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Social Media Bullies

The Internet is a funny place; it’s part news, discussion, encyclopaedic entries, fluffy animals and random musings. As far I think, the tumultuous combination of all of these elements makes cyberspace a cool place to hang out.  There’s just one tiny problem. It gives everyone a god complex. We’re all allowed to say what we want, even when no-one asked. Many of us also think that there aren’t any repercussions to what we do or say online, even though we’re warned repetitively not to put drunken photos, naked videos, or any other socially awkward moments online. And yet, many people still continue to push the boundaries.  We just need to consider the furore surrounding Pretoria University’s ‘blackface’ students to remember that everything we put online is in the public arena and can be used by anyone, anywhere, for good or bad reasons.

i-can-typing

Yesterday, I was on the receiving end of some pretty nasty tweets and it’s forced me to consider what to do next.  Even more problematically is that it involves a student.   Initially, I laughed and thought just forget it.  One of my colleagues however, said I should sue the offender for defamation.  One of my followers came to my defence and was told to ‘fuck off’. And me? I was told to ‘go and kill myself’ (just to clarify, I hadn’t responded to any of the original tweets). After all of this, I began to wonder, should I out them, so to speak? Should I report them to management? How does one respond to something like this?

In case you think I’m being melodramatic, here’s the exchange. I’ve blocked out student’s personal info because I don’t think identifying them serves a purpose.

twitter exchange1

Luckily, I’ve got a pretty thick skin. I teach, so I’m used to students being nasty, but this seems a little different. Firstly, it’s ‘out there’, and you never know who could read it and how they’d respond to someone implying that you’re a racist. It could cost me a job one day. And just imagine if the roles were reversed and I’d said this to a black student. It would definitely cost me my reputation, a lot of respect and possibly give me a criminal record.  And all thanks to someone who’s had a two second interaction with you on Twitter.

Secondly, using a homophobic slur and being part of an institution that prides itself on being inclusive is problematic. What if this behaviour extends beyond social media into something more sinister on campus?  Isn’t it my responsibility as a senior student to report this type of behaviour? And finally, what if I took the whole killing myself thing seriously? There are cases where families have sought damages and pressed charges against cyber-bullies for encouraging this type of thing. Does this student understand the real-life consequences of advocating suicide to others? I wouldn’t stand for one of my students telling another student in class something like this, so why should it be acceptable in cyberspace?

I’m still thinking about what to do, but in the meantime, I thought I’d invoke my own god complex, write this piece, include the offending conversation and let the Internet have its say. I’m also considering posting an open letter to the student to see what happens. But maybe that’s just trying to rock the boat a little too hard?

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Words

previewIt’s odd. As children we were taught that ‘sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us’. And yet, when you really think about it, words are the things that stick with you. The things people say to you are the things that, if we allow them to, shape us to our very core. We’re always told how important positive reinforcement is for a child, and how devastating it can be if one is emotionally abused, teased and lambasted. So then why the proverb? Why deny the very things that hang over us? The things that define us? The things that translate how those around us feel about us?

Sure, some would argue that ‘actions speak louder than words’, and yet, without those words actions mean very little. We forget the good things and most often remember the bad, especially when said with words that aim to destroy our character.

Strangely, even the good words can be hidden weapons. I love you. I miss you. I’m sorry. Thank you. All of these are potentially tainted. Said too often they lose their meaning and become empty vessels which imply the opposite of what they intend. I don’t love you; I say it to hide the emptiness in our relationship. I don’t miss you; I merely want it to appear that I thought about you when in fact you’ve never mattered. I’m not sorry; it’s just an obligation to clear the air and make myself seem like the better person. And I am certainly not thankful; otherwise, I’d have to admit that I owe you something, some favour, somewhere down the road.

But then again, words are magical things. They’re the possibility and the inspiration to take you away from that hurt, pain and emptiness. Shaped by imagination and the vigour of the most perfectly constructed phrase, one is able to feel love and meaning through just a few syllables strung together. I love you; you’re my everything. I miss you; I couldn’t imagine being without you. I’m sorry; watching you hurt is the greatest punishment I can endure. Thank you; I owe you everything.

Strange how such tiny fragments, arbitrary etchings, can be so devastating and yet so unequivocally beautiful at the same time. Orwell’s Newspeak would probably replace the term with hatelove or emptyfull; those things that can do just as much good as they damage. And still, we pretend they don’t matter. Those sticks and stones however…

Belittling the Cause

tumblr_m3b6iuMI0Q1r0men0I’m confused. Charity shouldn’t be something that one boasts about. Not because it’s not important, or that it’s not something to be appreciated, but rather, because we should all be helping each other whenever necessary. The current trend of women taking photographs of themselves without make-up to raise awareness for cancer irks me (as does the idiocy surrounding Movember and the latest ‘cock sock’ trend). Not because I think cancer is something that should be ignored – we’ve all had an experience with it in one way or another – or that people’s intentions aren’t good. The reality however, is that most women who are posting these selfies, haven’t done anything except post a photograph. It’s technically the same performance that one gives when clicking that ‘like’ button to send militia into Africa to save an orphan with Ebola, a cleft palette and an extra eye from a life of prostitution.

I’m not saying that everyone who takes part in this awareness campaign hasn’t donated something – whether it is time or money – to the cause; but why boast about it, and put it all over social media, as if you are some type of demi-god that should now be worshipped for your sacrifice?

Some may argue that it’s an awareness campaign and this creates awareness. Unfortunately, here’s the newsflash: cancer isn’t a secret. We know about it, we hate it, we’d do everything we could to stop it. That’s why there are millions pumped into cancer research every day throughout the world. PhDs are written about the disease, patient care, family support and pretty much anything else related to cancer, every year. There are so many other things, which are just as important, that aren’t given nearly as much attention. Corrective rape, domestic violence against men, inadequate sanitary access at schools, where children fall into pit latrines and die, are all issues that we seem to ignore. Why not cover yourself in shit and take a selfie to help encourage safer sanitation in our schools?

One, it trivialises the issue, and opens the door for cynics like me to question your motives. And two, if it doesn’t affect the middle and upper classes those people don’t like to think about. And those are just normal people problems. I haven’t even gotten onto animals, the environment or religion. The point however, is that whatever cause it is you are fighting, or whichever charity you are supporting, it shouldn’t be a one-off ‘look at me, supporting x like the good person I am’. It should be something that forms part of your everyday life, and more importantly, it shouldn’t be seen as part of a faddy group mentality, otherwise you risk belittling an important cause all in the name of self-promotion.

Things No One Will Believe

“Hello! I know I’ve asked you to do some strange things as my grad student, but I have a request. Please can you climb in through the boot of my car and unlock my door, the central locking’s gone.”

And that’s how my afternoon ended yesterday. Luckily, I didn’t have to channel my inner car-thief because by the time I got there the good doctor had managed to kick the door hard enough to pop the lock get her key to work.

The whole incident got me thinking, however; I’ve had to do some crazy things since I first registered as a postgrad. And since I’m sure there will be a few more to come as I disappear into the Irish countryside in a couple of weeks, I thought I’d recap some of the lines that have usually ended with me covered in mud, up a ladder, or searching for something.

1. Help! My computer broke!

2. Help! My keyboard broke!

3. Help! The Internet won’t work!

4. Help! My mouse broke!

5. Help! The printer won’t print!

Ok, so they’re not really all about technical hiccups, sometimes, like the car story I get things like:

6. Make me French Toast!

7. Make me coffee!

8. Where’s my lunch?!

Actually, to be fair, that’s not my supervisor at all! That’s just what greets me from her darling children if I ever dare see them. 

But I think my favourite line of all is:

9. Why do you always have to be right?!  

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