A New Kind of Bullying

Monkeys can be physically vicious, especially the macaques that I work with. On more than one occasion I have had to use the nearby hose during observations and spray the moms as they battle over everything from the last food pellet to, well, just because they feel like it. When we introduced new males into the packs we had to have 24-hour supervisions to make sure they didn’t rip each others’ faces off. My favorite 3-month old rhesus was brutally attacked in the middle of the night by several adults because she stuck her nose where she wasn’t supposed to. It’s safe to say that these monkeys, as is the case with many other species of monkeys around the world, are bullies. But when it comes to hurting each other, monkeys are limited to the physical: they can’t gossip behind each other’s back, they can’t scream hurtful words, and they can’t cyber-bully.

Usually I write about the ways in which monkeys and humans aren’t so different, but in this case, being able to cause emotional damage seems to be a unique human trait. In the past, when kids would tease and torment each other, it was pretty limited to “Your Mom” jokes and in-person gossip. I’m not saying that bullying before pervasive technology wasn’t painful (I’m in the boxing club and I can honestly say I’d rather be punched square in the nose than go through the bullying I experienced in middle school again) but humans have managed to take the art of putting each other down to a new level with the introduction of social media.

It seems a day can’t go by without hearing another horrifying news piece about cyber-bullying. Take the story of Ryan Halligan, who was mercilessly tormented by his classmates accusing him of being gay via instant messages. There’s also the case of Megan Meier who was bullied through MySpace. Both were only 13 years old, and both committed suicide. It’s not limited to children, though: according to Personnel Today, at least 1 in every 10 adult workers experiences cyber-bullying too. Smartphone technology doesn’t exactly help either; the entire concept of a BBM (Black Berry Messenger) group is to be able to speak to a select few people at one time and is a blatant invitation for gossip about those not included.

We as humans have created an incredible and convenient system of communication that can be used for so much good, but there are always going to be those who abuse it for reasons no better than, well, just because they feel like it.

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