Online Bullying: A Real Problem, Even on Neopets
Neopets is a friendly website open to all ages. I myself enjoy being able to sign on to Neopets and play games or chat on the boards. I enjoy the security and the rules that are set up by the Neopets Staff because they protect me and others from harm. Unfortunately, there are still some forms of bullying that go on despite these rules. I have witnessed some unfortunate verbal, or rather textual, abuse that goes on on the neoboards. I think the problem originated from the idea that criticism over the internet cannot cause any damage, and that those who criticise can hide behind their computer screens and not be punished. In real life it's very uncommon that someone would openly verbally attack a group of people. They fear being attacked or judged for their actions. When someone is online they lose their inhibitions and have nothing to fear. They have a fake identity and don't face any real judgment or punishment.
I am aware of this problem because I have witnessed it all over the neoboards firsthand. Without naming any usernames, I can attest to witnessing plenty of biased criticism. Stereotyping and labelling occurs here on Neopets as well as in real life. Some of the stereotypes that are attacked on Neopets include "geeks, "emos (emotionals)", goths", and "noobs (newbies)". Age is even a factor in certain cases, where younger users will criticise adult neopets users for playing Neopets. I find it is fairly rare, but it still happens. There are other groups that suffer, but I haven't necessarily witnessed this. I am not on Neopets 24/7 but I have heard from some of my neofriends about it.
These generalizations (i.e. stereotyping) are a result of improper logic. The improper logic that is used comes from a biased attitude. This is the definition of bias: "a. A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment. b. An unfair act or policy stemming from prejudice." To further define bias, this is the definition of prejudice: "a. An unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason. b. Any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable." (Since I can't credit the source I got that information from, I will simply say that both of those definitions are not my own words and I don't claim them as my own.) Groups labelled as "emos", who are just people who are either upset or in need of help, are judged as “attention seeking”. It is impossible to know if they seek attention unless their mind has been read. I would also like to argue that it's no one's business of what other people are like. Some of the bullies that I am talking about might retort by saying it's none of MY business what they want to say, but I think that it IS my business if they are hurting feelings and being inappropriate. The best solution is to not say anything at all, unless it is to defend someone's feelings.
Self expression – it’s a beautiful thing! We all are entitled to self expression, and while some things should be limited, some others should not be. For example, anyone who loves black and heavy metal music or poetry should NOT be labelled instantly as a goth or emo. I love black, tolerate heavy metal and love poetry – but I am not a goth, but according to the logic that is used, I should be labelled as one. Where is the freedom in that? These groups that we belong to should not have characteristics that we have to follow. Labelling others leads to the problem at hand.
Online bullying – it may not be seen as a serious form of bullying, but it truly is.
I find that when I post on a board defending the people who are being attacked, I myself am attacked just by defending them. It is my opinion that those who insult others don't have a real purpose – they just want to exert power and feel superior to others around them. A common thing that is said by the attackers is “Why don’t you just leave the board?” I would ask them in return: “Would you leave the board if you were in my position?” Defending ourselves is a natural thing. We don’t easily walk away from criticism, and for those who do, good for you! But not everyone can do that.
While someone does have the free will to criticise others, I think that it should be restricted as much as physical bullying. Our mental health is important and can be hurt by nasty online comments. It is true that many people, teenagers especially, are unstable and emotional. It is natural, considering our development. There are many users who would tell those unstable people to “get off of Neopets” (I’ve seen it), but I say that they have the right to play Neopets without being insulted. Being on a computer doesn’t take away our feelings. It’s not a shield that can defend us from insults.
There appears to be a lack of reason and sympathy. The users who criticise individuals or groups of people do not know the people that they are criticizing. All of their criticism and arguments are empty abstractions and completely void if you analyze them closely. They have no proof to support their statements.
There are many words that are not seen as harmful but really can be! Some examples are "trolls", "losers", "stupid", "idiot", "lame", and many others. Another example of cruelty is when someone expresses that they are sad or had a bad day, and a not-so-nice user posts something like "IM SO LONELY AND EMO HUG ME HUG ME! :(:(:(" as a form of mocking the board creator. That is a direct quote from a board that I saw. The board creator may have been out of line by declaring to everyone that they were sad, but I do not think that mocking her/him would make them feel any better. Not saying anything at all saves them from humiliation and hurt.
Neopets may just be a website, but the people who play Neopets are real and so are their feelings. If you as a reader who disagrees with me, then I am sorry that you do not understand the importance of the situation. If you take my advice, then great! If not, that’s okay too.
Remember the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you wanted to be treated.”