When we’re kids, we can go up to another kid in the playground kick his shin and steal his dinner money and although we get told off that’s the end of the consequences. When we’re adults it’s a whole other ballgame as we’d be arrested for theft and assault.
I am hugely principled as a person. Having been on the receiving end of injustice on more than one occasion I know what unfairness feels like. I try to live my best life, to be fair, to be honest and to generally be nice. I can’t see the point in being any other way – we are all contending with shit in one way or another and life is hard enough without me adding to someone else’s struggle. However, none of us are perfect and we are all, myself included, allowed to make mistakes without being judged. We have bad days, lash out when we shouldn’t and say stupid things we instantly regret. As long as these are isolated incidents and we apologise I think everyone accepts it’s normal human behaviour.
However, there comes a time when actions become unacceptable. If there is a deliberate attempt to cause someone else hurt or harm, for example, and particularly if this is sustained over a period of time it is not OK. I am of the opinion that this behaviour should not be swept under the carpet but exposed. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” Edmund Burke.
As you know if you read my blog regularly, I have been made to feel so uncomfortable by a tiny minority of women at my Camera Club that I have decided to leave. I posted about this a month ago on my private Facebook page. It was a post set to ‘friends only’, didn’t name names or identify anyone, just said that I felt I had been bullied and that I was leaving as a result. There was no slagging off, name calling or nastiness – just the facts. I was very careful and measured in what I said as I’m well aware of the laws of libel and bringing an organisation into disrepute. I then went on to say I’d had an otherwise wonderful 5 years at the Club and had made some lovely friends. The reason I wrote the post was that bullying behaviour should not go unchallenged, particularly when the bullies are in positions of power within an organization.
I then wrote a detailed confidential email to someone on the committee saying exactly why I’d left. The person replied they didn’t want to get involved and it was nothing to do with them. It should have been to do with them, however despite feeling let down I accepted it and was happy to walk away.
This week was the Annual General Meeting at the Club. AGMs are official meetings where accounts are agreed, committee members elected and the official running of the Club discussed. The meetings are minuted and the minutes placed in the public domain for all to see.
I didn’t attend the AGM, having left the Club some weeks ago, however I was informed by a friend the next morning that my private Facebook post had been brought up, discussed by the entire Club and my character basically assassinated. Not only is this morally wrong, after all I have never done anything wrong and I was the victim of bullying behaviour which has not been tackled in any way, but it is illegal.
Contrary to popular belief, social media posts are not automatically legally classed as being in the public domain. If we set a FB post to ‘public’ it is public. If we set our privacy to ‘friends only’ it is classed as private, just like a letter sent to a friend. It is also subject to copyright laws and cannot be shared or re-distributed. There are exceptions, for example if a crime is committed your post can be used in evidence, but other than that it is not for public consumption.
In addition, laws of libel (for the written word) and slander (for the spoken word) exist to protect people’s reputations. A defamatory spoken word or gesture is usually classed as slander if it:
- exposes a person to hatred, ridicule or contempt; or
- causes him/her to be shunned or avoided; or
- has the effect of lowering his/her reputation in the estimation of right-thinking members of the public generally; or
- injures him/her in their office, profession or trade.
it is very clear what happened at the Club’s AGM was slanderous. In order to be slander, the person has to be clearly identified (which I was, by name), the slander has to be witnessed (which mine was, by dozens of people) and it has to cause one of the above (I don’t think there is any doubt the effect of the discussion was such to lower my reputation in the estimation of right-thinking members of the public).
I have made a formal complaint to the Club and requested a retraction of the discussion and a public apology be made to me but if that isn’t forthcoming I will consider legal action. We simply cannot go round talking shit about people who have done absolutely nothing wrong. Neither can we use people’s private communications without their express permission – the internet is full of people who have found themselves in very hot water as a result of sharing stuff they’ve seen online.
Morally, the result of this situation is devastating to me. I try so hard to be a good person and I have been made out to be the villain in a situation in which I’m actually the victim. However, that’s how bullying works. Once you identify a bully and expose their behaviour the only recourse left to the bully is to turn the tables and deflect any negativity away from themselves and on to the subject of the bullying. What amazes me is that anyone ever falls for this and can’t see straight through it.
The point to this post is to act as a reminder that we can’t go round talking shit about people without consequence. We are not children and there are very strict laws in place to govern what we can and can’t do and say. Even if we are talking about actual events we have to be very careful how we talk about them which is why writing ranty posts when we’re emotional is never a good idea, however justified we may feel. As I said above, I was very careful in my choice of words and audience in my FB post and I think we all have to be aware of defamation laws before we open our mouths, either physically or on paper. Luckily we have freedom of speech and expression laws in the UK but there are still limits to what you can say and how you can say it and we should never forget that when we gossip there is a human being with feelings on the end of our titillation.