Is cyber-bullying still a problem? It may be closer to home than you think. ALICE ECCLES explores.

‘Cyber-bullying’ – remember that?

It’s a concept that everyone is familiar with, but if you’re anything like me, it now feels like a relic of secondary school, left to gather dust among GCSE textbooks. However, this seriously neglects the still powerful tool that the Internet places in a bully’s hands. With anonymity on your side, discrimination and harassment can take on a life of its own in cyberspace. But where should the line be drawn – when does harmless banter become a form of vicious victimisation?

Today has seen the closing Cambridge’s very own Library Whispers, a site that allowed those of us trapped among the stacks to post anonymous comments from libraries around the university. The site, opened for the second time at the beginning of this exam term, has had to been taken down as the result of it having “turned into a forum of hate” in the words of its founder, Oliver Rees. While witty banter and observations inspired by boredom often prevailed, the site was vulnerable, like all its cyber-colleagues, to the abuse of its users.

To give due credit, the site  worked hard to remove those comments that cross a line. For example, administrators were quick to take down the particularly provocative “Just spat on a working-class person – fucking jokes!!!!!”. But its ‘hands off’ policy has, in part, facilitated the airing of derogatory material which pushes at the bounds of bullying. While enjoying the live feed on Friday evening as I desperately put off delving into yet another book on early modern witchcraft, the ‘whispers’ clawed at my conscience: “I can hear you clicking at your fucking card game through my headphones you inconsiderate dyke.” “Crazy laughing bitch in the corner please desist.” Nor am I alone, with one user whispering: “Why is everyone being so mean to each other? I thought library whispers was meant to be fun?”

Those that created Library Whispers should be congratulated for the site, which has provided an all-too-needed release for library-induced frustration. Facebook, Twitter, et al. have been unashamedly abused in the same way by those either too immature or too naïve to realise the true impact of their words and actions. However, perhaps this singular example can provide a personalised window into the continued presence of cyber-bullying in a university environment.

Across the proverbial pond, March 2012 saw the sentencing of Dharun Ravi, the roommate of 18-year old Tyler Clementi. The former Rutgers student was convicted on all 15 counts with which he was charged, ranging from invasion of privacy to bias intimidation. Clementi threw himself of the George Washington bridge in September 2010 after Ravi streamed a live video of his roommate’s sexual encounter with another man, tweeting “I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”  He now faces up to 10 years in prison and possible deportation to India.

As the line between private and public is blurred by the expansion of technology, we have all become increasingly vulnerable to the bullies of this world. I do not pretend to be qualified to dictate where the line can be drawn between harmless fun and potential cruelty, but perhaps a greater awareness that cyber-bullying is not simply a relic of secondary school might make it more recognizable when we encounter it either as a victim, a witness, or a perpetrator.

While I will always be amused by such posts as “Spent long enough in the library to start being attracted to the bust of John Taylor #stupidsexyjohntaylor”, I am tempted, perhaps for the first time ever, to side with someone sitting in the Central Science Library asking themselves “honestly who goes on this website to bitch about people”.

Library Whispers’ unfortunate fate is a vociferous warning of the current and all too extensive presence of bullying in universities. I applaud the website administrator’s decision to take down Library Whispers before someone got hurt.

  • ABC Family

    Don't worry, we have already made a movie about this:

    [youtube RT_4QZAYl5g http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT_4QZAYl5g youtube]

  • Bahhh

    Meh. I see far more offensive stuff in the Tab comments section every single day.

    And I love it.

  • cyberbully

    I NEVER LEFT HAHAHAH

  • Corpuscle

    #corpustoiletcrisis will forever be in our hearts

  • Observer

    Lol that this article condemns cyber-bullying when it was the Tab that encouraged us to 'Start projecting your own filth and suggestion at http://www.librarywhispers.co.uk' in the The Return of Library Whispers article.

  • TPJ

    I would cyber bully all day but, I got training with U21's!

    • Is it possible

      that TPJ is actually getting bullied?

      • U21=cool

        funny that some of the TPJ-joke founders were the ones that couldn't take the heat when the tables turned. yay go wyverns.

        • Freaked out by you

          Stalking them much?

        • You Should

          Really look into getting your own life. I hear it's great.

  • Rebecca Black

    [youtube kfVsfOSbJY0 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfVsfOSbJY0 youtube]

  • sticks and stones

    Someone else make a library whispers site.
    Apparently that bleeding-heart liberal can't take a joke.

    • Fool

      Why don't you do it? Oh wait, you aren't talented enough. Ahh, it's ok, you can stick to ruining other people's creations, that's just as good right?

      • moron

        "creation" stolen from fitfinder

  • Polymathmo

    Great article!

  • Bully

    Stop being a weiner and LAD the fuck up

  • I think…

    …I might be the inconsiderate dyke. Whoops. On the other hand, I didn't even notice until this article came up so there you go.

    Anonymity leads to bullying? Who knew…

  • Devil's avocado

    Hold up here.

    The examples you have as whispers so appalling as to not be fit for human consumption are:
    1) Just spat on a working-class person – fucking jokes!!!!!
    2) I can hear you clicking at your fucking card game through my headphones you inconsiderate dyke.
    3) Crazy laughing bitch in the corner please desist.

    These warrant the removal of library whispers? These constitute 'cyber-bullying'? The first is a generic, boring joke clearly mocking Cambridge, not working-class people. Calling it 'provocative' is to both misunderstand the joke and credit it with being interesting.

    The second and third are valid complaints about seriously irritating behaviour, vented in hyperbolic form. People want to work in libraries – if they piss others off through being irritatingly loud, they can rightly expect social repercussions.

    If anyone here thinks these constitute meanness or anything approaching 'bullying', I can only wish I were there see the serious shock you'll endure upon collision with the real world, post-graduation.

    Of course, it might be that the *actually* grievous, bullying whispers, so gut-wrenchingly diabolical our eyes and hearts had to be protected from them, were censored so quickly that these three examples were the only left. But these three point to the real problem with librarywhispers: it was fucking dull. Library whispers was full of inane shit, even before the hashtags, and never reached the soaring heights of its late grandfather, fitfinder.

    As for Tyler Clementi, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=My-CZGB6cVk

    • I think…

      On the other hand, why not just go over to the person in question and ask them (politely or not is optional) to cease and desist? Why vent anonymously and continue to fume about the behaviour? It's kind of arrogant, aggressive and unnecessary.

      It's perfectly acceptable to point out to someone that they're pissing you off in a place of work, isn't it? And it kind of forces you to conform to social norms of polite, non-aggressive behaviour, rather than just giving reign to (even mildly) venomous comments through an anonymous forum. Seems a little silly to just share your rage pointlessly in the internet, rather than acting on it and solving the problem. And implies that the venting person prefers to spit poisonous or insulting comments rather than actually ensure their own comfort, which is bitter and a bit fucked up.

      • Devil's apricot

        A fair point, but I think it underestimates the extent to which Britain is a nation characterised by passive-aggressive timidity.

        And the original point stands – in no sense could this be considered 'bullying'.

        • anon.

          true.

          in terms of actual cyber-bullying, comments on an article about me written in The Tab last year contributed massively to the mental breakdown I then suffered.

          So I find it amusingly ironic that The Tab should be calling other (more minor) cyber bullies to account when they themselves host and support a forum that's notoriously abusive.

  • Cleo Bramwell

    Czytalem jak Heather Mills skarzyli sie, ze nigdy Pawel chcial isc w nocy i po prostu chcial usiasc ukamienowany getting a noodling na gitarze.
    Wydawalo mi sie rozsadna rzecza do zrobienia, zwlaszcza dla kogos z talentem Pawla. Biedny Paul. Co ride on mial. Jesli ktos zasluguje na chill robi.
    Osmiele te dni, ze potrzebuje on mniej paliwa lek oszalalego uzaleznienia ale do radzenia sobie z bolem stawow itd. Kazdy, jak bouncy jak Pawel byl i jest to zwiazanie sie poszkodowany przez teraz.
    Wspaniale bylo przeczytac wiadomosc Gemini jest ponownie o Harrym dni Nilsson. Opowiesci o Nilsson sa jak Golddust.