Bullies, stop it. Yes, I do believe we’re all in violent agreement on that point. Except we can’t seem to agree exactly who’s being bullied or by whom. We can’t even agree what bullying is. Anyone?
A little while ago, one of America’s most famous bloggers, Heather Armstrong of Dooce.com had a terrible experience with a new clothes dryer. Are you still reading? I promise this gets more interesting. You don’t need to know the specific details of the dryer drama because other people’s faulty appliances are about as interesting as hearing about that time their luggage was lost. Really? Tell me MORE! And THEN what did the woman from American Airlines say?
Anyhow, the important part is this: Heather Armstrong’s bad experience involved a faulty dryer, a faulty replacement, ongoing woeful service and a total disregard for her rights as a consumer. After weeks of frustration, she finally took to Twitter to name-shame the giant multinational company and vent about her experience.
Guess what happened next. She was called a bully. Didn’t see that one coming, did you. And neither did she. Despite giving the company numerous chances to fix their repeated stuff-ups and warning them that she would mention it on Twitter (to which the customer service representative replied “so what?”), Armstrong never imagined she’d be accused of bullying a multi-billion dollar company with a few exasperated tweets.
The online world erupted into a debate about whether or not the fact Heather Armstrong had a million Twitter followers gave her an unfair advantage over the white-goods company. Was she a bully? Many decided she was and slammed her for it. Others insisted she was simply using her power as a consumer. Had she received what she’d paid for, there’d have been no need to complain. You can’t blame her for being popular, they argued.
Meanwhile the company, realising the magnitude of their stuff-up, hustled their CEO onto the phone to try and make amends. Armstrong politely refused his offer of a free dryer, insisting she was happy to pay for a working one and asking instead that he donate a new appliance to a local women’s shelter.
Bullying is not what Heather Armstrong did. Bullying is altogether something different and it’s dangerous to dilute the potency of the term by becoming the boy who cried bully. For true victims, we need this word to mean something.
When someone stands up to you or disagrees with your views, you’re not being bullied. And the people who seem most confused about this are those who haven’t caught up with the fact the Internet has changed the paradigm of power in our society.