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PSA: social media bullies may not be who you think

Lately, there’s been a ton of news coverage about Mia Matsumiya’s Instagram account, perv_magnet. In her words, Matsumiya decided to post over 1,000 online messages that she collected from creeps, weirdos, and fetishists. With already over 74,000 followers, perv_magnet has been featured in the Huff Post, The Daily Mail, and Buzzfeed. This, only a month after Matsumiya debuted Hans Michael Chi’s horrific post from her Facebook page, “Would I like your sword in my neck.” What is that?

As a self-proclaimed social mediaholic, I’ve seen my fair share of people posting somewhat private messages in the public forum of social media—everything from an ex's private texts to address fail emails. But the question I ponder over and over again, is why do people do it? What’s the point? Is it for pure entertainment, some sort of power play, or like in Matsumiya’s case, a type of PSA?

Sharing the schadenfreude

My ex-boyfriend, for the sake of privacy we’ll call him Harry, has a very common email address. So common, in fact, that he constantly gets emails which are meant for other Harrys of the world. He receives everything from shopping receipts to very sensitive funeral arrangements. Instead of deleting the failed emails, he will usually reply to them kindly explaining the situation. However, Harry told me, “After the second or third time of people making the same mistake, I decided that trolling them would be more fun and possibly drive home the lesson.” Initially the ‘lessons’ happened privately over email, but then transitioned to public shaming once Harry started a website. Or as he says, “I started the website because I wanted to share the schadenfreude.” Is there really so much pleasure to be had from other’s people’s mistakes?

Take the power back

Carl Jung once said,“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” When we see an opportunity to degrade someone on social media, could we be sharing what we hate the most about ourselves? If so, why?

Think back to the classic example of the high school bully. Picking on others helps boost their self-esteem, giving them a sense of power.

Today, we take to the interwebs to display our power by shaming others for their mistakes and their misfortune—an online form of “peacocking,” if you will. In Matsumiya’s case, she wasn’t the classic bully, but she did exert her power by shaming others for their foul-mouthed and hurtful words. Jon Ronson, the author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, calls this “bullying in the name of righteousness."

Ronson raises an interesting question, Is the latter actually helping?

The social of social media

Your online personality is an extension of who you are in real life. However, there’s both your true self and your online personality—rarely are they the same. For example, I’m an introvert in real life, but if you look at my online self, you’d think I was an extrovert. We all do things on social media that we would never do in real life. There’s an air of mystery, a curtain to hide behind. But what people forget is that once it’s online, it’s public, no matter how the message is sent. DMs, texts, and pictures can be copied and shared with the world. The rules of privacy are broken on social media because the platforms are meant, after all, to be “social.” But, as my friend and PR maven Heather Meeker, says, “The rules of etiquette still apply in the digital world.”

Matsumiya’s rude commenters hid behind this invisible curtain as they degraded her and sent mean messages. What she does may not be considered ‘fair’ in everyone’s eyes, but it does bring intentional online bullying to light. She’s turned the tables on her tormentors.

PSA of social shaming

No matter what the reasons behind social shaming, be it a desire to call out others’ wrongdoings, or general bullying, we seek to hold people accountable for their actions. But are we being hypocritical by also hiding behind the veil of social media? Are the bullied becoming the bullies?

It’s time for us to break free of social shaming, regardless of the reason. As entrepreneur Chris Heuer of We Are The Solution told me, “It will require real fortitude, inner knowing and personal development to break free from this socialization. I hope one day we become strong enough to break free from it… It's unfortunately the double-edged sword of humanity's ability to be so kind and then so cruel and indifferent.”

Let’s challenge each other to be more present and aware on social media. And above all, let’s challenge ourselves to be our authentic selves, both on and offline.