A place for the mean to slip off the collar

JILLIAN ALLISON-AITKEN
Last updated 05:00 30/08/2012

Barbara Sumner-Burstyn is the latest wannabe to try to drum up some publicity for herself by making controversial statements online but I think it's fair to say her efforts have backfired.

Last week, she took to Facebook to have a crack at a fallen New Zealand soldier, saying: “Oh, so fallen soldier Jacinda Baker liked boxing and baking - did they forget she also liked invading countries we are not at war with, killing innocent people and had no moral compass”.

Her mean-spirited and half-baked comment was picked up and went viral, resulting in Sumner-Burstyn copping some well-deserved criticism.

Sure, some of the comments left in response on a Facebook page set up to slam her opinion were certainly over the top but no more so than her own poisonous words.

Eventually, she apologised for her attack of cerebral dysentery (the technical term for a rush of sh*tty thoughts to the brain) but the damage has been done.

And while the meanness is obvious, one Aussie columnist has also pointed out the stupidity of her thoughts, which were so liberally peppered with factual near-misses and a total lack of consideration for the family and friends of the young medic who died so far away from home.

This isn't the first time she has employed these tactics and I doubt it will be the last.

Fairfax Media columnist Chris Trotter raised the burning question in an opinion piece this week: is social media use making us cruel? The answer to that question is a resounding “yes”, but it's not just social media, it's the internet in general.

Last week in Britain, as Dylan Cecil's mother was still waiting for her little boy's body to be found after he was washed out to sea, internet trolls set up a Facebook page and left messages purporting to be from the four-year-old. Sadly, that kind of behaviour is not uncommon and even Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has been targeted by the online lowlifes who take delight in the misery of others, being subjected to a "non-stop tirade of abuse" after Tweeting about the death of his pet dog.

I see it on message boards and in chat rooms, on Facebook and on blogs: people are mean to others in a way they wouldn't be in real life.

The internet won't turn you into a nasty troll but if you are already inclined to be a glass-half-empty kind of person, there's a chance you might be slipping.

The internet won't make you mean, but it will make the already disgruntled person meaner and crueller.

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