I awoke this morning to a slew of private messages on my Facebook page, all from members of the incredible charitable organization, The 501st Legion. Apparently, a number of news stations were running a cruel photo gallery with pictures of fans from a recent Star Wars convention, and each photo was paired with a mean, taunting caption.
Would I help spread the word? The 501st members wanted to know. They had already contacted stations to request that the cyberbullying slideshow be taken down from news websites, and most stations quickly obliged.
Local 10 in Miami, however, continued to display the slideshow, running it under the heading of “News.” The journalist who created the slideshow mocked both children and adults who were dressed in elaborate Star Wars costumes, derisively attacking their looks, their interests, and their Geekiness.
I posted about the problem on my Portrait of an Adoption Facebook page. As the day has progressed, Local 10’s Facebook page was inundated with comments by Star Wars fans who explained that the slideshow was an example of cyberbullying.
Eventually, Local 10 also issued a brief, sarcastic and insincere apology on their Facebook page, which was a huge mistake.
When readers commented on the fact that the apology was basically written as a way of saying “screw you, objectors”, then Local 10 began deleting the negative comments from the apology. Never a good move when a news station chooses to delete the words of those who disagree with them. It only led to more people flocking to the page to post comments about the entire situation. Eventually, Local 10 10 deleted their entire apology from their Facebook page.
Local 10 defended the slideshow by explaining that the journalist who created it is actually a Star Wars fan. This, in my mind, makes it even more upsetting. This does not make it okay. It is NEVER okay to publicly humiliate and belittle others. NEVER.
The fans who attended CVI displayed great ingenuity and hard work in preparing their costumes. They were not harming anyone. They simply gathered together to have a good time and celebrate a common interest. Why should they be subjected to having vicious photos splashed on a news website?
For those of you who do not know the 501st Legion, the international group raises millions of dollars for charity. They do good deeds, and they have fun while doing it. They dress in costumes to bring a smile to the faces of children battling illnesses. They spoke up in droves 2 years ago when my first grade daughter was taunted by the boys in her school for being a girl who loves Star Wars.
The Star Wars fans have hearts of gold. They deserve better than this.
So, how should Local 10 have handled this? They should have immediately taken down the post, instead of waiting until public pressure grew and grew. Then, they should have issued a REAL apology. People make mistakes, and most of the world is surprisingly forgiving.
For example, if Local 10 wanted to take restorative steps, they could have written something like this: “We made a terrible error in judgment when we ran this slideshow. We, as a news station that has covered the tragedy of bullying, realize that we inadvertently contributed to the culture of cruelty that leads to bullying. We want to right this wrong, and we invite you to share your stories of your positive experiences at the convention with us. As a gesture of good faith, we will make a donation to a charity that the 501st chooses.”
My guess is that some people would have continued to be angry, but many others would have accepted this type of apology. They might have even praised the station for doing the mature thing and setting an example of how to manage a poor choice. This was a chance for people to learn the difference between poking fun with good nature and taunting with hurtful outcomes.
If the news stations truly want to provide solutions to the tragedy of bullying, they need to stop being part of the problem. It is not too late to still do the right thing. Make a statement.
And for those of you who are offended and hurt, be sure that your comments to Local 10 simply explain why the slideshow is hurtful and unacceptable. It is important to avoid writing comments that are cruel in return, because cyberbullying can flip on a dime, and the injured party can become the attacker. Keep your comments rational, and your case is more powerful. So far, I have seen really mature, well-thought-out comments, which is very encouraging!
Carrie Goldman, Author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear
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