Saturday, April 28, 2012

Catholic Cyber Bullying

Over the last few days I've witnessed the most extraordinary episode of cyber-bullying I ever hope to see. I've come to this late; I realise now it has been going on for months. Looking into it, with increasing incredulity, I have seen numerous examples of bullying which would be extreme in a dysfunctional school playground, but where the bullies present themselves, not just as Catholics, but as Catholic bloggers: people who go to some thought and care, one would assume, in what they say and do, acting in the public eye as identifiable Catholics. Among other things they ridicule their victim's appearance, and call her 'Iggy Pop'. Here is just one delightful trio of tweets from one of them; I have erased the identity of the writer. (With Twitter, the bottom message comes first.)
Can you guess what the victim's alleged crime was? In a nutshell, cyber bullying. The actual evidence for this is lacking, but the claim is that, using false or anonymous identities, she attacked others on-line.

But hang on a minute: are her critics against cyber bullying, or in favour of it?

I am not interested in the truth of the original allegations, or the identity of any of the parties involved. I just want to draw attention to this as a general issue. We all know how mobs can go berserk and lynch innocent people. (Shakespeare gives a brilliant example in Julius Caesar.) We may have seen references to twitter-storms of people going berserk and pouring vitriol on even rather mild critics of very popular people, like Steven Fry. But here we have a small, albeit strongly mutually-reinforcing, group of people, no more than half a dozen, ganging up to attack a pregnant woman, in a way which would be completely wrong even if she had been a serial killer, and these people are simultaneously claiming to be Catholic. I never knew what Pharisaism was until now. The two main protagonists have blogs which they clearly think are a cut above the average - oh-so-clever, oh-so-sophisticated, giving their wonderfully deep views on every issue to the punters, and all terribly, terribly orthodox of course.

Truly, there are few crimes which Catholics have not committed. We are not the saved; we are sinners in need of salvation. But this is a serious matter. Bullying like this needs the active collaboration of a few, and the passive cooperation of many. It is very hard to intervene when these things are going on without making it look, to the next person coming upon the discussion, like a sack of ferrets throwing insults at each other. But we can support the victim in many ways, and withdraw our support from the bullies. The systematic attempt to cause a breakdown by needling and insulting, which I remember so well from school, is grave matter for adults. Calumny and detraction, about serious issues of character, is grave matter. As we all know, those who have damaged another's reputation, even accidentally, are obliged in justice to do what they can to repair it. In a case like this this means public apologies and retractions. I know that is very hard to do, but the great moral theologians who've turned to on-line bullying as a recreation will know, I am sure, that this will be on their consciences until they do this. Alas, it is not a matter of the private forum: it is out in the public forum.

We must all repent of our on-line sins. We have all been too swift to condemn, too busy to check facts first, too eager to jump on a band-wagon, too busy or too afraid to stand up for truth and justice. I hope this sorry example will make us all more vigilant, and not just be the first of many such disedifying episodes. If it is the latter, then alas for Catholic blogging.


  1. Anonymous4:24 pm

    <span>"Calumny and detraction, about serious issues of character, is grave matter" Well said</span>

  2. As I read this, I was reminded of Arthur Miller's extraordinary play, The Crucible. Witch-hunting is a very dangerous activity...

  3. Anonymous5:12 pm

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. What a brave anonymous comment from Mrs/Mr Anonymous, a lovely polemic full of unsubstantial bullshit.
    It becomes more and more obvious that hiding behind anonymity to hurl abuse and insults at another is the most favoured Catholic pastime.

    If only we knew who this poster was, because with the forest of redwoods in their eye, Mrs/Mr Anonymous has given us a potential solution to Europe's energy crisis.

    1. Anonymous6:31 pm

      Oh yes, Our Lord would be proud of you self styled traditional Catholics, that rule the bloggsphere wouldn't he? Paul Priest is cruel and without shame. That you defend him speaks volumes for both of you!

    2. Maybe Dr Shaw will be interested in the identity of 'Anonymous'?

      Maybe NOW he'll realise exactly what's happening?

  5. Goronzolius Stiltonika7:19 pm

    Oh Dr Shaw! Didn't you realise that when it's online it doesn't matter? It's like being half asleep!

    (that was sarcasm)

  6. Ernie Skillen10:07 pm

    Very sad to hear a pregnant woman (may she and her unborn baby be blessed) being attacked.

  7. Oh yes, Our Lord would be proud of you self styled traditional Catholics, that rule the bloggsphere wouldn't he? ... - Anonymous

    Oh pur-lease, do drop your the sanctimonious and pharisaical bollox, and get over yourself..

    I'm NOT a Catholic, but you ARE a coward. Some day I maybe a Catholic, but you will still be a coward.

  8. Oh yes, Our Lord would be proud of you self styled traditional Catholics, that rule the bloggsphere wouldn't he? ... - Anonymous

    Oh pur-lease, do drop your the sanctimonious and pharisaical bollox, and get over yourself..

    I'm NOT a Catholic, but you ARE a coward. Some day I maybe a Catholic, but you will still be a coward.

  9. "The actual evidence for this is lacking"

    The absence of discussion of evidence does not equate to an absence of evidence.

    I share your concerns about any attacks that are needlessly personal, or bullying, or otherwise counter-productive, but as a publisher you deserve to be warned that your concerns about mob justice are so ill-informed as to risk motivating a well-meaning but misguided mob yourself.

    That is all I am saying for now, but I will sign off by inviting you to weigh these two sentences against each other:

    "I am not interested in the truth of the original allegations..."

    "As we all know, those who have damaged another's reputation, even accidentally, are obliged in justice to do what they can to repair it..."

  10. I need to apologise for flipping my lid and having a very public meltdown yesterday.

    I also need to apologise for the fact that at times I have been intemperate and impulsive in some of my tweets, I have let my pride and sense of natural fairness and justice impede the dignified contempt in which I should have held these accusations. Mea culpa.

    It is strange however, that for one who is accused of hiding behind multiple identities and pseudonyms, I have managed to embarrass myself under my own name...

    I forgot the first rule. Don't feed the trolls.

    But thank you for a wise and insightful post as ever.

  11. Tim: I" share your concerns about any attacks that are needlessly personal, or bullying, or otherwise counter-productive, but as a publisher you deserve to be warned that your concerns about mob justice are so ill-informed as to risk motivating a well-meaning but misguided mob yourself."

    What on earth is this supposed to mean? I am fed up with people speaking in threatening riddles. You can't scare me. I have libelled no one. You can get lost.

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  14. You seem to be unable to read. But let me say it once more: I'm not interested in the original issue. For a very simple reason: you have made it irrelevant by your reaction to it. The bullying I have seen is perfectly real; I have seen it with my own eyes. If it had any good purpose it was counter-productive. Perhaps this is dawning on you now. In any case it would NEVER be justified to out anyone through what was done in this case.

  15. Very well: You condemn me.

    You have been provided with an opportunity.

    I have offered to explain & clarify but you have thrown that offer back in my face.

    You have blackened my character and we will both have to live with it.

    God bless.

  16. I have not blackened your character - I did not even mention you! If you insist the cap fits that is your affair.

  17. Joseph, it was pretty obvious who you were talking about, because your Twitter feed in which you condemn Paul is running while you had posted the article.

    What I've heard about this is sketchy. Your knowledge of it appears to be sketchy also.

    Therefore, to make a public pronouncement on the guilt of one side while that side are suggesting that what has taken place is very serious indeed seems a little unwise since in defending one, you condemn the other. Not very even-handed.

    I don't know what the real facts are of this matter. I don't particular wish to see them revealed either. From what I see of Twitter, however, the 'sides' line up against each other fairly evenly and they all seem perfectly able to defend themselves. They seem to spend a lot of time doing that very successfully.

    I do agree with you, however, that people are crying wolf while behaving like wolves. Some people seem to want to see justice done. If they are really committed Catholics they'll forgive as they've been forgiven and leave the justice bit to God.

  18. Meanwhile evil thrives because the good not only do nothing, they condemn and refuse to listen to those trying to do something - I trust in God but cannot stand by while lives, careers & reputations are irrevocably destroyed ; while the Catholic blogosphere and the whole pro-life movement are jeopardised. It'll be too late to wring hands when everything is left in ruins

  19. Lawrence: Paul's artless self-identification took place minutes after this post published. Blame him, not me.

    I ask again: are these people against cyber-bullying or in favour of it? You can't condemn it in others and then practice it yourself. They are conde,need out of their own mouths.

  20. It's the way you try to do it that is problematic.

    If someone has done something heinous then there are ways of dealing with that, taking to twitter in a public witch hunt and branding the suspect as a sock-puppet, iggy pop, a psycho, a thug, malevolent, guilty of cyber terrorism etc IS bullying. I've seen her personal appearance, her family life, her pregnancy picked over and ridiculed in such an appalling manner. There are no two ways about it, this is not behaviour becoming of adults, but of playground bullies. I defy anyone to argue otherwise.

    The fact remains, that if you are to accuse someone of something then you need to provide evidence of such and if you cannot do that then it's no better than lies really is it? It is simply NOT acceptable to continue in the manner that I have seen from the likes of @Otsota and @DolphinMaria on twitter these past few days, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves, you're behaving despicably in my opinion and not like a good Christian person, despite whether you believe otherwise.

    Until you can prove it to be true, you bullies (and I mean the ones who are spreading viscious rumour and partaking in twitter based libel) are no better than liars.

    Two wrongs do not make a right and "Justice" is never achieved by reducing someone to a mentally jibbering wreck. Unless of course you're evil and in that case you don't deserve to call yourself a Catholic.

  21. Perhaps, Joseph, but your own Twitter feed is there for all to see.

  22. It strikes me that all the parties feel maligned and as if their reputations have been publicly lowered or injured in the diabolical fury that is the Twitter feed. Of course, it never stops, it just goes on and on (from what I've seen). I really hope it doesn't go on into eternity.

    1. Well there is a simple solution.

      Side A produce whatever evidence they believe proves that Side B is guilty, and we can judge for ourselves.

      Side A refuse to produce evidence and apologise to Side B for all the hurt and upset and agree to drop it.

      The onus is on those who are making the accusations, they need to prove what they're saying is true or else shut up!

      Innocent until proven guilty and all of that. Side B has the absolute right to defend herself against the tirade of vitriol and hate that has been poured on her by Side A but with apparently no justification!

  23. I agree that Side B has the absolute right to defend herself against the tirade of vitriol and hate that has been poured on her by Side A but with apparently no justification.

    Quite why we are talking about it, however, is questionable. I dislike Twitter for the ease with which people usually of goodwill in public face become megalomaniac character assassins online. Why has this rampant Twitter pub brawl now disgraced Dr Shaw's eminent blog? Now, with his Twitter feed on the side bar, he looks less like the peacemaker and more like another bear in the pit because its obvious that he has taken sides. It's absurd.

    Perhaps these people, if they are genuinely fed up of having their characters demeaned in public could decide not to go on Twitter at all for the good of their souls and the souls others.

    Gosh, there's a revolutionary thought.

    No, the answer has to be more complicated than that.

    Because obviously their worlds would stop if they gave up Twitter.

    1. Yes you're quite right, if they dropped twitter it would stop, but we just know that it's going to happen because both sides are too stubborn and so we reach a stale mate. Side A won't drop it because I suspect that they do not wish to admit defeat and admit they were wrong, and Side B will not stop because she wants her name cleared and rightly so, i'd want my innocence proven too if i'd been wrongly accused of something in such a public and vulgar manner.

      I'd just like the nastiness to stop, there is no need for it and it's ugly.

      I think for Side B this has to be about picking your battles and weighing up what is important, rather than what is right. What is important is your mental health and family life. What is not important is the opinion of a few people on twitter who cannot hold their tongues or be civil, it is not important to engage with people of that ilk, they are best avoided. Of course it is not right that they are allowed to get away with it, without justification, but it's most likely lies and therefore not important anyway.

      Let those who show themselves up to be hateful and make mendacious claims continue to do so because it really doesn't matter what they think, they're insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

      A break from social networking sites can be a blessing. Having recently given up Facebook, I can confirm it's been a revelation - never has my ironing pile been so small! ;o)

    2. As far as I can see, this slanging has been going on for AGES.

      They all love it, that's why it all continues.

      It would be like me saying, I hate blogging and going on The Telegraph to enter into debates. People keep calling me a fruitcake for holding Catholics views.

      Oh, I'm so hurt and terrified by it!

      Oh well, better go back and carry on being called a fruitcake...

      The difference is that I do like it. That's why I go back.

      Same with these guys on BOTH sides.

  24. Thank you for this post which really gets to the nub of what all this is about. Even the most heinous criminal gets a fair trial.
    It seems to me that I have been watching something akin to a lynch mob, pursuing one person with almost righteous fervour, on the basis of heresay, hunches, happenstance and a feeling in someone's water.
    This isn't a 'game of two halves'. There are no 'two equal sides' stubbornly ranged against each other, both refusing to give way.
    It is a sustained campaign against one woman, by a group of principally four Catholic bloggers, who, having failed to co opt more support among fellow Catholics, have recruited, or found common cause with, anti catholic pro aborts and Gay rights activists.
    Standing on the sidelines while one person is being abused by a group, and pretending that they are 'all as bad as each other' is tantamount to cooperating with it in my opinion.
    Sad that this even needs to be said at all.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Sorry Lawrence we are NOT starting that here.

    3. Well then perhaps, Dr Joseph, it might have been wise NOT to start this here at all, onto your blog, since you yourself have dragged out a sad personal spat between Catholics from the narcissistic realm of Twitter into your eminent blog, eminent both in the sense that you write excellently about the Catholic Faith, and in the sense that you are the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society. Did you really expect the dogs not to return to their vomit? I should have left well alone, perhaps, but I can sense no equity of treatment is to be found here. You could have closed comments for this blogpost from the start. That would have been just on all concerned.

    4. Actually, gratuitouss flaming is wrong regardless of the topic.

  25. If someone said this

    "The baby's probably fucking dead by now and if the damn thing is you'll have blood on your hands which suits me cos I don't want it anyway"

    about my unborn baby, I would not love it, I would feel sick to my stomach. This is the vile kind of thing that has been said. It's provocative and downright nasty bullying.

    And I haven't seen anyone hurling insults at Otsota, just people pointing out his barefaced hypocrisy. Oh bad old Caroline made Stuart cry and hospitalised him with her vicious words, she's so bad. Then in the next breath, she's a cyber-terrorist who is malevolent, delusional, evil and needs to stop - HE'S NO BETTER than what he's accusing her of doing! Not only that but he seems to think he's innocent in all this or justified because Caroline is so awful, but yet fails repeatedly to explain why!

    It's mental! Is there no reasoning with you all?

    To compare all this with The Telegraph is absurd, twitter is not just a means of debating a point or posting mundane statements about current events, it's also a social thing for many and speaking to real life friends in much the same way as people use Facebook. It's almost as if you're suggesting that to continue to use twitter is to ask for it, or to bring the bullying upon yourself which is unfair. Nobody deserves the ridicule and hatred that has been bestowed upon Caroline and to almost excuse it by saying “well don’t go online then and it won’t happen” is crap. Why should Caroline have to sacrifice a support network and means of communicating with friends because of some people who can’t seem to control themselves or behave with a degree of reason and sanity? It’s shameful!

  26. Twitter is not a support network. It is an online facility for self-promotion.

  27. For you maybe, but to apply that to everyone is naive.

    1. I don't use it. I'm just saying what I see. Actually, I did just use it to promote an event at a local Church, so that's not wholly true.

      On the whole though, it's vile.

  28. Anonymous11:26 pm

    Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur. Given the absence of evidence, those circulating serious allegations should apologise. Failing that, they should shut up.

  29. Anonymous4:07 pm

    I have spent ten minutes reading these comments,more fool me! and I still do not know what the heck is going on! Please don't tell! Leave me in ignorance in this instance. Seems some heads need to be knocked together,,,,but as I said, I do not knw what it is all about!

  30. Anonymous12:08 am

    What EFpastor emeritus said, even though I read Caroline's blog regularly.

    A hardcore oldskul anti-sentimental old-rite-loving cynical priest used to say to me that ninety percent of being a saint is being an nice guy.

  31. I share the unknowledge of what has been taking place so my thoughts are general. It may sound naive in a technological age, but why does anyone bother with Twitter? It strikes me as being displacement activity for a grown-up life; the intellectual equivalent of drinking out of a beer bottle instead of using a glass, a regression to infancy.
    Instead of producing an Oscar Wilde level of epigrams, tweeting seems to have degenerated into a contest of undisciplined playground exchanges of the worst kind, along with age-old excuse: "It wasn't me who started it."
    The difference between children and adults is that adults should be able to discern that something else may be going on behind a particular statement and to let it rest. But the whole Twitter culture seems inimical to this.
    The solution may be, should be, a good Confession with a firm purpose of amendment.

  32. Anonymous2:45 am

    Catholic cyberbullying doesn't happen just on Twitter. Last year I was viciously cyberbullied on a Traditionalist Catholic blog by Traditionalist Catholics. My bullying-worthy sin? Falling in love with an Anglican.

    After I got cyberbullied, I felt ashamed of my faith because my Anglican fiance saw the hateful comments and asked me about them. He wanted to know why Catholics look down on Protestants [note: they were the types of Traditionalist Catholics that do not believe in ecumenism].

    Cyberbullying Catholics should realize that sins committed over the internet are still sins.