Wednesday 29 January 2020

Elaine Crowley gets the last laugh at cowardly troll

The TV3 presenter faced down her bully last week - but is that the best way to treat a troll, wonders Sarah Caden

Elaine Crowley. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Elaine Crowley. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Sarah Caden

If you Google 'best way to deal with a bully', the top result is a list of five key reactions. The first is to ignore the bully. Second is to feign courage and stand up to them. Third, is to resist bullying in return. Fourth is to conceal your true feelings. And fifth is to tell an adult.

The first four are more easily said than done, but the fifth is the killer. Tell an adult. But what if you are an adult? What if you are an adult and your bully is too?

Compared with face-to-face bullying, studies show that the true insidiousness of online bullying is that not only does the bully feel disengaged from their actions, and thus prone to going further than they would in real life, but those who observe also feel disengaged. Where in real life, you might step in to defend someone being slagged off for their appearance, weight, character, social or romantic status, you won't with cyber-bullying.

Online, we stand by, a silent audience watching it unfold, empathically detached.

The only person feeling the pain is the victim of the bullying, who not only hurts, but feels helpless to tackle the bully.

Last week, on TV3, Elaine Crowley took on a bully.

"I wasn't going to mention this but I got a bit cross when I came off air yesterday," the Cork-born presenter said on her show, Elaine on Tuesday daytime. She went on to say that she had no problem with criticism and if people didn't like her show, they were free to turn it off, "but sometimes people can get a bit personal and it's not very nice".

Then she read out a message from a person calling himself John, which had been sent to Elaine's personal Facebook page.

"You have to be the most intolerable yoke I have ever had the misery to listen to on a TV. It's sad how miserable you come across," John wrote. Elaine replied that she hadn't been in sparkling form on telly the previous day, thanks to Waterford beating Cork on Sunday, but such is life. And so she set the tone. She read out John's message in bursts, interjecting with upbeat, pithy, "words will never hurt me" responses.

"You are an overweight lonely (though you don't know it) cynical miserable bint," John wrote. Elaine conceded that her weight is greater than average, but she's never made any bones about that, having appeared on Celebrity Operation Transformation and all.

The lonely bit was more vicious, though. John believes Elaine isn't even aware of that potentially sad fact, so he takes it upon himself to point it out to her. Just in case she was feeling all right in herself or anything.

"A bear wouldn't hug you, purely because he couldn't get his arms around you and bears can tell when someone is full of s**t," John wrote. This is an adult, remember, now apparently buzzing on hugging-bear imagery in order to wound a person he has never met.

Elaine, to her credit, laughed off all of this, even showing a photo of herself being hugged by a koala. She conceded that a koala is in fact a marsupial, and ponders whether John would be a less unhappy person if he could get close to a "heaving bosom".

Elaine's response to John was undeniably droll, but you still have to wonder how it sounded to the ears of John and his ilk. Now, Elaine also pointed out that she had tried to contact John, but said he had apparently either deleted his Facebook page or blocked her. The online equivalent of running away and hiding, I suppose.

Bullies, we know, are cowards at heart, which Elaine pointed out to John.

Elaine was facing up to him, in response to a discussion about young girls' online behaviour.

Elsewhere, last week, girls' rights charity Plan International UK published results of a study conducted with secondary-school students - male and female. It found that while boys had suffered too, a higher proportion of girls had experienced online attacks. This included images being shared without permission, persistent unwanted harassment and abusive messages.

Girls reported, worryingly, but hardly surprisingly, that they felt hyper aware of their physical appearance online and huge pressure to look "good" in order to avoid attack.

This is hardly a new pressure on young girls, but it is exacerbated in the 21st century by the pressure to put yourself on show, not only to your friends, but to the world at large via social media. And on most platforms, response is invited, but, increasingly, responses are vicious and emotional detachment is escalating.

But at least in the real world the tendencies of bullies are tempered by fear of being caught or faced down. Online, anything goes, and the victim has no recourse for defence.

So, it seems, young women are tending to disappear themselves on the internet, attempting to hide from possible attack and probably failing. Because, as we see with Elaine Crowley's experience, even if you are honestly imperfect, there's always someone ready to wound deeper, entirely disengaged from the damage they're doing.

By calling out John, Elaine Crowley followed some of the points of best practice in facing down a bully. Her wit suggested confidence, her good manners stopped her from getting vicious and she told all of us adults about the likes of John. Whether she should have just stuck with rule number one and ignored him, though, is debatable. Because with the likes of John, a new-world bully, a bit of attention can be fuel to the fire of the faceless bully's ego.

Sunday Independent

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