Cyber Rage: Societal Issue Or Part Of Everyday Life? (VIDEO)

By Rachel Martin - 21Alive

May 5, 2014 Updated May 5, 2014 at 6:24 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21Alive) – Ever heard of "cyber rage”? It's become such a normal part of online society that you may not think twice about it when it's right in front of you. 21Alive's Rachel Martin talked to a local women whose family was victimized.

"Here I was at the darkest time of my life and these people are telling me that I deserved for my baby to die."

Jill Haskins was a cyber rage victim. Three years ago, her baby, Joshua, was born with a congenital heart defect. Two months later, after many surgeries, he died after an operation.

Haskins blogged about Joshua’s journey and the choices she and her husband made for his care, but minutes after Joshua died, the nasty comments poured in.

"Saying that we had killed him, we deserved for him to die, that we were horrible people. They compared me to child rapists. They compared me to child murderers,” said Haskins.

"Cyber rage" is just as it sounds—when people get angry on Facebook and Twitter, and go on the attack.

"It's kind of like putting somebody who has road rage issues behind a 4x4 monster truck. Oh my gosh!" said John Kaulfeld, Chief Communications Officer at IPFW.

John Kaufeld mans the social media sites at the university. For him, cyber rage is all too familiar. "What I see when I think cyber rage is this stupidity that comes over people when they're online,” he said.

He says sometimes the angry posts are over something major… and sometimes, it's simple pettiness. "I've seen friendships end because of ill-thought out comments made that I know was never their original goal."

Michelle Drouin, Associate Professor of Sociology at IPFW, says being anonymous empowers cyber ragers. "Online you are not weighted down by any of the social stereotypes that normally plague you. You can be anyone you want to be,” she said.

Dr. Drouin says "invisibility" or, hiding behind an online profile and this screen, makes cyber rage easy. The other thing—the convenience of posting online with just the click of a button.

"It is so easy to write something that's mean, to write something that's hateful, to bully, to flame people. Do whatever it is that's part of your cyber rage. And so I think teens, young adults, adults, they do them so quickly that they don't have time to really think it through,” she said.

The ragers were so quick to post their comments on Haskin’s blog, but it made her family suffer long term.

"I didn't like to go out in public. I had been recognized a couple times... and I was afraid for my safety. I was afraid for my family's safety,” she said.

Dr. Drouin says this sort of thing creates emotional distance and affects how people interact in society. "Because they're anonymous, because they're invisible, and even because they're not having eye contact, with the person with whom they're attacking, it's allowing them to be meaner than they actually would be in a face to face context."

“Unfortunately, part of our story is that we were attacked brutally online,” said Haskins. “If they were sitting across the table from me, they wouldn't say half the things they did. They wouldn't say any of the things they did.”

Kaufeld gave this advice when dealing with cyber ragers:

• Do not taunt the person online because it usually makes things worse.
• If you must respond, stay calm and avoid emotion. Say something nice, like "thank you for your response."
• Stick to the facts. If someone is posting the wrong information, just politely correct them –factually.
• Do not respond.
• If it gets that bad, delete their comment and block them.

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