While it is sometimes hard to believe, it wasn’t so long ago that the source of people’s opinions on things was drafted in physical letters where they put pen to paper, then mailed to the editor of a publication. You had to feel very strongly about the situation to sit down and spend the time writing out a letter, digging for the address on where to send it, find a stamp and an envelope, and mail the thing out. Then, if your letter was chosen for publication, you might see it in print.
Today, all of that has been replaced with a computer keyboard and smartphones, the onslaught of social media, and the Internet. Now, if you have any grievances or opinions, all you have to do is scroll to the “contact” page of a site, grab the email address, and instantaneously send them hate mail; complaining about how much you loathe what they are doing for whatever reason you have. Or better yet, you just go and comment on their Facebook page, tag them in a tweet, or roast them in a video shared on Instagram or TikTok. This way, they have it instantly, and they can get back with you the very same day if necessary.
Of course, that is if said company or agency has the coverage to do such a thing or cares to respond at all.
It’s common knowledge that most brands and businesses only have 1-3 people working on their social media at a given time, whereas most only have one person in charge of monitoring and managing social media. (I have an amazing story to tell you about that point being made by a friend of mine on a page I used to work for and how it ended up hurting me in the long run … but that’s a story for another time.)
When you compare 1-3 people per business working on social and the projected 4.55 BILLION people on social media commenting (KEPIOS), it’s easy to see how the average user can overwhelm the typical social media manager. This simply proves we are now in a time when the keyboard is mightier than the pen.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: people are incredibly brave behind the anonymity of a keyboard. They say things that they usually wouldn’t say in person because they feel safe, secure, and hidden behind a profile that may or may not contain their real name and real email address. They develop relationships with people who are doing the very same thing and gang up on other people who don’t agree with their opinions (whether they are from the area where the issue they are complaining about is located or not) and because there are more of them, they usually win at chasing other people away. The people who are chased away then, in turn, email the site administrator (or the web team) to complain about how cruel some of the people on the page are. Depending on the business/agency/government page – sometimes something can be done, and sometimes nothing can be done.
I’ve seen it far too often, and have even been on the receiving end of the drama. It’s cyberbullying at its best.
I’ve had this discussion with numerous people, including my husband, about how cyberbullying is real and a dangerous thing. Most people have the attitude of “grow a thicker skin” but it’s not always that easy. Cyberbullying comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes: the teenager who posts demeaning photos of a girl and pokes fun at her, or a couple of people who berate a person for their contradicting opinions on a news website, or the guys who are threatening to release nude photos of Emma Watson because she stood up for something she believed in and they didn’t, or even the idiots who make comments on a young woman’s running blog saying things like “If you run so much, why are you still so fat?” (yes, that last one is a personal one)
It’s all bullying, and it’s all unnecessary. In a world filled with darkness and evil, why wouldn’t you want to lift people up and be a positive influence? Why the need to be so negative and tear people down? Do you really need to say something if you don’t agree with what is posted, or can you just move on and pull an Elsa (let it go)?
This kind of thing didn’t exist 10 years ago. Instead, it was boys pulling girls’ pigtails to get their attention. It was the bully cornering the “nerd” in the hallways to shove others around. It was gossip behind people’s backs, it was heated arguments over cups of hot coffee and a scone for breakfast, it was angry letters written to the editor displaying a contradicting opinion. As time goes by and new technology explodes, so do new ways of communicating or bullying.
I’ve seen it go the opposite way, but it’s significantly less frequent.
But things are changing. There was a court ruling in a 2017 case where a girl was found guilty of manslaughter due to her texting her boyfriend and encouraging him to kill himself. (He did, in fact, successfully kill himself.) This counts as cyberbullying and things are only growing from there. Many parents and guardians are suing those who are bullying their children online, once they can pinpoint that it’s that bullying that caused them to attempt or succeed in suicide. Schools are starting to get in the action as well, disciplining students who use school property for their cyberbully actions. Lawenforcement agencies are also stepping in and charging students who are participating in the sharing of risque photos as a form of bullying.
In the case of trolling, however, it’s all instant gratification. Knowing their words could be seen by one or one million, as soon as they click the post button is a rush to many, and those are the people who take to the internet to make sure their words are heard no matter what. Gone are the days of actually writing a physical letter with a pen and paper, now it’s email and Facebook and Twitter.
The consequences are much more significant as well.
Personally, I still love a good pen and notebook. It’s how I started writing my novels and first learned how to write for the newspaper. I learned how to type on a typewriter, but still believe a pen and paper letter is the most important of all communication. I didn’t get a computer in my house until I was a senior in high school, and even then we didn’t use it much. Once in college, I had to learn how to use my very own computer and now, in 2022… the number of electronics I own is staggering.
Right now, I currently own three laptops, a smartphone, and an iPad. At any given moment, I could be on all of them at the same time. Despite that, I still write all of my notes by hand in a notebook with one of my favorite pens as my PIO training has taught me, because technology is unreliable and could easily fail at the worst possible moment.
In my opinion, the pen will always be mightier than the keyboard despite how many brave souls have taken up their posts behind the keyboard. And I know how to sign my name in cursive too, which they don’t even teach in schools anymore. Think on that one.