In an industry with as many gray areas as Internet marketing there are bound to be some disagreements. From time to time tempers flare, and a heated discussion ensues about what is, or is not, the appropriate way to handle something. But, in the interest of adding a little more fuel to the dying fire, I wanted to throw in my two cents about the tendency some people have to fall back on petty name calling instead of engaging in a legitimate discussion. In short: no matter how much you might dislike someone, if they’re backing their opinions up with facts and examples they are not a bully.
On the one hand you could lazily define bullying based on some lame text book, but I’d rather define it based on those 80s teen movies we all know and love. The bully was the guy who shamelessly (and without cause) picked on the protagonist just because he could. He’d knock the books out of some nerd’s hand and then high five his friends because acting like a dick is totally cool. They’d instigate a fight just because they were stronger and then they’d totally humiliate some poor kid who’d just moved in from New Jersey.
But, since people rarely behave like this in the real world, the idea of bullying seems to have been co-opted and abused by people who don’t want to engage in actual debate. Sure, there’s no reason to dignify petty name calling or baseless insults (which are often the cost of online anonymity), but when someone stands up to you and offers a well reasoned argument or opinion, turning around and calling them a bully is just a crutch. There’s a huge difference between being outspoken about your opinions and going out of your way to start a fight with someone. There’s nothing bullying about someone calling you out and saying they disagree. In fact, it’s exactly those types of comments that help keep you honest and relevant.
Sometimes it’s easier to whine about how people are bullies than it is to stick up for your opinion, especially if you happen to be wrong. And let’s face it, most of us are wrong from time to time. The true leaders in the industry are the ones who embrace dissent and are not afraid to admit when they’ve stepped out of line and extend an olive branch to whomever they might have judged unfairly.
Does bullying take place online? Absolutely. But aside from the ever present comments from trolls, the reality is it’s usually a whole lot more subtle. Genuine online bullying is a lot more like bullying in real life. People don’t just run around dumping spaghetti on someone while an entire restaurant laughs at the poor sap’s misfortune. However, people most certainly do say nasty things about each other behind their back and encourage friends to do the same.
Real bully blogging isn’t about passing along your opinion or responding to someone you disagree with, it’s about using your audience to attack someone who has done absolutely nothing wrong. A good example would be the “mommy blogger” who threatened to say negative things about Crocs if she didn’t get a free pair of shoes. That’s just blackmail and intimidation. Compare this with the commenter who takes the time to explain why they disagree with something you’ve written, or something someone in the industry is doing, and it’s pretty easy to distinguish dissenting opinions from outright bullying.
There’s nothing wrong with being vocal, in fact sometimes it might be one of your biggest assets, but the next time you get into a disagreement with someone who says, “I think you’re full of shit…and here’s why,” maybe you should hold off on calling them a bully until you actually listen to what they’re saying.
Just something to think about.