Special Report: Keyboard Mafia

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — In many instances, a person’s freedom of expression often leads to heated exchanges online. We wanted to explore this dark side of social media and find out why that happens. We’ve learned the psychology behind a mean-spirited post has much deeper roots than someone simply having a bad day.

“It can be something addictive in the form of a behavioral addiction,” said Kate Nooner an associate professor and licensed clinical psychologist. “You really get used to doing it and needing to do that as part of your daily routine and part of your self esteem.”

The outlets to express yourself online continue to grow and provide us with new ways to connect and share with people all over the world. But with each new advancement comes both positive and negative outcomes.

“Any electronic method of communicating negative, harassing, threatening information is considered cyber bullying,” said Judy Stubblefield the behavior specialist and bullying prevention coordinator for New Hanover County Schools.

A term first used over a decade ago, cyber bullying has now become something taught in schools, and officials tell us cultivating an online persona is something discussed with children as young as kindergarten.

“We talk about internet safety with all of our students, K-12. There’s actually an internet safety week in the fall,” said Meredith Lloyd the Brunswick County Schools counselor specialist.

But for all the emphasis in the classroom, cyber bullying goes beyond the school yard, affecting everyone from kids to adults.

“I think the culture of adult cyber bullying is just as serious as it is for children,” Nooner said.

These bullies go by a variety of names. Nooner said the most common is troll.

“It does have implications in terms of people feeling like they can’t share what they want to on social media, people feeling like they need to hide from social media,” Nooner said.

She said many people feel like it’s acceptable to say hurtful things online, things they might not say to someone face to face.

“First of all your real physical connections with your family and with the people you care about are the most important,” Nooner said.

But in many cases, our online lives are just as important to us as out physical lives and Nooner said it is equally important to cultivate both in a positive way.

“What you’re putting out there is just as important, if not more in some ways, because if you say something to a friend and it’s a comment that maybe isn’t great or is a little mean, it goes away,” said Nooner. “If you post a negative comment through social media, people can read it for days and weeks. It’s just always there.”

That’s something Savannah Ivey knows all too well. Ivey is a student at UNCW as well as a writer for an online publication called The Odyssey.

After a story she published about parking tickets at the university went viral, Ivey became the target of some online hate.

“It did shock me at first. I was just writing it to be funny and just to bring light to a topic that we’re all fed up with,” said Ivey.

She said people even researched her on other platforms, what some call trolling, to continue those hateful comments. Bue she said it’s something you have to expect if you decide to share anything online.

“I have to be prepared for that since I am putting myself out there online,” Ivey said.

She said she chooses to have a public online profile and that means she can’t stop people from looking at it.

“I just have to kinda brush off the negative comments and just kinda do my thing. But I respect everybody’s opinion,” Ivey said.

What we put online is a choice. And although experts agree there is likely no end in sight for cyber bullying, you can control your own voice online.

“Be reflective and be alone sometimes. You don’t have to answer, you don’t have to respond. It’s ok,” said Elizabeth Scharf the Trask Middle School counselor.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 2014, about 75% of American adults have witnesses harassment online. Have you ever encountered this behavior? Let us know.

Categories: Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Local, New Hanover, News, Pender

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