (no irony here, I can be an awful bitch). But taking it into a social arena and getting everyone to join in reminds me of bullying at school. I don’t want to think of my friends as bullies, so Facebook had to go. Bitching in a small group, on the other hand, is a force for the social good. It reminds you what social behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

When it comes to spreading the hate, PR people know only too well how quickly a reputation can be damaged on social media, and how hard it is to stamp out Twitter fires once they begin. So surely it is inexcusable for media-savvy people such as us to name and shame others on social sites? It is up to us to set a good example. If you have nothing good to say, please keep it to yourself – although I would be delighted to meet up with you and hear it face to face!