Recently a congressional staffer turned to social media to air a grievance about the President's children. While she exhibited very poor judgement in placing those comments in writing, the medium in which she chose to launch her “opinion” may also constitute cyber bullying. If your association has an online community, your members may be at risk as well.
Cyber bullying does not have to be incessant hounding, jeering, or teasing. In a professional online community it's more apt to surface in less noticeable ways. It might appear, at first glance, to be a disagreement - a difference in opinions - but upon further examination it's clear the bully means to belittle the member not merely state another opinion.
Why is Cyber Bullying a Big Deal?Because the Internet and your association's online community are available 24x7, it's harder for the person to get away from the bullying. It may affect them professionally and cause them to doubt their intellectual and job skills.
While most people assume adults have better coping skills than children, cyber bullying in your association's online community can strike much deeper than a teen's bratty texts. A cyber bully in a professional community can create a pack mentality against a member that hurts not only the member but the entire community as others see how this member is treated. Plus adults may be less willing to come forward or speak out about the attacks. This is yet another reason why community monitoring is so important.
Safeguard Your Association Community
Institute a Comment Policy
In order to mitigate your risk of bullying behavior, create a comment policy. Keep it short but make sure it reflects what behavior is appropriate and what won't be tolerated. There is no reason to detail every possible scenario. It's more important to refer to the “community manager's discretion” and enumerate how offenses will be handled. Having a policy in place is important so that every situation is dealt with in a nonarbitrary way.
When you see (potential) inappropriate behavior, speak with the (seeming) perpetrator quickly. Since tone can not always be read, understanding his/her intention will clear things up before they escalate. A simple apology or edit of the comment is much easier to do when it happens, than weeks later after the entire community is talking about it.
Show your online community you care. Your community manager, or the person who is charged with the community, should be educated to recognize potential problems in order to address them quickly. Your CM should avoid embarrassing either member but bring the conversation back to the point and, in cases of advanced bullying, refer to the community guidelines. It's important to handle this tactfully, but publicly, as you want the community to see that you do not condone bullying behavior. If you simply delete the comment, no one will be the wiser and those who did see it will assume you deal with things of this nature by making them disappear.
While you want to show your community you care, you also need to address the issue with the bully in private, on the phone or in person. Do not leave a post or private message, which might be misunderstood or served up elsewhere.
You want your online community to be a welcoming place for all. That begins by making everyone feel at home and respected.
Have you had an issue with cyber bullying in your community? If so, how did you handle it?