Lindsay Bell

How Online Bullying Affects Your Brain

By: Lindsay Bell | April 10, 2013 | 
46

How Online Bullying Affects Your BrainIf familiarity breeds contempt, then what does contempt breed?

Apparently, more contempt.

It’s no secret in the social space we all loathe the ‘negative Nellies.’

Their goal?

To engage in online bullying and spew hateful, hurtful commentary on Facebook pages or blog posts day after day.

Trust me, we’ve experienced more than our fair share of the same here at Spin Sucks.

But, negativity aside, have you ever thought about the affect this online bullying has on the other people reading your content?

Online Bullying

Apparently, a lot. In fact, a recent study showed negative comments can actually change the opinions of otherwise objective readers.

This was determined using a fairly simple, but interesting exercise. Researchers from George Mason University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison set up a fake blog with a news item on a fake product. The Blog post touted its supposed benefits and its possible drawbacks.

They created two versions of the post, one including civilized comments that included both support and skepticism. The other post included those same supportive comments, but was also peppered with classic online bullying behavior. There were ignorant outbursts, obscenities, and troll-like attacks on the other commenters.

Two groups of readers read the article each with one of the set of comments. The ‘nice comments’ group? They retained more or less the same personal opinions they had already formed about this made-up product.

The ‘negative comments’ group? Interestingly, they were more likely to have changed their original personal opinions, having been swayed by the rude, argumentative comments, and much more concerned about the possible drawbacks of the fictional product.

Now remember – this came after reading the comments – not the content of the article. And this came not after reading healthy, civilized debate, but after reading an aggressive, rude, and nasty comment thread.

So, what does this tell you? It told the researchers that nasty, hateful comments don’t just affect one’s mood or frame of mind. They affect how our minds frame ideas and process information.

It’s Evolution, Baby

So, while you’re sitting there, all mature and full of life experience, patting yourselves on the back saying “Oh, come on now. I would *never* be so easily swayed by a few garbage-spewing trolls!” consider this.

We are raising a generation who would be.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, today’s young people are missing out on the luxury of time. The hours spent reading a good book, for example, then the hours spent afterwards pondering what it all means.

This cohort isn’t learning some core skills. Skills that most of us, relative cavemen in comparison to the wired, media savvy youth growing up in today’s digital world, learned as we matured in our slower, simpler world.

These important skills include:

  • Public problem-solving through cooperative work
  • Searching effectively for information online
  • Weighing the quality of information.

Weighing the quality of information – BINGO!

Barry Chudakov, a research fellow at the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto summed up the dilemma it best, “Is this my intention, or is the tool inciting me to feel and think this way?” (Italics are mine.)

Being adept at self-analysis, and able to determine why we feel, think, and react to something the way we do is an important skill. And it’s a skill that some worry the youth of today are not learning how to do.

We’re definitely not going to change this evolution. It’s part and parcel of this exciting new wired world we all now live in. But what we can do as marketers is be proactive.

Constructive Debate

If healthy debate is brewing within your community – jump in there and debate with them – Gini Dietrich is a pro at this! If you have an anonymous commenter being truly hateful and ugly to others (bullying, racial or sexist slurs), by all means block that person and/or delete their vitriol. If they are borderline bullying, but using their real name (a rarity), try taking it offline, perhaps via email, to see if there is a reason said person is so angry about your content or brand.

We’re never going to get rid of the haters and trolls who have been anointed with the greatest online superpower of all: Anonymity.

But we need to remember a string of non-stop negativity might affect how potential clients or consumers feel about your content, your company, and your brand. And if I were a betting lady? I would put money on the fact it is already swaying the opinions of the next generation of social media users. Your future customers.

About Lindsay Bell


Lindsay Bell is the content director at V3 Marketing, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and Hank Dawge, a Vizsla/Foxhound/moose hybrid. Ok, maybe not moose.

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46 Comments on "How Online Bullying Affects Your Brain"

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SpinSucks
SpinSucks
3 years 24 days ago

kmueller62 Hey, hey!! Thanks for sharing Ken :)

yvettepistorio
3 years 24 days ago

Um, apparently great minds think alike because I JUST wrote about bullying. 
Haters gonna hate no matter what.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 24 days ago

yvettepistorio Haters gonna hate, definitely – but they need to be dealt with – it was surprising to me to read how much impact the trolls had on the people reading the ‘test’ article. Brands beware. :)

yvettepistorio
3 years 24 days ago

belllindsay yvettepistorio I was surprised too actually. I guess I just am good at either ignoring them or they haven’t come for me yet.

Katherine Bull
Katherine Bull
3 years 24 days ago

Great article and topic, Lindsay. I’ve been a target, and I worry about my 8 year old being a target one day.   I feel/felt so strongly about this subject that I published a book called Civility in the Digital Age, by Andrea Weckerle at http://www.CiviliNation.org.  Andrea’s book is a real gem – case studies and great advice. http://www.amazon.com/Civility-Digital-Age-Companies-Biz-Tech/dp/0789750244/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365618425&sr=1-1&keywords=civility+in+the+digital+age  There are so many different aspects of bullying and in many cases can ruin people’s lives. Kids are killing themselves because they are being bullied. It is a national crisis, IMHO. We need to keep talking about it.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 24 days ago

Katherine Bull Oh Katherine, the kid thing is SUCH a horrible and gargantuan ‘other story’ isn’t it? My son is 13, and his friends are absolutely vicious to each other. Thanks for the book link. While I’ve never been personally attacked online (er, to my knowledge! LOL) but it never ceases to amaze me how quickly people jump all over each other – even absolute strangers – when they’re interacting online.

Katherine Bull
Katherine Bull
3 years 24 days ago
belllindsay (I’m hating LiveFyre because it “lost” my long, thoughtful comment!) Lindsay, it is truly amazing how this behavior is starting so young. The sad and confusing part is that I know good parents who have been sickened to find out that their kid is being a bully. And I would bet that these 13 year old bullies will grow up to be adult bullies – an even more terrifying thought. When I was 13 there was bullying but it was pre-Internet so anything said was said to another kid’s face. Hiding behind the written word makes it so much easier… Read more »
belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 23 days ago

Katherine Bull Would you mind emailing me Katherine? I’m at LBell@armentdietrich.com. Would love to chat a bit more about this. Powerful stuff.

katskrieger
3 years 24 days ago

This hits home for me now and I am sure I am not the only Spin Sucks community member who feels that way.  I am definitely over the haters, especially particularly obnoxious ones that think it is okay to spam me with their nonsense.

jasonkonopinski
3 years 24 days ago

katskrieger YOU SUCK. /flee

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 24 days ago

jasonkonopinski katskrieger LOLOL!!

jasonkonopinski
3 years 24 days ago

katskrieger belllindsay Try the veal.

jasonkonopinski
3 years 24 days ago
Go Patriots! GMU is my alma mater.   I feel lucky that I haven’t really been targeted by trolls on any of the stuff that I have written here or on my own site, but I’ve seen certainly witnessed my fair share of it around the web over the years. I wonder, though, whether we as a digital society are simply less adept at recognizing good, honest, intellectually rigorous debate and just mislabeling it as being “negative”.  I’ve been called lots of things over the years, but shy certainly isn’t one of those. If I see something that I disagree… Read more »
belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 24 days ago

jasonkonopinski thebrandbuilder I hear you Jason, but “good, honest, intellectually rigorous debate” is not what I mean but bullying and troll like behaviour. Do I think we all are very quick to jump and/or not get the humour sometimes? Yes. But when it’s hard core abusive negativity it needs to be addressed.

jasonkonopinski
3 years 24 days ago

@belllindsay Oh – without question. I certainly don’t tolerate trolls & bullying. Rule #1: don’t feed them.

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Let’s be honest, https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=@ginidietrich&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8 is among the worst trolls the Chicago chapter of Flying Squirrels and Killer Dolphins has ever encountered. It is only because she is on vacation that we have finally regained control of our website and comment system. And in other semi serious news the question isn’t whether you are going to be visited by trolls but what you do when they show up. You can’t always manage the situation by not feeding them because sometimes a lack of response encourages their behavior. If they are spewing out “facts” sometimes you have to address them too or you let… Read more »
belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 24 days ago

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Exactly Josh. Not feeding = ignoring (for some people) and that will just fan the flames. I think being engaged and trying to get a little control back in the comment stream is key. It shows your other community members that you’re listening, and are there for them, and it also shows the troll that you are not going to sit back and let them run roughshod over the conversation.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 24 days ago

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes Also, what do I do to earn my colours for the Chicago chapter of Flying Squirrels and Killer Dolphins…!!??

allenmireles
3 years 24 days ago

Oh well done, you! This is an excellent post and one that I will share with great pleasure. Makes sense that the bullying and contempt how we frame our ideas. Hmm, much to ponder here.

allenmireles
3 years 24 days ago

This is the other thing that jumped out me: “…today’s young people are missing out on the luxury of time. The hours spent reading a good book, for example, then the hours spent afterwards pondering what it all means.” We’re all feeling pressed for time but this really highlights an important area.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 23 days ago

allenmireles That statement really struck me also Allen, especially having a 13 year old son at home. I am a voracious reader and have been since I was a youngster. My boy…? Meh. Could care less. I find it troubling, but hope he’ll change as he gets older. How can you NOT LIKE BOOKS!!??

Katherine Bull
Katherine Bull
3 years 23 days ago
belllindsay allenmireles This is such a critical point. I’m in NO way a perfect parent but I have a couple of house rules. No Wii, Internet, or TV during the week. A big part of this is that I figured out that it really affected my daughter’s ability to fall asleep. She can read all she wants though. We also go the library every Sunday and she can check out up to 20 books as long as she keeps track of them or pays the fees out of her allowance. (I also check them for age appropriateness) She has a limit of… Read more »
KenMueller
3 years 24 days ago

Hitting home in a big way. What sucks is when the haters win.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 23 days ago

KenMueller Funny how no one talks (much) about adult online bullying – I mean, we need to protect our kids, etc., from how horrible it can be for them – but there’s just as much of it going on at an adult level, and I don’t care how strong or confident a person you are, it can be just as hard to take as a grown up. I try and remind myself that anyone who has that much free time on their hands to troll around being a hater must be a total loser. 😉

KenMueller
3 years 23 days ago

belllindsay and yet, sometimes they do enough damage that they win.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 23 days ago

KenMueller Yup. Jerks.

KenMueller
3 years 23 days ago

belllindsayyup

Katherine Bull
Katherine Bull
3 years 23 days ago

belllindsay KenMueller Totally agree with you both. The damage, as I wrote in my very long comment, goes beyond hurt feelings. It can be life changing. And guess what? When it is “out there” on the Internet there is no way to pull it back or defend yourself without spending days (months?) finding every instance out there.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 23 days ago

Katherine Bull KenMueller That’s the biggest thing – the whole “to infinity and beyond” of the internet. Side note, but similar, a highly respected Canadian swim coach just went through the nightmare of clearing his name after a false ‘sexual touching’ allegation. As he said in an article, “while I was proven innocent, the first thing you see when you Google my name is the court case, etc.. That will never go away.” He doubts he’ll ever get back to coaching because of that, the lingering ‘smell’. The internet is a scary and powerful place.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 24 days ago

JenKaneCo Thanks so much Jennifer! :)

giesencreative
giesencreative
3 years 24 days ago

It looks like http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcc4.12009/abstract is available online temporarily, if anyone wants to take a look. To clarify, the bullying comments are more polarizing than convincing. If you support the topic and see rude comments, you’ll be less concerned by the risks. If you’re against the topic and see rude comments, you’ll be more concerned by the risks. Explains political debates pretty well…

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 23 days ago

giesencreative Thanks for the info!

facinguptoit
facinguptoit
3 years 24 days ago

brittanybotti Thanks, that is interesting. Makes me a little scared for the up and coming generation though.

KristenDaukas
3 years 23 days ago

I did a post a couple of weeks on my personal blog about bullying bloggers. It’s ridiculous and it’s really bad in the parenting blogging world. God forbid should you not feed Junior organic bean sprouts instead of a twinkie once in a while. Just because you have a voice and an audience doesn’t give you the right to bully someone else. I have a “warning” that the only nasty comments that are allowed are those that fall into the “It’s Jackson if you’re nasty” category.. all others will be banned.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 23 days ago

KristenDaukas Ohhhhh yes, parents everywhere can be so incredibly judgemental of each other – I imagine online it’s pretty bad. I just figure to each their own, you know? It takes A LOT of effort and energy to be negative and judge’y all the time. I’ve never understood what people get out of it. Makes themselves feel superior? I guess. I watch shows like Hoarders when I need to feel superior. And just barely. 😉

SpinSucks
SpinSucks
3 years 23 days ago

joecardillo Joe!! Thanks for sharing :)

SpinSucks
SpinSucks
3 years 23 days ago

michellehals Thanks Michelle!

jdrobertson
3 years 23 days ago

I have often wondered – do people I don’t know or barely know feel they have to use profanity when speaking with me because they think it’s the only thing I understand – that, in fact, it’s all I’m capable of grasping! They certainly don’t do much for my quality of life!!!!!

TaraGeissinger
3 years 23 days ago

I worry about the world that my kids are growing up in all the time. It continues to amaze me what people will say in the comments section of a blog, online newspaper story or Facebook post. It used to be that our blog comments could be anonymous — and then the haters really came out. But even now, with our accounts linked everywhere and identities out in the open, people are just as unfiltered. It’s sad.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 22 days ago

GaryYapDotCom Glad you enjoyed it Gary. As a parent, kind of scary how kids brains are changing, eh? Thanks fo rthe share! :) JenKaneCo

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 22 days ago

Frank_Strong Cheers Frank….also, you owe me an email… 😉 SpinSucks

Frank_Strong
Frank_Strong
3 years 22 days ago

belllindsay yes ma’am. Top of mind. Will get it to you Monday.

belllindsay
belllindsay
3 years 22 days ago

JonMikelBailey Thanks for sending that out Jon-Mikel! :) SpinSucks

fschick1249
fschick1249
3 years 20 days ago

stevenamcqueen Aschick41 World is full of a-holes; set yourself apart – don’t be one.

stevenamcqueen
stevenamcqueen
3 years 20 days ago

fschick1249 Aschick41 kerr_kevin we have been saying that this week. Amazing what comes back when you are human to people. Be nice.

howiegoldfarb
howiegoldfarb
3 years 20 days ago

danperezfilms yes ginidietrich has been bullying me online since 1986

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