How You're Probably Helping Cyber Bullies (And How to Stop)

Dear Fellow Internet Users, 

A few months ago, I encountered an individual who used an anonymous Twitter account as a means to attack my religious identity

Although I struggled to make sense of what I felt, I knew in my gut that the disparaging comments were much more than simple bigotry, discrimination, or even cyberbullying. 

What follows is my formal response to the incident, an open letter that I hope will express some insight that has taken me months to sort out. 

Let’s start with social media, the way we all see, share, and comment on our daily lives.

Sometimes, we think we're being funny when we criticize someone or make a joke at someone's expense. We think it’s no big deal because we do it all the time, and generally nothing bad ever happens from it. Sometimes, we get attention for it, and that feels good. Besides, people do the same things to us, so we're not doing anything worse than anyone else, right?

Nev Schulman looking at his computer


It's time to look at the big picture. The internet has become so developed and omnipresent in the daily lives of people across the globe of every race and religion that we are all part of a global community now, a digital culture that if used carelessly can cause terrible anxiety and hatred.

If we don’t want that to happen, we have a responsibility to do something about it actively. We all do because we're all a part of it. 

But if we think we're exempt just because we've never posted a cruel comment or been called a troll, we should think harder about what else we do online. The reality is, when we're on the internet, everything we choose to watch or share is a vote for that thing. If we think because we're one of millions, we can watch a video of a hostage reading terrorist demands, or even a video of a nasty prank on a teen and it’s not a big deal, we're wrong. Passive internet consumption is equal to standing in a circle around someone getting beat up and watching without doing anything. 

With the internet, we have a chance to do it over and do it better. We can redefine how people around the world interact with each other. 

The internet is more than something we waste time on, more than a way to send emails, even more than a beautiful place for people to share feelings, identify themselves, and be creative. 

The internet has become a new platform for civilization, a fresh start in a weird way. 

Think about it. By definition, civilization is the stage of human social advancement and organization that is considered most advanced, and what is the internet if not that? 

And here’s where I bring it back to that guy on Twitter who told me to go burn in hell. It’s easy to point a finger at who does wrong but isn’t it up to everyone to set the tone of social acceptance so we can avoid the mistakes we’ve made in the past? 

With this new chance for a better civilization, we don’t always have to create repercussions for bad acts, but can choose to reward people for good. This new internet civilization is wonderfully open and democratic, let’s preserve what makes the internet so great by collectively establishing a radically tolerant code of conduct before it gets to the point when we need regulatory and punitive power structures controlling what happens.

In the past, we identified the small tiny corners of the internet that pleased us and that serviced our needs, focusing on those while ignoring the things that we didn’t like or need. To some extent, that’s been the problem with society as a whole, causing us to see civilization as us and them.

Now we are at a crossroads. It is our opportunity to realize there is no us and them. It’s only us and it’s our chance to change the course of history, to rethink what it means to be a supportive, caring, loving, accepting global community and it starts right now with our acknowledgement of this collective responsibility. 

This is our chance as a generation to define the future and how we want it to look. The internet is our platform.

There’s a trend, a wave, a movement happening and it’s all about acceptance. I hope you'll join me in promoting it.