With the pervasive social media claiming an ever increasing role in people’s personal lives, thousands of users face the risk of damage to their mental health, sometimes of a life-threatening kind, by abusers of online social media outlets.
Cyber bullying is a problem whose hazards have only recently been revealed by mental health experts. Accordingly, popular social media sites, like Facebook, have repeatedly attempted to allow users report and block bullies on the respective site.
There has been some level of awareness to tackle the issue of online bullying. But more needs to be done and one voice that has stood out in this regard is author and recovery expert Holli Kenley. I have had quite a few sessions of online correspondence with Holli about her helpful work in creating awareness against cyber bullying. She has written books as well as many blogs on the topic of cyber bulling.
Last month, the international anti-bulling website NoBullying.com published a list of 100 best anti bullying websites from the past year. Holli Kenley’s blog Cyber Bullying No More!! was ranked 6 in this list – a recognition of the amount and quality of her work against cyber bullying.
I called on Holli for a chat to discuss the topic and particularly the role of blogging in hurting as well as healing people who frequently use social media. Following is my Q&A with Holli Kenley about blogging and cyber bullying through social media.
Ernest: Holli, first of all, congrats on the achievement. Besides being a writer and recovery expert, this recognition also certifies you as an influential blogger. Had you ever thought of getting popular in the blogging world?
Holli: I started blogging about cyber bullying in March 2012. Although I was speaking and writing about bullying and cyber bullying to “live audiences” for several years, I felt I could reach a greater audience through blogging! And, every time I heard about another child being humiliated, violated, and/or denigrated through the use of electronic devices, I felt even more motivated to give parents and guardians as well as youth a manageable number of strategies for protection from, intervention with, and prevention of cyber bullying. I never thought about getting “popular” – I just wanted to do my part towards eliminating this toxic behavior!
Ernest: In our recent interview, Professor Benjamin Ginsberg commended blogging as an empowering medium for citizens to voice their stories. Your blog, along with others listed on Nobullying.com, shows that blogging has also a great deal of potential in the abuse-recovery field. Is it so?
Holli: I believe that bullying and cyber bullying are forms of abuse and should be treated as such. Contrary to some points of view, I’ve often said, “Cyber bullying (and bullying) are not a rite of passage; both are a recipe for the ruination of a young life.” With that said, blogs that address cyber bullying and bullying in proactive healthy ways offer victims and bully/victims (those who participate in both roles) a place of connection, empathy, and empowerment. As is true for most victims, regardless of the violation, targeted individuals begin to heal when they know they are not alone and when they feel heard and understood. Blogs can and do play a vital role in providing a safe platform for victims to begin reclaiming their voice, reinstating their respect, and making choices based on renewed strength and spirit.
Ernest: On social media’s popularity in the early years, the general impression was that the screen between online medium’s users is a shield against the kind of abuse that happens in person. But the impact of bullying seems to suggest that online social media is as dangerous as anything if misused. Would you agree?
Holli: Yes, without question. Cyber bulling (which is strongly correlated with traditional bullying) is defined as “a deliberate or willful act of inflicting abuse or harm through any electronic means, repeatedly and over time, by an individual or group against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself.” And what makes cyber bullying so much more prevalent and dangerous is the anonymity (protection of identity) and the power differential (between victim and perpetrator) provided by the technology itself. Cyber bullies don’t need to be stronger, faster, or larger in numbers. As long as there is access to technology, cyber bullies can carry out their harmful agendas with ease and without risk of being caught. In addition, the viral spread of the cyber bullies’ toxic messages and the bullies’ feelings of detachment and disengagement from another individual actually serve to reinforce their abusive behaviors. I do want to stress that social media can be such a positive influence in our lives! However, without proper supervision and monitoring by parents/guardians, or without holding bullies accountable for their abusive behaviors, there is a great deal of misuse!
Ernest: On your blog, Cyber Bullying No More!! we also read that individuals with different sexual orientation than what has been termed “normal” or “straight” are highly victimized, that is speaking in comparative terms. Do you think there has been good progress in the blogging community to help this vulnerable segment of social media users?
Holli: I believe that there has been good progress in the blogging community towards reaching out to vulnerable populations. However, we can always do more. While supporting our more at-risk individuals, it is important to note that because of the isolation and loneliness that victims experience, they will often frequent the same sites or posts where the bullying is taking place. While they are desperately seeking acceptance and belonging, tragically, victims are injured further. Targeted individuals most often will not ask for or seek out help. And even if they do, many times victims are not believed. When parents/guardians are faced with their child being a victim or a bully or both, many do not know where to begin or what to do. In my blogs, I give parents/guardians and youth research-based resources for protection, intervention, and prevention. I love the fact that any child, regardless of his/her personal challenges or levels of victimization, can turn to safe blogs and discover a sense of belonging!
Ernest: What kind of feedback do you get from parents who read your blog?
Holli: Of course, there is positive feedback and there are many parents/guardians who really are concerned about their children’s online life. Sadly, however, I believe there is still a great deal of denial around the potential risks their kids face in their net neighborhoods. Over and over again, I have blogged and spoken about the necessity of a “Family Online Safety Contract,” and it hasn’t gone over really well!! But, I won’t give up! As I say to parents/guardians, “We can either do the hard work up front or … we will live with the heartache in the end.” Parents are so incredibly busy today and their levels of stress are high, but that’s why I blog – to give them proactive and practical steps for effective parenting!! And, of course, to keep their kids safe!!
Ernest: Blogging is a world where one can even apparently hide one’s identity from public. I think that can encourage abusers to target someone without getting caught easily. But also, does anonymity in the blogosphere help victims or vulnerable individuals to express themselves more openly?
Holli: I would not encourage victims to express themselves anonymously on blogs or other social sites. Even though their identity is protected, there is always the risk of retaliation and revenge. I think it is extremely important for victims to honor themselves and their voices by remaining true to themselves. Hiding behind a fictitious name does not serve to empower them. I would recommend going to sites such asStand for the Silent, The Bully Project, or A Platform for Goodand let their voices be heard – honestly and openly! I also encourage all kids to channel their feelings or emotions in positive ways such as journaling, story or poetry writing, or playing/writing music. Remember, bullies want to take away the victim’s power! Victims need to refocus their voice and their energy back on themselves!! And then when they feel ready, share it with other people and places who value them!!
Ernest: Have you any plans of starting some kind of interactive section on your blog, like answering letters or messages from victims of abuse or concerned parents?
Holli: This is a hard question to answer! Here’s why. Any questions, or messages, or emails, etc. that I receive I love to answer!! And there is a place to comment on my blogs! I will help in any way that I can, and I will also refer individuals to other sources of support. At the same time, because I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I want to be cautious of doing “therapy online.” It is something I am not comfortable with, and so I have made the decision to not do an interactive blog. Sometimes there are individuals who are quite injured and what starts out as a short exchange turns into a therapeutic session. I hope readers will understand my position on this.
Ernest: And in closing, I’d like to ask about what you are currently working on in the recovery field.
Holli: I’ve got a few projects on my plate! Based on my last book,Mountain Air: Relapsing and Finding the Way Back…One Breath at a Time, I am continuing to blog about and speak on shame and its relationship to recovery from relapse. I am currently working on a very unique novel for teens – not the typical vampire or science-fiction or futuristic novel – but one that will challenge and empower them on a personal level! More to come!! A new blog for teens!!
Ernest:Holli thank you very much for this discussion. Your work has always inspired me along with your audience out there and I definitely look to see more of your helpful work in the fight against bullying and abuse.
Holli: Thank you, Ernest! It is always such a pleasure to work with you!