According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to bully is to treat someone in a cruel, insulting, threatening, or aggressive fashion.
We have all been observing a lot of that recently, especially after the Office of the Prime Minister announced the change in ministerial responsibilities last Saturday. To put it mildly, the keyboard opinionists went wild.
Here are some of the comments picked off the Facebook page of Newsbook, whose ethos, in its own words, are “inspired by the Christian message”. We apologise for the lewd language, that is directed to former Minister Aaron Farrugia.
“Servejt zo.. jaqsmek farrakt pajjiz demel kollok”
“Toqodx tinkwieta ta… issa isibulek xi posizjoni ohra x’ imkien hux biex taqla lira!!”
“L-aqwa li int kuntent, issa oqod kwiet fuq il bank”
“Ahjar in-nies tal-ministeru bhalek taghmlu gabra ghal EX ministru halli jixtri Tesla ghax heq miskin issa mhux ha jsuq Vitz ux u ixtrulu cd tal banda ukoll halli joqod jisma l marci.” (Someone replying to a person who worked at the Ministry for Transport, Infrastructure, and Capital Projects)
Now, whilst we are in no way condemning Newsbook for the way in which commentators went wild on its Facebook page, the way in which people let loose online is something of a phenomenon.
Others across various news portals felt no problem with tossing in some comparisons with war-torn Gaza, whilst others urged former Minister Farrugia to emigrate or to work in the food-delivery sector.
“They need him in Gaza for the rebuilding of the roads…… too much traffic out there missiles, debris, tanks, blown up roads, funerals and band marches ……. he sacrificed here to go on a mission in the promised land”
“Kieku jien floku nemigra halli ma jarawniex nies”
“Sab xi xoghol jew ghadu qied iffittex ? Missu jiprova mal BOLT FOOD DELIVERY”
“Issa ha jkun jaf kemm irid jigbed fit-traffic”
We could write on and reproduce hundreds, if not thousands, of such comments. Whilst the relative anonymity provided by online platforms can embolden some individuals to express opinions or make statements they might not say in person, the names and surnames of those writing these comments are there in plain sight. Perhaps the physical distance from the subject may make it easier for people to detach emotionally when making such comments.
Perhaps one of the most crucial realisations when sifting through these comments is that people seem to forget that the politician is a human being, and a human being who, undoubtedly, tried his best.
This is the way society is responding to something unpleasant that happened to someone. Because, let’s face it: to have your ministerial responsibility shifted to someone else is never something that you would be happy about.
On various online fora, people showed absolutely no mercy and ripped apart the way in which Farrugia commented after being given the news. They weren’t happy about him putting on a brave face either.
“To be sacked from a ministerial position to a backbencher with a smile with no complaining to the head dog or expressing no disappointment means that he is a puff with no dignity allowing himself to be degraded.”
“Would not be surprise his name pops in the next scandal.”
“From one fool to another”
“Anke il-buffu wicc ta’ wiehed ferhan u dahkan IGIEBUH fl-istampi u r-ritratti. Qatt studjajtu il-PROFIL TA’ WICC IL-BUFFU? Ir-risposta tghatijilkom l-istess stampa jew jitratt tal-buffu.”
“He put on his best Inpector Clouseau attire just to make it clear that like Inspector Clouseau he is clue less and is an embodiment of the Dunning Kruger effect.”
Now, all this comes within a context of increased awareness on mental health. Most of us know by now that cyberbullying contributes to a negative online culture, fostering an environment where harassment and abuse are normalised. The overall well-being of individuals in the digital realm is compromised when cyberbullying becomes prevalent, impacting the way people engage with online platforms. What most people don’t realise is that there is no rank when it comes to the devastating effects of online insult-tossing. Yes, prominent people can be victimised too.
This is a complex subject because prominence and rank means increased responsibility. Cyberbullying can be a form of retaliation for real or perceived slights, conflicts, or disagreemmortaents. Individuals may use online platforms to seek revenge against those they believe have wronged them. Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries have a high chance of wronging people, because of the responsibility that they carry in their positions. Some will argue that politicians put themselves in the spotlight, therefore they should brace themselves for public fame and shame. But is it really necessary to twist a dagger in someone’s chest, whether that someone is a politician or not?
Perhaps we need to bring back a certain sense of emotion in the world of politics. These comments are a clear manifestation of a lack of empathy, not only for the MP himself, but for those who were part of his team. It is this lack of empathy that makes it easier for people to engage in hurtful behavior without considering the emotional impact on others.
It could be the case that the buck stops with Facebook page administrators and those responsible for online news fora. We could be more responsible and sift through comments, eliminating the malicious ones. But that’s also tricky since content engagement is one of the most important metrics in today’s day and age. This is the level of interaction, involvement, or attention that users have with a piece of content on any digital medium. It measures how much users interact with, consume, and respond to the content provided. It’s key metric for businesses, marketers, and content creators as it helps gauge the effectiveness and impact of their content strategies. Therefore, the more comments you have on your online space, the better.
There’s also a fine line when it comes to self-expression. Whilst constructive criticism and differing opinions can contribute to healthy discussions, it would make sense to moderate comments that are solely rude or inflammatory without contributing to the conversation. But then individuals should have the right to express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions, even if they are unpopular or controversial.
These are the types of conversations and dilemmas that we need to bear in mind when we discuss online hygiene and mental health.