Opinion with Christine Tongue: When bullying isn’t as easy to see as Chinese burns and the failure to facebook like is misinterpreted

Christine Tongue

Apparently there’s a lot of bullying going on, especially on social media. But what’s really going on? Are people just getting nastier or more sensitive? Or are there a few people doing a lot of nastiness and the rest of us just chatting as usual and being misinterpreted (deliberately or otherwise)?

It’s very easy to be labelled as a bully. Put something in capitals in an email and you’re accused of shouting. Not like something on facebook and you’ve been critical. Or how about the horrendous crime of rolling your eyes at a meeting? All these are might be called bullying.

Even I’ve been accused of bullying – me! I’m very old, small, disabled and a woman. Should I be flattered?

I didn’t beat someone up in the playground for having red hair or give them a Chinese burn to make my friends laugh.

And I don’t shave my head, wear tough boy boots or knuckle dusters (not yet anyhow!)

Are people over reacting? Being paranoid? Or just devious?

But of course there is serious bullying going on. It’s easy to find.

Anyone who sticks their head above the parapet and expresses an opinion about some controversial local issue – Manston airport for example – or stands for a political office, can be harassed on facebook, their personal life examined in detail and used against them. Facebook standards don’t apply because the remarks don’t go quite far enough.

You can block the perpetrator but then you don’t see what they’ve said about you. You can deny what they say or put the other side or get your friends to, but this is exhausting and depressing. You can ignore them and then worry about what’s being said behind your back.

Ignoring is probably the best policy. Many cyber trolls will often die from lack of attention!

But some just keep on and sometimes it seems like an outlet for their own obsessions, like stalking.

This is very different from the bullying I’ve known in the past. My best friend in school was Polish, came over as a refugee after the war when she was five, with no English. She was horribly bullied in her first primary school for being unable to speak to the other kids. It scarred her for life.

Kids will target difference. When I was seven I had polio. I came out of hospital after missing six months of school, and a girl in my class started calling me “limpy leg”. I hit her (not very hard) and she never did it again! And nor did anyone else. But I’ve remembered the incident, and the girl and the awful feeling of being picked on for something you can’t do anything about.

But lashing out isn’t the answer for grown-ups! In a work situation managers have a myriad ways of bullying you – none as obvious as name-calling or Chinese burns.

In the 1980s I was teaching English to foreign students – three years of satisfactory teaching with no complaints from anyone and lots of nice cards from grateful students. But one day I was elected as a union representative for my college. I asked management for a few simple things, such as lockers for our books, more desks in the staff room, etc.  A week later I was accused of incompetence by my head of department. What an amazing coincidence! The message was clear: shut up or you’re out of here!

Fortunately my union fought it out and my manager had to cave in, reinstate me and apologise.

So, ignore or block is possibly the answer to dealing with an online bully but what’s the answer to being accused of bullying when you‘re not really doing it? It’s not easy! The questions to raise include: what does the accuser stand to gain by accusing anyone of bullying? Have they accused other people in the past? What’s gone wrong in their life to make them want to make someone else to suffer?

In the end you, the onlooker, will have to work out what bullying is, and what it isn’t. Good luck with that!


  1. I think, for most people, accusing someone of being a bully takes a lot of courage. I used to work in a team with one older, disabled woman who made all our lives a misery. She bullied one younger colleague so much she had a nervous breakdown. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. In any case, I hope you manage to resolve the situation.

    • I agree! I’ve known people who use a disability to get away with very bad behaviour and its difficult to deal with.

  2. Sweet old grannies, disabled or not, can be bullies just as much as they can be drug dealers. I know because I’ve met them both. Some of the most wonderful, kindest, gentlest people I know wear leathers, have tattoos, piercings and hands full of dangerous looking rings, and shaven heads. Stereotyping doesn’t help.

    • And grannies can be drug dealers! ; )

      Seriously, the best way to avoid accusations of bullying on social media is to avoid social media. I made a conscious decision to get rid of Facebook, Twitter (etc) 3 years ago. Since then, not only have I had far less stress in my life, but I’ve used the extra spare time constructively to pursue a career as an author, as well as to get fitter following a bout of ill health.

      • Totally agree peter! I have never had any desire to go on social media, I don’t have the time! I have tried to retire for the last 20 years, but bullying is serious, I suffered from it from my wife for several years, until I divorced her! There is now a law against controlling, and coercive behaviour, which wasn’t available to me at the time, but I was able to prove my wifes unreasonable behviour!

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