The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

Rethink your post

In the old school days, the term 'pile on' was used to describe a situation where during a kick to kick of the footy, the player who ended up with the ball was taken to the ground and others jumped on top. That was a different era and what was loosely acceptable as a lunchtime activity would now be frowned upon.

Unfortunately, the term has recently re-emerged, but with a different meaning. A 'pile on' is now used to describe a social media situation where an individual or group is targeted by others.

These 'pile ons' have become increasingly common and often target people in the news, celebrities or people who have made a mistake, and may be based on a rumour rather than truth. Increasingly they turn personal in nature. The original comment or comments are expanded upon, almost like a dare, as individuals attempt to 'out do' each other in their outrage and condemnation of the target. Those who are 'offended' by a comment or action sometimes become offensive themselves, but justify their behaviour with statements such as "they started it" or "they had it coming."

It is not, however, only people in the news who experience these social media 'pile ons'. Sometimes it might be someone we know. This person may have made a mistake, made a poorly chosen comment or been on the receiving end of an untrue rumour, or it could be that someone has simply taken a dislike to them and decided to comment online. Others may feel the need or desire to add their own comment, to add to the hurt that person is feeling. It is a sad reality, but one that occurs.

Unfortunately, there were a few high profile instances over the summer break and the pain caused to the individuals who had made a mistake was enormous. More often than not, people do not need others they don't know, or others they are not in the same friendship groups with, pointing out their errors. They know where they went wrong and are already working to rectify the situation - the opportunities to learn from mistakes are paramount and people lining up to pass their judgement, elevate a matter or join a chorus of abuse is not helpful.

You may have watched as comments have been posted online about others. They may be people you know or people you know of. You may agree with some of the comments, be shocked by others or simply pass them off as online 'banter'.

I encourage you to think carefully about involving yourself and, if you do, think about the manner in which you want to represent yourself. Importantly, think about the impact your comments may have on the targeted individual. The online world is continually evolving but, what gives any of us the right to pass judgement on another?

We have all made mistakes, some of which were embarrassing and some that hurt others, however, it is not acceptable to target another person in a mean or vindictive manner simply because they are seen as being 'different' or holding 'different views'. While an individual may ignite a situation by sharing a controversial perspective, perhaps trying to illicit an emotional response, it is important to think before choosing to get involved.

As a columnist for one of our national papers wrote earlier this year:

"Pile ons aren't concerned with political argument, or nuance. It's personal abuse. It's broken. It's unedited, unfiltered. It's garbage".

Even adding a comment, emoji or 'liking' a negative post might cause pain to another so it is important to put ourselves in the shoes of the individual who is being targeted. If it is a case of someone being cyber-bullied, we have a responsibility to act, whether by alerting someone to the situation, checking in with that person or by standing up for them.

Even if we don't agree with the actions of another person, we should ask ourselves what are we gaining by passing judgement online and endeavour to be the bigger person by acting with kindness. There is value for us in the social connections made on social media and just as we strive to be good citizens in our day-to-day lives, we should strive to be the same online.