The beast within

Last updated 12:57 04/09/2012

The Twittergate saga involving Charlotte Dawson is yesterday's news - for now.

But the sick societal problems behind it should be at the forefront of everybody's thinking.

Dawson, apparently driven by cyber bullies to a failed suicide attempt, undoubtedly played with fire and got severely burnt.

Some say she brought it upon herself - challenging her digital tormentors to play rough and crumbling quickly under a barrage of unrelenting septic poison that came her way.

But the who's and how's of the case are relatively unimportant.

More concerning is the fact anyone subscribes to this sort of crap.

What sort of people, for example, have the time and - more worryingly - the inclination to cruelly torment others online and take pleasure from the tragic result?

The answer to that question is frightening.

Because, going on sheer number, the perpetrators are exactly the kinds of folk we interact with each day in our working and private lives.

The same kind of average everyday people who, when given the chance, love to put the boot in and take relish from the misery of others.

They've always been there - knitting in the front rows of crowds waiting for the guillotine to drop; cheering on various ethnic cleansing efforts from the anonymous safety of their living rooms; and occasionally going public with their vitriolic tendencies.

I recall one such example years ago when Alan Duff's hard punching  Once Were Warriors first showed in cinemas across the country.

The woman who accompanied me to a screening of it was the victim of an historic rape and I cringed with awkwardness as the drunk and disgustingly creepy "Uncle Bully" forced himself on one of the central characters - barely into her teens, defenceless and paralysed with fear.

Worse still was the voice that boomed across the aisles from somewhere up the back of the cinema.

"Choice bro," it said. "Give her heaps."

Unbelievable but sadly true - some people in that movie theatre actually laughed.

I thought of that guy and his chuckling supporters when Dawson's demise made newspaper headlines on both sides of the Tasman and as details of her torment by twitter emerged.

I recalled in particular their warped humour; their  total disregard for women and their  absolute lack of humanity.

They could well - with the subsequent availability of an online voice - be among those who gleefully pushed  Dawson to the brink this month.

How many of us are capable of the same mindless behaviour?

Social media it seems, has potential to unlock a beast within us all.

- Auckland City Harbour News

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