Monday, 24 November 2014

Bullying is a privacy issue

By definition, bullying is about magnifying or making up something about a person and treating that person as though they were that (magnified or made up) thing and nothing else. It’s about stripping people of dignity by treating them as things and by making them think of themselves as things.

Privacy is (partly) the desire or right to be in selective control of the things one reveals about oneself.  Bullying is a privacy issue.

Here’s an example of bullying (TRIGGER WARNING). It’s not nearly the worst public example I could cite in recent years. I used it because there were actual prison sentences for some of the people involved, so I could point out a couple of things:

  • Convictions for bullying are extremely rare.
  • The damage to privacy has already been done, even more so if legal action is pursued. The victim doesn’t win even in the unlikely event that their bullies are punished.

Bullying is a privacy issue because it takes away people’s freedom to control what’s revealed about them.  Most often, bullying is about the revelation that someone is vulnerable rather than about an actual specific secret. The bullying by proponents of #gamergate and by people who dislike women who speak and by people who find LGBTQ people contemptible or hilarious is about exploiting vulnerability. That’s not to say that the victims of bullying aren’t strong and it’s not to say that the bullies aren’t also vulnerable. It’s about this: bullies are by definition people who exploit other people’s vulnerabilities. Not-bullies are people who don’t do that.  Not-bullies are very often victims of bullying. Work it out.

Respect people’s privacy. Don’t be a bully. 

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