Tag Archives: Facebook

It’s a question of… cyberbullying

I’ve always been wary of people in a group. Somehow, being in a group can lead us humans to do appalling acts we would have been quite incapable of engaging in on our own. Perfectly nice people become bullies, and otherwise petty aggressors become outright criminals. This is why I always try to steer clear of people in groups on streets and in public transports and why I’ve never been totally at ease in a stadium.

Recently, I’ve been painfully reminded about what hurtful consequences the “group effect” can also have in a playground and how an otherwise happy and confident child can be reduced to a unhappy and insecure one in just a few days of “group therapy”. Luckily, my son is still in an age where he tells me a lot of what goes on in school and I can still do some damage repair.

However, I believe that anyone who’s been a target for bullying will remember it for life. I still recall the many times I sat huddled up in a corner of the playground hidden under my coat while my classmates made fun of my name… And yet, compared to what I see and hear about today, that’s nothing.

I also remember with much shame a few episodes where I was the one “helping” with bullying someone. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t the leader of the pack. Whether you’re in the pack or outside but not doing anything to stop it, it’s still terribly wrong and damaging. Peer pressure might be an explanation, but it’s never a viable excuse.

Children can be incredibly cruel to one another. I don’t know if it’s because they’re too young to understand how hurtful they can be, if their minds are not yet evolved enough, or if it’s because they’re not yet as good retaining their natural human instinct as (most) grown-ups are. Another reason may be a lack of proper adult supervision or appropriate “moral input”…

The reason I’m writing all this? I received an invitation yesterday from a young girl I know to join a Facebook group. The group was directed against a schoolmate of hers. I have no idea who the targeted girl is but I can well imagine how the creation of this group has affected her because it affected me deeply.

I suddenly got a preview of what kind of bullying my own child can become a victim of – or generate himself – within a very short time. And I find it frightening. The girl who sent me the hate group invitation is an otherwise intelligent and sweet girl, from a loving family – which is probably why her act shocked me even more. If she can do this kind of heartless and stupid thing without measuring the consequences, I can only imagine what those bullying my child in the playground today will be capable of doing online tomorrow.

The worst thing about it? If or when it happens, I won’t be able to do as much as I’d like. Because the older he gets, the less I’ll be able to monitor his each and every move online and off.

A recent UK study revealed that 50% of young people have been cyberbullied and 29% had told no one about it. An American study showed that cyberbullying victims were almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide compared to youth who had not experienced cyberbullying.

There are so many, many things to protect your children from today and so many things to teach them. It’s no longer a question of not accepting sweets from a stranger, looking out for cars before crossing the street or saying no to drugs. Amongst many other new dangers, parents have to teach their children Internet safety and online behaviour too – and let’s be honest, many of us don’t respect – or understand – a lot of this ourselves.

To the girl who sent me that Facebook invitation and to the ones who joined her group, I would however like to repeat what my parents taught me long before Internet was invented and what I in turn tell my own son very often: Always treat others the way you want to be treated. It may be ancient advice, but it works in cyberspace too.


Filed under Fly on the windscreen

It’s a question of… online dating

A guy I know recently changed his relation status on Facebook from being “in a relationship” to “single”.  According to the usual procedure, his 150 listed friends were immediately informed and one of them reacted by publically writing not to worry because he could now join the ranks of men who (I quote) “get laid thanks to online dating”.

I’m not sure the comment comforted my recently separated (and obviously depressed about it) Facebook friend but it got me thinking about the change there’s been in online dating these past years.

When I first signed up on a dating website six or seven years ago, it totally changed my life. Within a day I went from single mum who had forgotten the mere existence of males aside her son, to being a woman who actually looked at men in the street again and, oh yes, regained her flirting instinct too. All this because of e-mails I had gotten from total strangers.

I did not put a picture of myself on my online dating profile – something that would not have gone down well today. Most men now demand it (and by ‘demand’ I mean as in ‘command’), along with a whole lot of adverbs impossible to find in one single person. At the time, the market was somehow less competitive and more flaw forgiving.

Not having a profile photo didn’t prevent me from “meeting” a lot of nice guys who sent me long, personal e-mails and read mine in details responding to them with wit and concern. After a week – and for several weeks to come – I was in daily e-mail contact with three of these men. They never once wrote about sex or sexual encounters.

Somewhere down the line, we got to the “phone contact” point. It went fine with man n° 1. We talked for hours, and went on to more explicit texting, but never actually met. (Like me, he had “multiple contacts”, hooked up with one of them and thus gallantly ended our “relationship”).

Man n° 2 I never actually spoke to on the phone, because too much e-mailing nullified all dating prospects and sent us into a friendship zone in which we stayed for several years before losing contact.

As for man n°3, he was the proof that online too, I sometimes misjudge men terribly. The first time he called he somehow got talking about his ex-wife and how she’d “falsely accused him” of “slapping her around” and that he’d had “nothing to do” with her broken nose or arm… I didn’t give him the benefit of doubt.

Despite this last “mishap”, these first online dating experiences were totally uplifting and did wonders for my then battered female ego. I ended up moving in with the next man I met online. He was the kind of guy I’d never have met in real life – or if I had, we wouldn’t have been even faintly attracted to one another. It lasted two years, in part for these reasons.

I have since signed up a few times on dating websites but the whole thing has sadly lost its appeal. Men my age are now all searching for women at least 10 years younger (!) and expect photos and phone numbers to be exchanged immediately. (And for a reason I can’t fathom many think I want a picture of their genitals). Instant messenging is preferred to e-mails and instant virtual sex seems to be preferred to the whole “getting to know” process. The trouble is, having tacky cybersex with a virtual stranger is rarely a good starting point for a relationship.

Online dating the way I first knew it has changed. The supermarket effect is worse now than ever. I feel a complete idiot filling out a search page to decide if the guy I’m looking for can have a moustache, be a teacher and like Chinese food, or spending hours answering random questions about myself so I can get a selection of “compatible” men e-mailed. And don’t get me started on the specialised dating websites, like the ones for Christians, Muslims, Jewish or Pagan singles, for Sci Fi lovers, dog lovers, farmers, vegetarians, golfers, geeks, plus-size singles… Everything is calculated, arranged – and in my eyes, ultimately, that’s not how the laws of attraction work.

I’m not saying my recently dumped Facebook friend shouldn’t give online dating a go. Nor am I saying that it doesn’t work for a lot of people  (It did after all work for me for a time). But I do believe that love, like sport, is not an exact science. I think a cat lover can be a match to a dog lover, and that you can dream of a red-haired millionaire and fall blissfully in love with a blond guy on minimum wage. It’s worth keeping that in mind when playing the dating game online. Love can’t be perfect and nor should it be.


Filed under The sinner in me

It’s a question of… friends on Facebook and Twitter who aren’t

From fairy friends on Facebook…

After several years of “being on Facebook”, I’m still drawn to it the same way I am to chocolate. I know too much of it is bad for me, but without my daily dose I get twitchy. I’ve never really been able to explain “why” convincingly to those who aren’t or “never will be” on Facebook. (Probably because it sounds strangely deranged to say: Facebook brings me moments of happiness every day). The thing is, it’s nice to share thoughts and moments of life with close friends, long lost friends, friends I barely remember and even… friends who technically aren’t.

I don’t have a lot of these “fake”  friends. I normally don’t send friend  requests or accept them from people  to whom I’ve never spoken or that  I’ve never seen in real life. That is,  until I got a garden in Fairyland.

Fairyland is one of the many games on Facebook and the only one I participate in. Put succinctly: you plant (fake) seeds, others come and (fake) water them, and some leave (real) messages (if only the same could apply to my real plants at home, they would last much longer).

I’ve made quiet a few fairy friends over the last one and a half year  (that would be the ones who come to water my garden regularly – and vice versa). Two of them, Megan and Maureen, have gone from being fairy friends to “just” friends on Facebook. I felt a “connection” with them early on (maybe because of their frequent allusions to alcohol) and really enjoy “knowing them” more closely because they’re interesting and fun-loving people.

My garden in Fairyland, where I've met many magical people

And then there’s Gill. She’s not on my Facebook friend list (yet), but she reads my blog. I know this, because she often leaves me messages in my garden with allusions to it. It really makes my day – and goes to show that fairy friends can be just as good friends as “real” ones.

… to follower friends on Twitter

Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t offer you friends, but followers – while making you a followee at the same time. It’s not a give and take situation: the people you follow and whose lives you read about don’t necessary follow you. For example, I follow Stephen Fry (like over one million other people), I sometimes even comment on his tweets – but he doesn’t follow me, doesn’t read anything I write and never will. Stephen Fry is not my friend, nor is a certain John Chow (even though he sends me e-mails) or Guy Kawasaki. But I don’t bear a grudge. They’re still nice people.

There are however a few people on Twitter  that I now consider as friends  (well at  least in Twitterworld). We’ve  had a few  DM’s (DM = direct message – like a “private” tweet), I try not to miss too many of their tweets and I truly care about what’s going on in their lives.

My first twitter friend was Barry. I came upon him one night because I was watching Golden Girls and so was he. I have since followed him from his job at a UK call centre back to his natal Scotland where he’s started studying (though I’m not sure what…) and also works in a pub. The way he’s turned his life around and his tenacity are a real inspiration to me, and even though we don’t share the same love of Starbucks and men’s underwear, he’s the follower I’d be the most sad to lose.

I will probably never get to meet my Facebook or Twitter friends-who-aren’t-really-friends in real life. But I cherish their presence online (and let’s be honest: I spend a LOT of time online). Not because I don’t have enough “real” friends, but because these new friends know me in another way and we have things in common I don’t share with others.

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to understand that.


Filed under Everything counts

It’s a question of… Nutella

It should be forbidden by law to have Nutella in the house. As it isn’t, I installed a personal rule many years ago banning me from buying it – except in case of an emergency. I’m trying to find what critical situation might excuse me having Nutella all over my face this very moment, but have difficulties concentrating:  I’m eating it directly out of the jar with a spoon. And, despite me putting the jar back in the kitchen after every spoonful, I know I’ll continue going back and forth till there’s nothing left.

Maybe I’ve seen too many Nutella commercials lately. You know, the ones with children and how it’s really good for them to eat two slices of white bread with Nutella every morning (as long as they drink a glass of juice at the same time). If it’s good for them, it’s good for me, right? Of course, the enlightened person I am knows about the 1173 calories hidden in the jar I’m about to finish, but I keep reminding myself that Nutella’s mostly a hazelnut spread and that nuts are good for you…

Many French people believe that Nutella is French. When I was younger, I thought it was Austrian because it was always shown beside what I believed to be mountain flowers (I had a long “Sound of music” phase). I’ve just found out that it is in fact Italian (a Mr Pietro Ferrero made the first version in 1946).

I’ve also learnt that it’s sold in over 75 countries across the globe but doesn’t taste the same according to where you buy it. The Italian version has less sugar than the French one, which is softer than the German version, and so on. But apparently, the addictive side of Nutella is common for all.

On the official homepage, it says that Nutella outsells all brands of peanut butter combined worldwide. This I find strange (my own peanut butter consumption taken into account), but believable: the three Nutella fan pages on Facebook have over 5 million members; the biggest peanut butter fan page I could find hardly has 5000.

My jar of Nutella is now empty (and my keyboard sticky). I wonder how many of these I’ve finished off since I was a teenager? Quite a lot – after all, it has always been the first antidote for heartbreaks and despair. I don’t even have that excuse today. But then again, do I really need an excuse to eat Nutella?



Filed under Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… school reunions

Every now and then, I listen to the “Wear Sunscreen” CD my mother gave me a decade ago. It helps me put things in perspective. One of the phrases that always sticks with me is: “the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young”.

This makes perfect sense. I get a real kick out of talking with people who knew me “back then” when I was bolder and more adventurous, when I wore black nail varnish and dog collars and spent much energy on falling in love and writing poems about it.

And I’ve been very lucky in that sense. A lot of my close friends today are the same I went to school with. We’ve accomplished to stay in each other’s lives despite the fact that we’ve followed different paths, often in different countries. I’m deeply grateful for that.

But through the years, I had also lost contact with quiet a few others who had contributed in making me the person I am today. Enter Facebook. Thanks to which I’ll soon be going to my forth school reunion (I changed schools a couple of times). By now though, I am well prepared and know what to expect. I won’t even be contemplating going on a diet, buying new wrinkle cream or sweating over “what will they think of me?”. Because I know now that it won’t change a thing (and it’s too late anyway).

My very first school reunion made possible thanks to Facebook was with my old primary class. Most of us had not seen (or heard of) each other in over 25 years.

Actually getting an answer to the “I wonder what’s become of…” and seeing everyone again was an intense and strange experience. Of course people change physically over time and course, not all turn out the way you thought they would. But all in all, “the way we were”, in the group, with each other, doesn’t change that much. Old patterns and old roles stay and that’s unsettling. As is discovering how your former classmates remember you (rarely the way you’d want to be remembered!)

Memories are without a doubt the most surprising thing with these reunions. Friends you spent hours and hours with, in school and outside, remember things you don’t recall – and the other way round. It’s like you sometimes each lived in parallel worlds.

And then of course, there’s seeing the boys you were once so smitten with that you wanted to die, and actually being able to tell them. Except that they are now men, often married and don’t always look like your idea of super hunk anymore (though I must admit I had much better taste then than today!).

And when the evening is over and you’re all high on emotion and visions of your youth, you make the promises of “staying in touch this time”. You might not always follow up the way you think you’re going to, but it doesn’t really matter. You know now where they are, and thus, where some of you is. And that’s nice.


Filed under Everything counts