Free speech or free to bully?

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online abuse

It was no doubt a set-up when the Daily Mail Australia posted a story last week about a mother-of-six trying to exchange milk bought from Coles at Woolworths.  The story reproduced a supposed Facebook post where the woman apparently complained that Woolworths treated her badly after she explained she couldn’t walk 25 minutes back with her children to swap the correct milk at the original company of purchase.

Littered throughout this post was poor grammar and spelling.  The woman’s second post suggested she had child services on her tail.

It’s hard to fathom why this story or supposed story was published online by a media outlet in the first place.  But what was shocking was the endless commentary on social media and the reader comments belittling the illiterate nature and tone of the post.  It demonstrates how easily humans are willing to attack the vulnerable with no sense that their hurtful comments amount to bullying and humiliation.  Most of the comments were from people identifying themselves as based in Australia, a country that once espoused “Fair go mate!” as a cry to give everybody a chance in life.

The comments included observations such as:

Oh geez. There is naive and uneducated….and then there is this. Let’s hope the father has a brain that the kids inherited. Please.


You really think there is a father in all this??? I think you are dreaming. Wait! You, could be right but more likely to be six fathers..!!!


She’s named her offspring Slayde and shazannah? That says it all. No wonder ‘child safety’ are on her tail.

Yet more

Dear Stupid, idiotic and IQless mother. Try returning your Kmart clothes to Big W and see if you’ll get a refund or exchange LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If I was your child i’d disown myself from you for being so dumb.

It doesn’t matter whether this story is true or whether it was created to produce viral hits and online clicks.  But what does matter is that so many are willing to demonstrate heartlessness for someone who, theoretically, could be in dire straits.

Church members are not immune from this type of online bullying.

This week, Crosslight Online posted a story about a letter from prominent faith leaders written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Essentially, the letter writers are distancing themselves from the views of the ACL (who are requesting a suspension of anti-vilification laws in the lead up to the marriage equality plebiscite) and suggesting a plebiscite and the ensuing debate will cause untold harm in the community. The letter, including signatories, was posted online.

While the reaction to the article has been overwhelmingly positive from members of the UCA, the editorial team received a request to remove the names of signatories from the article. Apparently, some were concerned about being targeted and suffering negative consequences for voicing their opinions. One of the signatories pointed out the irony that those who “harass in order to make the cost of speaking on this issue high are the same ones who call for freedom of speech.”

When did freedom of speech become freedom to bully?

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