Social Question

burntbonez's avatar

What's the line between bullying and legitimate criticism?

Asked by burntbonez (5197points) February 6th, 2013

Think of it as you might like moderators on Fluther to behave. How critical can you be of someone can you be before it becomes bullying (a personal attack). Try to give examples of things that are just this side of bullying and just over the line.

Coming the other way, what kinds of comments are barely bullying, but still count as bullying? And is there a difference between bullying and a personal attack?

I’m trying to get to the gray areas where you think your example is clearly ok, but you think others might consider it to be bullying. Or where you think it is clearly bullying, but you think others might think it is legitimate. Examples are crucial here. Please don’t feel you have to defend them. Just lay them out for discussion.

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19 Answers

Aethelwine's avatar

If you get to know someone, then you have a falling out of some sort and they start to make hurtful comments to get a rise out of you. They may whisper these comments and not use your name, but you know they are poking at you to get a rise out of you because they choose words that make it personal. This is an example of someone being hurtful on purpose. I would put it on the mild side of cyber bullying, but it is what it is. It’s bullying.

burntbonez's avatar

Thank you, @jonsblond. That is a subtle example. Very good.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Bullying can be anything from mild to severe, but it’s a one sided attack on another person. Legitimate criticism is questioning another person, but also willing to share and give and take on their ideas.

burntbonez's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Can you provide some examples (or even one), please? It makes it easier for me to understand what you are talking about.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@burntbonez Mild bullying would be similar to what jonsblond described. Subtle little digs that aren’t really an all out attack, but still hurt. Just a lot of subtle criticism, deriding her choices, cracks about her or her kids. Severe bullying is coming right out and personally attacking someone. Calling them names, calling them stupid, outright ridiculing them to their face. In schools it can even go physical. I would hope adults are better than that, but I’ve seen otherwise. Domestic abuse would be another form of severe bullying. Emotional abuse would fall into that category too. It all sucks.

marinelife's avatar

Why should you criticize others openly and in public forums at all?

I think any of that is bullying.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@marinelife Sometimes it’s a legitimate response to someone else’s opinion. Someone called me on an answer yesterday and it’s really made me think about my response and how I look at things. I think it was an excellent example of legitimate crititicism.

livelaughlove21's avatar

Perception is reality.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Great question @burntbonez.

From what I’ve seen, and what upset me here, is that I’ll answer a Q about something, let’s say Christianity as an example.

Then four other posters that are not Christian go nuts bashing it and everyone who believes it, rather than just answering the Q. Name-calling and constant jokes on General Q’s are rather bullying though about serious subjects like rape and/or religion/ politics.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Bullying is denigrating or belittling the individual in an attempt to be superior.

Criticism is changing the individual’s perception of themselves or their environment to give them a superior position.

glacial's avatar

My feeling, as I mentioned on the other bullying thread today, is that each personal attack incident is not an example of bullying. I think the term bullying implies a long-term application of abuse.

Likewise, I don’t think it is bullying to call someone a liar. What if they are a liar? Everyone should ignore that, and pretend it isn’t happening? Or everyone should be politically correct, and say, “I suspect that what you say there is not true”. Over, and over, and over. Well, we all do that for the most part… but eventually someone is going to slip and say what they really think. Is that person a bully? No, I don’t think so. Nor do I even think that is a personal attack, if they have good reason to have said it.

And frankly, Fluther is a place where people talk about their opposing opinions very frequently. It is difficult to avoid confusing “criticizing an opinion” with “criticizing a person” 100% of the time. Should we strive to? Yes, absolutely. But should we call a person a bully if he slips? No.

I think people need to take criticism a good deal less personally, and try to place a single comment within the context of what they know about that person – and afford the benefit of the doubt if they don’t know that person well. We don’t need to cry “bully” every time our feelings are hurt.

Aethelwine's avatar

@Tropical_Willie That’s a great answer.

@glacial There are some people here who make things personal. It often starts with pm’s after the initial criticism. A hurtful comment here and there during the year, after the initial criticism, is bullying. They continue with their attack by choosing words they think will hurt you. There is a difference and it’s often hidden from the rest of the users unless the person being attacked speaks out. An example: A person may disagree with my life choice to be a stay at home parent. That’s fine. But to say things here and there that belittle my choice, just to try to hurt my feelings is bullying.

Shippy's avatar

Examples of what constitutes cyberbullying include communications that seek to intimidate, control, manipulate, put down, falsely discredit, or humiliate the recipient. The actions are deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior intended to harm another. Cyberbullying has been defined by The National Crime Prevention Council: “When the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”[1][2]

A cyberbully may be a person whom the target knows or an online stranger. A cyberbully may be anonymous and may solicit involvement of other people online who do not even know the target. This is known as a ‘digital pile-on.’[3]


ucme's avatar

Legitimate criticism respects your right to an opinion & challenges it in a constructive way.
Bullying attempts to ride over you like a runaway train, expressing disdain at the very notion of you having opinions in the first place.

Gabby101's avatar

I think bullying must have a repeating element to it. People are sometimes rude on Fluther, but unless they are seeking you out and repeatedly being rude to you over time, it’s not bullying, at least to me.

I had two women bully me at work and it was like a project for them. They probably talked about it and planned how they would “destroy” me and it went on for probably six months. You may be more mature as an adult and better able to handle the emotional aspects of bullying, but it is still demoralizing and there is often nothing you can do to stop it. Worse, I think adults often “bully” in secret and are not so overt, so sometimes you don’t know what’s happening until it’s too late.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Gabby101 I actually quite a jobover female bullying. Two older ladies seemed to feel that since I had previous experience doing their job, they would make me miserable but no one knew except me. Like when one left for lunch, I used her computer to do some data entry, but she kept coming back earlier and earlier until I couldn’t get the work done.

Every time someone says ‘bully’ I think of feeling powerless and I won’t tolerate it ever again.

Paradox25's avatar

Common sense should be able to help most people determine this for the most part. There are many people on fluther, other websites and offline who are quick to legitimately criticise others, but yet can’t take it when someone hands it back at them.

As far as examples go I’ll use a fluther one first. There are a few people on here (some of them being really popular and respected) who I see taunting others whenever they feel like it. A few of them will give a sarcastic response to a question they don’t deem as important when they could of had simply avoided the thread to begin with. Do this to one of their questions and it’s WWIII. There are a few users who’re sneaky in their attacks by not directly addressing the targeted user or using the @ button, but yet you know it’s you being targeted because their response was in direct reference to what you’ve previously posted where nobody else made a similar comment. I already had a few of my responses criticised by these types of users for ‘confusing or complicating the issue being discussed’ when in fact my response/s were perfectly on par with the way the question was asked.

When it comes to offline situations there are a few people (one of them being my cousin) who are quick to analyze others for their faults/vices, but they don’t look in the mirror at their own faults/vices. My cousin has a tendancy to analyze and criticise me for being late paying my bills and for smoking weed. However she gave up a good paying job that was close to where she lived to move to Maryland. She now lives in a boarding house where her living conditions are much worse than they were previously while working at a job that pays her the same amount as her previous job. The cost of living in her current area is literally twice as high compared to where she was living so realistically she is making much less now. Also she never had to pay for most of her possessions as her dad brought her a new car (with cash) and many of her other items. She struggles to make ends meet and is constantly bumming money from her dad.

Her lifestyle isn’t the greatest itself as she is always going out with jerks, hanging out in troublemagnet bars and doing things that usually lead to turmoil and commotion. However she has the audacity to criticise my preference for weed and a quiet lifestyle. Well enough of this as I’m getting myself fired up with the more I type here, lol.

glacial's avatar

@Paradox25 What you are describing is hypocrisy, not bullying.

mattbrowne's avatar

The latter still respects the dignity of the human beings involved.

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