Here are a few thoughts on this question:
Monday's New York Times article, After Suicide, Blog Insults Are Debated, reported on an incredibly disturbing event. After being personally attacked by unwarranted comments posted on two well-known advertising blogs, the very successful and accomplished creative director of DDB-Chicago committed suicide. The article also discussed the 2006 suicide of a 13-year old girl who, in the months leading up to her death, had been cyber-bullied by an adult neighbor pretending to be a teenage boy.
We can certainly ponder the cause-and-effect relationship of bullying in the virtual world. The hard truth, however, is that what so many of us value and praise the Internet for providing - anonymity, ease of communication, freedom of expression - has, in part, morphed into a venue for virtual bashing without consequence. There it is - the electronic mob.
The even harder truth is that yes, the mob is right here in Darien. It's happening in the Darien News Blog. It's inevitably happening on our MySpace and Facebook accounts. It's even happening in The Darien Times, where individuals are using the public forum to personally attack people or the paper itself rather than presenting a civil argument on concrete issues affecting the town.
It's a curious thing. We would all take action if we saw a child being outright bullied on the playground by another child. We would stop what was happening to the best of our ability, wouldn't we? So why do we so readily accept the type of from-afar bullying that goes on in this town - the kind that tries to pass itself off as valid criticism? Why do we allow anonymity and personal attacking to occur while accountability falls by the wayside?
Another, and perhaps the most important, question for us all: What can we do about it?
For our close-knit community, as part of a world that has embraced the Internet age and freedom of speech with open arms, it's a question that should be confronted and answered. There's no doubt about that.
Perhaps a starting point for action will be the program being held at Darien Library tomorrow night at 7pm, when author Lee Siegel will be visiting to speak about the ideas in his new book, Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob. Mr. Siegel clarifys the urgency with which we need to deal with the hidden dangers of the Internet and the lack of accountability that has become a norm in our society. Please join us and let's get the ideas rolling on how we can implement the changes that need to take place.