There’s been a lot of buzz lately about online bashing and bullying, specifically regarding military families, with scenes playing out on Facebook and other social media websites. Spouses and family members, including children, are tagged and labeled with the term “dependapotamus” – a nasty word for a completely stereotypical military dependent who doesn’t work, wears her spouse’s rank and lays around all day milking the government for all its lavish benefits. And it turns out that most of the online aggressors are military spouses and service members.
I admit when I first heard about this phenomenon I was skeptical that people had enough time to sit around and manage a Facebook page or Reddit account, post comments and screenshots of military family members and let the trolls do their thing. I had heard the stories and read articles about online abuse but didn’t have any idea how bad it actually was – until I spent about an hour on Reddit. I was stunned.
The language was beyond hateful and vitriolic. I don’t dare quote any of the posts or give the haters any more play than they’ve already received. And don’t even get me started on the atrocious grammar, punctuation and spelling used. Many of the commenters need to head right back to fifth grade for a good old-school sentence diagram lesson. But beyond just using appropriate subject-verb agreement, this idea that military spouses are bashing one another and their family members seemingly without consequences is frightening. I did read that one branch of the military is working on a policy regarding online conduct, but it still begs the questions: are we teaching our children about the power of online anonymity? Can we, as a military population, lead the charge so perhaps the next generation of Internet users behaves more thoughtfully? Shouldn’t military spouses and service members hold themselves to a higher standard even – no, especially when no one is looking and teach our children this same lesson?
As a writer for several organizations, I’ve been subject to some awful comments in the space below my articles. One guy called a piece I wrote about sequestration, military pay and benefits a “chicken-little fluff piece.” Tame, but really necessary? Thankfully, another commenter (a USMC veteran) came to my defense. Of course I realize that the original poster (who did not attach his real name to his remark) is entitled to his opinion, but I wonder if he could have said his comment to me in person.
My daughters are on the cusp of technology becoming a daily part of their lives. So far, I work hard to limit their use of electronics. When they do want to read articles online, enter debates and discussions and share updates, we’ll have to have a serious conversation about what’s appropriate to share, what constitutes a smart comment, when to wait and think about a comment before just tap-tap-tapping away at the keyboard and when to just say nothing at all. I don’t ever want my children to cloak themselves in anonymity simply to be mean.
And for goodness sake, if they choose to make their voices heard, they had better use “their” and “there” correctly!
Molly Blake is a freelance writer. Her husband recently retired after serving 20 years in the United States Marine Corps. She attended the University of Dayton and writes about issues affecting military families and other parenting issues. Follow her on twitter @mblakewrites.