Definition of Terms

As I was stewing this morning in the steam room, I thought of something. Or rather, something came to me. Or was revealed to me. Or whatever.

I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to say to a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds when I teach a class on writing for the web and social media. One of the things I want to talk about is internet predators, and how to be as safe as you can be with social media platforms like effbook and myspace and all that crap. I also want to talk about “internet bullying”. And that got me thinking about the term ‘bullying’.

The term itself bothers me. The ‘anti-bullying’ campaign bothers me. And I’ve been trying to figure out why it bugs me so much. I believe I’ve had a breakthrough.

Because “bullying” isn’t bullying. The term itself is vague. We could define someone telling us they don’t like the colour of our socks, one time, as ‘bullying’. We could apply the term to the kind of camaraderie teasing that we do to one another. And I don’t think that’s what we mean to say. I think what we’re trying to get across is, rather, this:

What we are talking about, when we’re talking about “bullying” is harassment. It’s assault. It’s stalking. I don’t like that the term “bullying” has been applied to, to be honest, pretty much everything.

If my child is attacked on the playground or in the street outside my home or at the park, it is assault. Yes, there are criminal code connotations that need to be considered once we start using a word like ‘assault’. But let’s look at the other side of this. Is “bullying” a term used in the criminal code? If not, why not? If so, what is its definition? To me, a physical attack is an assault. So that’s what I’m going to call it. And, in fact, when my child *was* attacked on the schoolgrounds, I contacted the school and told them that he was assaulted. Not that he was bullied. He was assaulted. If someone lays hands on you, they have assaulted you.

Similarly, ‘harassment’ is behaviour intended to upset or to harm or to disturb. It is offensive behaviour that is *intended* to be offensive or upsetting. If someone covers your locker with sticky notes that say “faggot”, that’s harassment. If someone posts something cruel or intentionally disturbing, or trolls your effbook page, that’s harassment.

I guess I just want you to call things what they are. Harassment and assault can be insidious. They can be secret and subtle. Aggressors who harass and assault should be charged with harassment and assault. Whether they’re nine, seventeen, or forty two. It shouldn’t matter whether the behaviour takes place online, via email, texts, or telephone, or whether it happens, as the kids say, IRL.

Now, I don’t know all the legal ramifications of all of this. But I just think it’s important to use precise language, and ‘bullying’ isn’t precise. Anyway. That, I think, is a big part of my pissiness about the whole ‘bullying’ thing.

And yes, I was completely naked in the steam room.

cenobyte
cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.

9 Comments

  1. First, hooray for naked cenobyte!

    Second, I find this an interesting conversation and I think that people need to have it. It has become that anyone who just doesn’t want to deal with something is calling the behaviour of their peers “bullying”. And it has gone too far.

    I think this is why we can’t seem to deal with the crux of the problem. There are Very Serious goings on that are being called bullying and there are women who get one critical letter about their weight and call that bullying. I think that where we have come to as a culture is a place where we have labelled certain behaviours bullying so we don’t have to deal with them. It is like it takes the seriousness away from what is going on. In this way, we can ignore it, since it isn’t something that is “illegal” per se. I feel that the minor issues that amount to “he hurt my feelings once” really diminish the more serious problems and allow us to brush it off. Especially when it pertains to kids.

    I was harassed. Every day. For 12 years. My parents did get the police involved. However, there really wasn’t a lot they did short of calling a meeting of the parents who grounded their children who, in turn, went right back to harassing me in a more intense manner than before.

    We have to keep in mind that it hasn’t been that long that harassment laws have been in place. Or even some assault laws. It has only been in my lifetime that domestic violence became criminal and we got anti-stalking and sexual harassment laws. We are still evolving as a culture and still determining what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. In the mean time, there is a movement in North America towards electing a political system that is going to take us backwards, take rights away from women and other minorities, which I can see spiralling into a place where harassment isn’t a crime anymore.

    I know I am mixing all of this up. I don’t have a very cohesive thought process. I guess what I am trying to say is that I agree. And that I do think that the police should be a part of cleaning this mess up because nothing would make me stand up and take notice quite like the police at my door. But I don’t know how realistic it is or how we can make this change and move towards something better.

  2. Two edged sword especially when legalities are involved. I don’t disagree with anything written, however “legal-ese” styled language can and does muddy things further. IMO, this is because of that small percentage of people who look for any loophole they can find to justify their behaviour.

    Start with something basic like a simplified golden rule. “Be nice to each other”

    For most people, this is a general term and should be easy to follow. But then you have the twit who says “well, what do you mean by be nice?”. So you respond, “well treat them kindly and they way you’d want to be treated”. But they need to know what THAT means, so you try to define it and the cycle continues. Worse yet, at some point, the twit then pokes at you with an oozing rubber clown pinata on a stick, simply because you didn’t specifically tell him that he couldn’t do that.

    http://www.uexpress.com/tellmeastory/index.html?uc_full_date=19991121

  3. Can’t help it, have to toss in the legal – technically what most people refer to as “bullying” would fall under the criminal definition of Criminal Harassment. That section reads:

    [blockquote]264 (1) No person shall, without lawful authority and knowing that another person is harassed or recklessly as to whether the other person is harassed, engage in conduct referred to in subsection (2) that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.

    Prohibited Conduct
    (2) The conduct mentioned in subsection (1) consists of
    (a) repeatedly following from place to place the other person or anyone known to them;
    [b](b) repeatedly communicating with, either directly or indirectly, the other person or anyone known to them;[/b]
    (c) besetting or watching the dwelling-house, or place where the other person, or anyone known to them, resides, works, carries on business or happens to be; or
    (d) engaging in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family.[/blockquote]

    Emphasis added as it relates to “cyber stalking” and similar nasty habits of idiots on social media. Most people have no idea that cyber bullying (or cyber assaults if you prefer) are criminal acts, and could land them in prison for up to ten years.

    Why doesn’t this happen?

    The problem is getting the courts to take it seriously enough. There is hope though – the courts have a tonne of guidance from the Supreme Court of Canada, when Madame Justice L’Heareux-Dubé noted that the notion of criminality is ever changing, and must change to reflect the changes in society… like the inclusion of email and Facebook, mobile phones, etc. most of which were not around (or at least were not prolific) when the law was passed in 1993.

    Of course, most of the offenders in this situation, at least for your purposes Ceno, have the additional protection of age. Anyone under twelve can’t be convicted of a crime – the law seems to think they don’t know right from wrong yet. And those between twelve and eighteen fall under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. With all that entails.

    1. I guess that hypertext (or whatever that is called) doesn’t work in comments. Dang. Tried to make it look all purty.

    2. Personally, I think the Young Offenders Act is the worst piece of legislation ever invented since the 19th century.

      You seriously can’t charge a minor with a crime? Like, if a kid beats the crap out of me or out of my kid, we can’t press charges? Because that’s fucking stupid.

      ANYWAY.

      I’m really glad you posted. I was hoping you’d clear up the legalese for me. You cock!

    1. I heard about this this morning and said the exact same thing. It’s a good thing I talked about this YESTERDAY at the school (I taught three classes on social media yesterday). Now I sound like a fucking GENIUS.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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