When I taught boys, roughly 45% of what I taught wasn’t related to the curriculum. Rather, much of my lessons were spent on the ‘invisible curriculum’: social skills, tempering impulsivity, helping students develop study habits and persistence, and negotiating troubling social situations.
An intensely difficult job for any adult is to explain to very upset children the difference between bullying and the logical consequences of unpleasant behaviour. (Actually, I think that comprised about 80% of my grade five drama classes.) Developmentally, it takes a reasonable amount of life experience to acknowledge and be able to process the reality that one’s inappropriate or harmful behaviour and treatment of others – though unintended – can be a factor in how one is received by others. Some children aren’t ready for it until they’re ten, eleven, or even into their later teens. Some people (e.g. your beloved, benevolent blogger herself truly) don’t learn it until their twenties. But eventually, most people get it.
So when I see that kind of hand-wringing and social ineptitude by older adults, I feel… confused? Annoyed? Unimpressed – that’s what I feel! And obviously, it’s a huge mainstay of the alt-med pseudoscience scene, where anyone who has even so much as looked at an arnica bottle fondly must leap to the eternally butthurt defence of their beloved sugar tablets from rational challenge.
So pour yourself a cup of tea (milk in first, peons!), because The Lady Miss Unwholesome’s Finishing School for Indecorous Wayward Girls is about to commence.
There have been two great internet fights I have been watching with interest over the past few days, both of which have been spurred by the spectacularly inappropriate comments of their instigators: two (apparently) grown-up women who I am sure would re-think the course of their life had they any insight or self-awareness. However, given that I doubt this, I am sure they are not presently – hence the legal threats being made by both.
Yes, I get it, we can all be tools on social media. I am probably the biggest tool on social media. I am what happens if Mark Latham and Kanye were to have a horrible baby with impulse control issues. But there is a significant difference between making fun of homeopathy or quacky woo and calling someone a “dumb F#$%ing bitch” with a “F#$%ing brain tumor” who is a “whore [who] needs a slapping” – or accusing the grieving mother of a child killed by a vaccine-preventable disease of having lied about even having a child who died.
So, onto the first case: a woman called Monika Milka who decided she was through – THROUGH, I SAY – with Scibabe and her lack of knowledge about homeopathy:
I don’t know what she was quite expecting, but needless to say, Scibabe’s followers have taken to it with the sort of zeal that one only sees from a starving great white upon stumbling across an untouched floating whale carcass.
However, had she thought it through, she probably would have been a little more circumspect about exposing a larger audience of people to her own background as an alt-med practitioner. Admittedly, I have never had an episode of Today Tonight made about me, yet she has. I guess you could say I am pretty envious, but given my busy schedule I am unable to rip off pensioners, try on an ill-fitting bra in a hidden fitting-room camera or make kids obese.
(I’d teach her about the Streisand Effect, but the more I discuss it, the less relevant it would become homeopathically.)
To be fair, I’d probably not feel great if thousands of mocking, derisive people descended on my Facebook account. However I find it hard to empathise with a person who has previously been investigated for harming people with dubious treatments, and who persists in charging people money for a modality proven not to work. While I have sympathy for people driven to try alternative medicine, I don’t extend that same good will to those who wilfully profiteer off the suffering of the desperate, despite being previously named in an inquiry on the topic.
Monika, let’s be very blunt: people are not bullying you. You made an inflammatory post without mindfulness of your own social (and mass) media presence, and people made fun of the ridiculous logic inherent in homeopathy. They then thought for themselves and did their own research (and after all, isn’t that what you guys have been demanding we do for so long??) and learned of the impact your business has had on some people.
Making fun of a kid for making a Star Wars video in his garage is cyber-bullying. Mocking an overweight woman for having fun in a Lara Croft costume is cyber-bullying. Encouraging other men to threaten the murder and rape of female game developers and journalists is cyber-bullying.
Pointing out that you have defended homeopathy with ableist, sexist language in a public post and then being annoyed because people have linked you from this to other publicly available information about your conduct as an alt-med practitioner isn’t cyber-bullying. It’s social opprobrium to inappropriate, harmful behaviour that others wish you had the maturity and sensibility to grow out of. You don’t get to sue people because they pointed out that they don’t like your words or that you are selling something that has been empirically proven to not work, despite threatening to do so on a number of occasions. It may be time to take the advice you gave in your most recent FB post.To use a line a former teacher likes to use, “let me know how that works out for you”.
The second case is iffier and falls into a pattern established by many anti-vaccine advocates who have engaged in the bullying of bereaved parents. Greg and Cath Hughes are far from the first to be targeted by anti-vaxxers who have accused them of lying about the cause of their child’s death: the McCaffery and Kokegei families have also endured the social media taunts and phone harassment by members of the AVsN following their own tragic losses. (Some friends, when I explain to them why I am so adamant about challenging anti-vaxxers, are often unaware of the actions of the AV community.) Nevertheless, the prominence of the Hughes’ Light for Riley campaign has seen them become the recipients of unprecedented bullying and slander, and one of the proponents was most displeased when people became aware of the substance of a FB comment made by her, the content of which (in summary), directly accused the Hughes of having invented Riley’s death.
When this was brought to light on Twitter, she was most displeased – and the Internet Lawyers in the anti-vax community have already started to circle their wagons. (And at present, I don’t have the time in my day to facilitate even the most baseless and vexatious of lawsuits, so I shan’t link to her or name her. LUCKY HER. She can just infer all the information from my passive-aggressive quoting.)
Let’s step through it: when you accuse people – particularly grieving parents who have courageously given of their time and money to prevent further loss of life – of lying and speculating that their dead child didn’t exist, other people typically don’t respond well.
Something I wrote online from a PRIVATE vaccine group was screen shotted and now taken viral. And of course, it was taken out of complete context.
Like, in what universe is this context even remotely acceptable? When someone works it out, let me know, right? What bizarro-universe Miss Manners is she even getting her sense of social contract from?
I had just been reading many parents stories about their children being harmed by vaccines, or worse – DYING from them and when they shared their stories, to help other people realize that vaccines can’t be a one size fits all and to do more research – that they can harm, NO one in the public domain was saying wow so sorry to hear this how awful, instead, they were ridiculed and told that they were ‘lying’, or it was just a ‘coincidence’ and that they should ‘get out’ of these groups and stop spreading ‘lies.’
Doctors, research scientists and drug developers have a very strong incentive to learn more about genuine vaccine injuries or deaths – it’s not like Vioxx or Thalidomide were particularly great for the PR of the pharmaceutical companies employing drug developers. However, much as many parents may be genuine in their grief, many are ill-equipped to make the diagnosis that their child has actually been injured by a vaccine (which is held up by the fact that the vast majority of applicants to the US Vaccine Court are found to not be caused by vaccines – and given that this court has a very low burden for applicants, that’s saying something!). Children who have been legitimately injured by vaccines deserve full compensation to mitigate for pain, suffering and for potential long-term injury, but that doesn’t mean it happens to the extent that anti-vax advocates claim it does.
I also questioned how [Light for Riley] came to be so powerful, so quickly, a very short time after a baby died. It seemed to immediately (after one day!) have big people and networks behind them that to some of us we were very suspicious how it all started. We know that the media can lie, send out propaganda to get the public to get upset and for things to change. We simply cannot always trust the stories we hear.
Even if the media were to lie, why is it that little of the same criticism or scepticism is applied to the unfounded accounts of vaccine injuries? Why is one set of data unreliable and the opposition 100% fact?
I will not go away, I will not stop what I am doing. I’m stubborn and opinionated, I know that but I’m not one to shy away from things.
And that is all fine, but people have a freedom of speech only: not a freedom from speech. Part of that freedom entails a responsibility for the words you say, be it social outrage or ostracism in response to particularly offensive comments.
What these posters seems to want is a world in which they are free to make statements, with nobody to challenge this. They want to be free to genuinely defame people – namely, by accusing people of being motivated by bribery, rather than by altruism or professional integrity – while setting the Internet Lawyers upon anyone who so much as dares to point out “um, no”.
And for those who live in the real world, this is no great surprise: after all, it is from a faction who believe they are entitled to not meet the same burden of scientific proof or evidence that they demand from their opposition. It is a faction which rails against profits made by Big Pharma, all while making an obscene mark-up on unproven and often dangerous wares. It is a faction that claims to care for all children, while speaking so vilely of autistic children that I cannot even for the life of me fathom that they have ever met any themselves. (And as a former teacher of boys, many of whom were diagnosed as being on the spectrum, they rule – not you.)
And they forget something else: that we are equally entitled to our own freedom of speech on whatever we like, to which I will use for the following:
Dear posters who have learned some difficult lessons over the last few weeks:
I don’t want you to be hurt or harassed on account of your words. In fact, nothing would make me more displeased than if someone were to try and cause you harm. I do, however, want you to appreciate something that even most of my year fives can get: sometimes, people are hurt by what you say, and you have to be responsible for what you say.
It is not defamation to point out that comments you have made have offended people. It is not harassment when people ask why you have accused grieving parents of lying for nefarious political or financial gains. It is not bullying when someone points out that homeopathy doesn’t work, cannot work, will not work, and does not work.
Have some Rescue Remedy, and let me know how that works out. In the meanwhile, I will donate some vaccines in both of your names.
The Lady Miss Unwholesome
(Headmistress of The Lady Miss Unwholesome’s Finishing School for Indecorous Wayward Girls, Internet Lawyer, Eater of Things-Fallen-On-The-Ground, Rustler of Jimmies, and Occasional Curator of Both Small and Large-ish Children Unrelated to Myself)