"A bully is an individual who tends to torment others, either through verbal harassment and/or physical assaults, or through more subtle methods of coercion." - from: Wikipedia about Bullying
It happens everywhere and fan clubs are not safe from it. Fan clubs should be places where people can share their fandom, have fun and make friends. But: occasionally there's a bully standing between you and the fun. This document is here to raise awareness and help DragonRiders Club members to spot typical cyber-bullying behavior, and to find advice how to prevent or counteract it.
Bullying, harassment and power abuse
Bullying is a form of harassment usually done by someone with more power or social support to someone with less power or social support. It often includes putting pressure and/or the blame for what is happening onto the victim and undermines the victim's confidence. PBeM-bullies often use flames, threats, sarcastic remarks, power play, constant criticism or hurtful rumors to get their point across. (The point being, 'I'm more powerful and have more friends than you, so you better cower in front of me or I'll make your life miserable'.) The lines between bullying, playful teasing or simply lacking social skills can be thin, and many bullies will seek safety in the excuse 'I was only joking' when confronted about their behavior.
Typical PBeM bullying behavior might include:
- Berating newbies on-list about how stupid their questions are and they've been asked a thousand times before and can't they check the FAQ for Faranth's sake
- Poking fun at people for their personas or writing abilities
- Writing for other people's personas or changing what others have written in a co-post without asking for permission/ok
- Constant nagging and criticism and harsh feedback designed to hurt people's feelings without being helpful
- Threatening people, e.g. a non-Council member demanding a post needs to be retracted or they'll tell Council
- Manipulating others to act the way they want by making them feel guilty
- Giving false information to set people up to run into trouble or to destroy friendships
- Spreading rumors designed to undermine someone else's reputation in the Club (more on rumors below)
- Expressing smug satisfaction when others get hurt, embarrassed or scared away
A special case is the Council bully. In an ideal case, Council members will keep in mind that they volunteered to serve the Club and its members and not to rule like tyrants. Sometimes the authority that comes with a position gets into someone's head and people might go on a power trip or start abusing that power for their own agenda. If you feel a Council member is bullying you, don't be afraid to speak out! Council consists of five people, so there's a chance that the others might condemn what their fellow member is doing and set things straight. Before you complain on someone else's behalf though, be aware that some 'Council is bullying me' complaints are nothing but blown-up rumors caused by someone's dislike of a Council decision.
What can you do when you encounter a bully?
Most importantly: Remember it is not your fault that you are being bullied! It's always the bully's problem that he or she needs to harass someone to feel like someone.
- Stay calm and ignore them. Bullies love to get a reaction, they need the attention and an audience. If you don't react the way they want you to, they might get bored and stop bullying you.
- Don't let them scare you away. If you flee like a canine with its tail between its legs, they'll laugh and remember to pick on you the next time again because it was so much fun to see you run. In particular, don't leave the Club and send a good-bye message about how someone has ruined your fun. Some bullies count that as victory and it encourages them to seek the next victim.
- Know your rights and hold your ground. If someone is trying to bully you into having your persona do or say what they want instead of what you want, don't yield to their power play. Don't let them steal your persona. They could create their own persona if they wanted instead of abusing yours! If someone has used your persona without your permission, you can complain to Council and request to have that post retracted.
- Speak out and get help, but not on the mailing lists. Let your friends, mentor, co-posters or Council know that you feel you are being bullied. You are not alone, others might have made similar experiences and just talking to them will help already. If someone points out mistakes you've made and claims you have to correct them or you'll be in big trouble, quietly get a second opinion, e.g. by asking your mentor or Council. If you think you're getting flamed because your writing needs some serious improvement, ask someone you trust (e.g. your mentor or a co-poster) to proofread your posts before sending them to the list.
- Be friendly and tolerant. Everybody has a bad day every now and then. Be nice to people no matter who they are and how they write. As a wise man once said: Never look down on anyone unless you're helping them up. Often the victims of bullying will start bullying others in turn to make up for lost self-esteem. Don't fall into that trap. People will like you much better if you stay nice.
Gossip, rumors and deceitful lies
Let's face it: Gossip is entertaining. Very. It is also a fun way to socialize with others and makes you feel you belong to a group if they share their gossip with you. It is incredibly tempting to gossip. Gossip and rumors are tolerable as long as they're harmless and friendly. They liven up the chat list, help to form bonds between members or provide valuable information to those who can read between the lines.
But gossip can also destroy friendships or people's enjoyment of being a Club member when things turn ugly. The thing about rumors and gossip is that they are often difficult to prove or disprove. Gossip is usually made out of half-truths or embellished tales with a tiny bit of true information. Many rumors are created through assumption, guesses and jumping to conclusions. They easily get carried away because talking about crazy, made-up stories is more fun than talking about the boring reality.
Some members might even start hurtful rumors on purpose to get back at someone they don't like. Rumors and gossip could be used as revenge or follow through on a threat or with the goal to boot someone out of the Club. There's a thin line between harmless gossip and harmful intrigue.
For the people who are being gossiped about, it sucks. Real life and Club are crazy enough without having people make up stories about you.
If you are one of those people who love to listen to gossip, you might want to ask yourself three important questions before handing on a rumor:
- Is there evidence that the rumor is a downright lie?
- Is the rumor slandering another member, aiming at destroying their good reputation?
- Would the rumor badly affect the rumor victim's friendships with other Club members or their chances in applying for rankers, running for Council, etc.?
If you can answer any of these questions with a yes, then don't spread the gossip! Chances are high that someone started the rumor solely to hurt another Club member. This sort of behavior is not acceptable and a decent person should not participate in it. Don't become an instrument in someone else's evil scheme.
A special type of gossip is directed against the Council rather than individual members. If you hear such rumors, please be aware that:
- Council is an elected group of five people and changing every four months.
- Council decisions are formed through a democratic voting process (e.g. three out of five voting yes is a Council-yes by majority, even if the other two members voted no).
- To protect Council's integrity, Council members have to swear an oath to keep everything that happens within Council (e.g. discussions, votes) strictly confidential. If they break this oath, they might lose their Council positions or even be expelled from the Club.
What this means is basically:
- If you hear someone saying: "Council thinks..." and this not an official message coming from Council, chances are high that it is merely someone's best guess about what Council might be thinking.
- If you single out Council members to blame them for a decision that you don't like, it might very well be that you are blaming and hurting the wrong person.
- Don't try to prod a Council member into telling you details that they are not allowed to talk about with non-Council members. You will only succeed in making them feel uncomfortable or getting them into deep trouble.
What can you do if you have become a victim of the rumor mill?
- Stay cool, react calm. If you freak out in protest it looks suspiciously like you have something to hide.
- If the rumor is a lie, point out that it is not true, but don't get caught in lies yourself. Remember that no matter what you say or do, somebody will always believe the rumors. It is next to impossible to make everyone believe your side of the story.
- Question the gossiper's motives, but without finger-pointing. 'I wonder why somebody would come up with something ridiculous like this!' This has two effects: It signals that you have nothing to hide because you are not acting defensively, and it questions the gossip spreaders' motivation by making others wonder if there is a hidden agenda.
- Spread the gossip yourself and let people know you're laughing at it. 'Have you heard what's being said about me? What a ridiculous joke!' However, do not fight back by starting your own rumors about the person who you believe started it.
- If you manage to identify the person who started it, don't confront that person on a public list or by flaming them. Causing a public scene will backfire, and flaming will only give them 'proof' they were right about you being a jerk. It is better to avoid this person for a while and to say nothing to them. If you can't stay quiet, wait until you are calm and the initial shock has passed. Remember, anything you say will probably be turned into a rumor against you.
Let's all try to play nice! DragonRiders is an interactive writing club based on teamwork, not a quest for domination!
Last updated on 30-Nov-11.
Dragonriders of Pern: A Fantasy-Fiction Writing Club - www.dragonridersclub.com
The Dragonriders of PernŽ is registered U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, by Anne McCaffrey, used here with permission. Use or reproduction without a license is strictly prohibited.