Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She currently serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network.
Written by Shelley Kimball
I love social media. Seriously. I am thrilled that it was invented. But I know I am always one post away from a landmine.
It’s that dark side of social media that never fails to shock me and make me fearful — cyberbullying among military spouses.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I am really glad. But, for many of us, we navigate with care every day when trying to communicate online with other spouses in hopes that we don’t strike the wrong nerve with someone and get the backlash.
Years ago, I had heard about this happening in other branches, and I always responded by saying, “Coasties are better than that. We don’t do that to each other.” I learned my lesson the hard way.
Once it was because a friend and I had posted a benign (we thought) addition to Coast Guard policy on the names of Facebook pages. The response caught me completely off guard. The negative, critical, hostile, name-calling responses we were met with is something that has made me nervous every time I press post.
Then there was the time a spouse who has worked incredibly hard to support Coast Guard families made an error in a post, and what felt like an unruly mob revolted. I get that their feelings about the issue were strong, but I couldn’t help but think, “Would you say this to her face?” As the masses ganged up on her, one friend tried to talk them down by responding to every post backing up our friend. Meanwhile, another friend and I were responding to every random post on the page to try to bump the whole discussion down so no one would continue. Neither effort worked.
And how about when Coastie spouses take screen shots from private pages and send them over to Facebook pages developed specifically to condemn military spouses? Yeah, that happens. Turns out, maybe not all of us were better than that. The focus of these pages, like Overly Sensitive Military Wives and Dear Dependa, is strictly to tear down military wives. They post photos of spouses and links to their posts and have a field day mocking them. I hesitate to even mention them for fear of driving traffic their way, but we’re all adults here.
We can do better, be better. We can protect each other.
Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a difference of opinion, or we should never be annoyed with what we see on Facebook or Twitter. Believe me, I get frustrated, too. I’m just saying we don’t have to attack in response.
I think the most compelling story came from a woman who herself had bullied other military spouses. She said she did it because she became part of a culture that applauded it. What started as being outspoken quickly crossed the line to being mean-spirited.
That’s part of the key – that idea that there is a congratulatory sense for those who troll or put others down. Those of us on the outside of that circle can’t make sense of how and why it happens. In fact, several Coast Guard spouses said they wanted me to make sure to mention certain things in this column, but they were not about to speak publicly for fear of retribution.
What can we do? In my case, I leave the pages that have members who repeatedly respond to posts in an aggressive, hostile way. I don’t need any extra drama in my life. Don’t join the pages that are built just to criticize spouses. What good do they do? I’ll tell you – none.
Two other Coast Guard spouses have some ideas on how to improve the situation. (And I will tell you honestly, all three of us are weighing our words here.) Jasmine Dupont said it starts with each of us. She said she wishes everyone would share their opinions in a civil way, rather than mocking others.
“There’s a way to have an opinion about things,” she said. “Have a bit of tact and class. It’s just ridiculous how every little thing that’s said is ridiculed by others. Bullying doesn’t know an age limit, either.”
Amanda Box said she has seen situations escalate so dramatically that commands have had to get involved.
“It happens way more then it should,” she said. “It takes lots of forms. Honestly you could do an entire series on this subject and still not cover all the ways it happens.”
She said the most of the negative situations she has seen could have been avoided if the person cyberbullying had addressed the issue of contention privately.
“The old rule of ‘if you have nothing nice to say then don’t say anything at all’ has gone out the window,” Box said. “Instead people have decided airing grievances publicly on social media is more acceptable then simply talking to the person they may disagree with.”
She also said to be selective in your social media connections.
“You do not have to accept every friend request. Just because you know someone or have met them does not make or mean you are friends with that person or have to accept them as a friend on social media,” she said.
Can I add one more thing? Before you post, question your motive. Are you doing it to teach someone a lesson, or to provide useful information. Are you doing it to shut someone down, or to find a way to understand them better? The differences show. Not sure how your post will be taken? Read it out loud. Would you say it like that to an actual person?
I want to mention some guidance from the Coast Guard, too. I know that as spouses, we retain our First Amendment rights to say just about whatever we want online. But I think this is some helpful input from the Coast Guard Social Media Handbook. The Coast Guard does not see Facebook as a family readiness tool, but it recognizes its value in outreach to communities, families and friends. It urges Coasties to take personal responsibility in posts. For example, recognize that anything you post can be shared, taken out of context, or used maliciously. Use restraint – be aware of how your posts reflect on you. And remember there is no such thing as anonymity online.
Social media is the lifeline that keeps us connected with friends and family who live far away. This is where we find support daily. Where we get some of the best on navigating the obstacles of Coast Guard life. That’s the good stuff, and I will argue it outweighs the bad stuff.
But the bad stuff can be so bad. So hurtful that you don’t ever want to ask for help again. So awful that you would rather be alone than to reach out. That is tragic. It’s shameful. The Coast Guard is such a small branch. Why divide us even more with this stuff?
I’m not putting up with it, and neither should you. There are more of us out here who want to support each other than there are bullies who want to tear us down. Let’s stand together and put a stop to it.
Cyberbullying Research center: Resources for adults who experience cyberbullying.
Stopbullying.gov: A helpful resource for adults and kids alike that includes a link to antibullying policies and laws in your area.
How do you think we can we combat cyberbullies? Give us your ideas and solutions – we can use all the help you can give.
The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.