Digital Bullying or Freedom of Speech? by Fiona Johnson

I’m very pleased to welcome the lovely and talented Scottish Scribe Fiona “McDroll” Johnson back for another guest post. I’ll be reviewing her latest short story collection, Kick It With Conviction, tomorrow, but Fiona has chosen to address the serious topic of bullying here in her guest post today. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below about when you think freedom of speech crosses the line to cyber bullying.

Fiona McDroll JohnsonMy twelve year-old son recently had his first day of high school. Instead of being an exciting next step, it was the most challenging day of his life. That night we sat for nearly two hours talking about his day, trying to make some sense of this new world that he now has to visit everyday for the next six years.

As a parent, I want my child to be excited about learning and in certain respects he is, but sadly, he also has to battle against the pressures that obstruct his right to attend school, make friends and learn in a safe environment.

You see; my son has to cope with bullying. The actions of another child have robbed him of many happy childhood times, dented his self-confidence and affected his health. Bullying is destructive, cowardly and loathsome. It is a weapon used by those lacking in kindness, respect and honesty.

With the support of his family, friends and teachers, my son will survive the first few weeks at his new school, he will emerge a stronger person and people will respect him and be impressed by his maturity. He’s a child, and this shouldn’t happen to him, but it happens to many children and in the past it may even have happened to you.

Children who bully, no doubt, turn into adults who also bully. Of that, I am sure. The Internet, for instance, is full of bullies. They thrive on the anonymity that it brings, hiding behind pseudonyms, leaving destructive comments on blogs like ticking time-bombs, writing scathing reviews of books for no apparent reason and vindictively hounding fellow writers who are honest and talented.

Do bullies get a kick from the poison that they spread? Is it jealousy that drives them to damage reputations through their lying and cheating? A friend of mine, a highly talented writer, recently experienced bullying on the Goodreads website. His book was recommended by a third party to a Goodreads member who took umbrage at this unsolicited recommendation and left a highly defamatory comment on his author’s page accusing him of spamming.

Being a very decent chap, he explained that he had nothing to do with the recommendation but instead of reaching a mutual understanding, the nasty comments increased, not only from the member in question but also from their followers. I jumped into the fray to defend my innocent friend but was instantly described as a ‘troll’. Very flattering I’m sure.

The comments are vitriolic and sadly cannot be removed. Freedom of speech or bulling? You decide. I will continue to teach my son the values of being a thoughtful, kind human, who understands the meaning of respect. Should bullies be hounded from our digital lives? Should they be unmasked? What do you think?

Fiona Johnson, aka McDroll, is the author of the serialized crime novel The Wrong Delivery and the short story collections Kick It Together and Kick It With Conviction, a Scottish blend of drama, crime, noir and humour. She’s always loved reading and always wanted to write, thinking she’d do this after leaving university clutching her honours degree in English Lit. But you know how the story goes; she got a job in teaching, got married, had two kids, changed a lot of nappies. Working full-time as a head teacher with two young kids didn’t leave a lot of time or energy for writing. In 2001 her thyroid went haywire, taking ten years to return to normality. Staring 50 in the face, the dream of writing became a ‘now or never’ reality.


  • Geraldine

    January 26, 2013 - 5:57 PM

    Hi there,

    I disagree with being silent against bullies – what they do is wrong, not only do they need to be told, but they also need to be held accountable for it, so that they can learn, reflect (if they have a consciousness) and then hopefully change or not do it again.

    Legal prosecution should be started whenever possible as well. The internet can be a wonderful resource, but it can also be used by people to feed their worst sides through the anonymity it offers.. And this is not on..

    Cyberlife if no different to ‘real’ life – ethics & values should not be trashed. And unless we keep a strong stance toward this, then sure enough, bullies will keep on, and only grow as this behavior, because it is not addressed, will only become more and more acceptable.

    Besides, freedom of speech is there to protect the person who is honest and courageous to say things NOT in anonymity, at least in the so called ‘modern West world’!

    Freedom of speech does not allow for threats, for harassment, for insults. THAT is not freedom of speech and bullying is NOT freedom of speech.

    “To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it” – MLK

  • Andrez Bergen

    September 16, 2012 - 3:27 PM

    How did I miss this? Wonderful piece, Fiona, about an issue that’s always a fretful one for parents. Here in Japan the matter of bullying is under a big public spotlight right now as a bullied child committed suicide. And you’re right – bullies often don’t grow up, though some (thankfully) do. And bullied kids I hope learn a kind of inner strength once they put the nonsense behind them. Sadly the Internet, with the anonymity it offers, has nurtured another kind of any-ages bullying/trolling as you mentioned…

  • Josh Stallings

    August 20, 2012 - 11:49 AM

    Well said Fiona, and I am sure your son shall have the last laugh by being brilliant. Megan Abbott posted a link to wonderful article
    This is about writing critiques, I love his rule 5 -don’t be a dick. How we talk about books is important. I have over the years had my share of attacks for my absolute inability to spell, at times I felt this online world was not for me, I didn’t need a nameless beast to remind me what I thought I already knew about myself. Like the school yard we make friends, they come to our aid in times of need. The faceless cruelty is very difficult fort all of us, and for an author feels like it will effect our careers. It won’t, I’m sure. History is full of writers lambasted who went onto write brilliant books. Ultimately the best defense against bullies is silence. We take their power when we pay them no mind. The have the right to be jerks, we have the right ignore them. My 2 cents. Thanks for bringing it up.

    • Fiona Johnson

      August 20, 2012 - 12:15 PM

      Thanks Josh – you are a shining example to all of us. xx

  • Tracey

    August 20, 2012 - 10:11 AM

    Bullying is something that won’t go away no matter how much we say we want it to. There are too many apologists for it to happen. There are problems at home or they were bullied elsewhere, or something similar. According to those standards, it would be understandable if I bullied people. After all, I was abused and bullied. I made the choice to not continue that cycle just as they have made the decision to do so. And it is a decision. You can’t tell me they don’t know what they are doing is wrong, not with all the media attention these days. They just don’t care. They want to get some of their own back apparently and feel this is the way to do so. I have sympathy for what they’ve been through but I won’t excuse their behaviour and until we all do that we won’t stop bullying.

    • Fiona Johnson

      August 20, 2012 - 12:16 PM

      Thanks Tracey – I totally agree with you, nobody bullies by accident. x

      • Elizabeth A. White

        August 20, 2012 - 3:08 PM

        Yes, one must always be careful not to confuse an explanation with an excuse. There is almost always a reason people do what they do, but that shouldn’t excuse them from the consequences of their actions (mitigate, perhaps) no matter how unfortunate their personal history may be.