We help our children navigate online bullies and teach them to be resilient and use social media and screen time wisely, but what do we do when it happens to us? Never have I joined more Facebook groups than as an expat, and never have I joined more forums than as a new mum in Singapore. And so, never have I been exposed to so much judgement, meanness and admin power-trips, but at the same time laughter, kindness and solidarity, especially from other mothers. Not all Facebook groups and forums are created equally. If you’ve encountered some tricky situations or trolling yourself, try these tips (aka learn from my mistakes) and the big wide world of Facebook forums can be your oyster.
1. Choose your forums carefully
As a general rule, forums with more than 5,000 members tend to go a little rogue or downright nasty. There’s nothing wrong with large forums, but use them as a directory to find stuff (like services, or holidays) and avoid asking for personal advice or opinions. Instead join some niche forums. To find niche forums you could post questions on larger ones about things that interest you, such as “Where can I find more information on child-led weaning” (again, don’t ask for advice on baby-led weaning!) and people will most likely direct you to some niche forums – join the ones you like.
2. Sit and observe before you jump in
Whenever you join a new forum, I’d strongly suggest you sit and observe for a while before commenting or posting. Get a feel for the vibe and the tone of the site.
True story: when I first moved to Singapore I needed to board my cat. I posted questions (a few too many) about catteries on the cattiest forum on the island. I’d go for drinks, meet new people and they’d ask, with a snigger, “How’s your cat?” Ouch. Learn from my mistakes – know your audience before making a forum debut. This small Island does not forgive nor forget easily.
3. Block the bullies
Before you post make a list of people whose comments are nasty or overly sarcastic. Just block them. It means they can’t see your posts or comments and you can’t see theirs – simple.
Again, learn from my mistakes. New to Singapore, I was happily posting inane questions on a large forum, when suddenly I was set upon by three meanies. When I searched their names on the forum I found them to be serial offenders, so I blocked them. All three. Good riddance. I didn’t realise that they were all admins on the forum. Doh! Check a forum’s guidelines – you’re usually not allowed to block admins, and if you have to, it’s probably not a forum you want to belong to.
4. Don’t post photos of your child
For many, many reasons posting a photo of your child on a forum is a very bad idea! Online forums are rather anonymous and this allows people to be nasty sometimes. At best, a photo of your child can attract ‘concern trolling’. Example: “My nephew also has sticky-out ears – it’s really easy to fix, I can send you some details.” You hadn’t asked about your child’s ears. At worst somebody could fixate on your child, or use their photos for fake profiles – yes, that happens.
5. Do a regular purge of your posts
If you’re a regular on a forum, or you plan to leave a forum that’s gone bad, do a search of your name, and delete old posts and comments. It’s your digital footprint and it’s good to give it sweep out every now and then for a few reasons:
- Fifteen years from now, do you want your child’s friends to find questions you posted about his or her bowel movements?
- If you’re leaving a forum because of nastiness, sweep away your footprint. If you contributed to an online brawl (we’ve all been there), you don’t want that to be your legacy – and once you leave the forum, you may not be allowed back in to delete.
- A bully or a creep can fixate on you and follow you from forum to forum gathering information by reading your comments and posts. At best they remain online, at worst they could intrude into your real life. This is highly unlikely – but it can happen, and that’s enough to make me purge!
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