This is an opinion piece that does not necessarily reflect the views of MilitaryOneClick.
Last week, Nicole Burnham, a 21-year-old soldier at Ft. Carson, took her life. She had been reportedly cyberbullied by military spouses. Social media has made it easy for military spouses and service members to find like-minded groups. . .or so they think. Then, one wrong question or comment can lead to an attack from the very people who are supposed to be supporting each other and building each other up.
Cyberbullying is an epidemic in the military community. Why is it happening?
- Many things that are written online would never be said straight to someone’s face in person. The digital age has made it easy for others to hide behind a computer screen without many repercussions.
- When you put hundreds or even thousands of military spouses in a group, there is bound to be conflict. I have noticed many groups having more and more administrators so someone is watching things around the clock to hopefully halt any discussions that go south.
- There are no standards or punishments for civilian military spouses involved in this type of online behavior.
As a military spouse, I have been cyberbullied by other spouses. I never knew people in the military community could be so cruel until I joined several military spouse groups and witnessed it. A new military spouse asked for advice in a Facebook group, and everyone was chiming in with their tidbits of advice. I had recently written a blog post on that same topic, so I shared a link with her in the thread. Another person notified me I was about to be shamed in a Facebook group that exists solely to bully, humiliate, and name-call military spouses. I went to the Facebook group and was fuming mad at the names and stereotypes that these military spouses, service members, and veterans were calling me. I reported this to Facebook several times to no avail.
How can the problem of cyberbullying in the military spouse community be resolved? These are just a few ways:
- Social media group administrators: Group admins need to monitor comments and posts more closely, recruit more group administrators, and report cyberbullying when it occurs instead of simply deleting a post.
- Accountability: Military spouses who engage in cyberbullying should be held accountable for their actions.
- Facebook: The Facebook community guidelines about bullying and harassment state that “We don’t tolerate bullying or harassment,” however, not all reports of bullying and harassment are taken seriously enough. Groups that continue to allow bullying and harassment of individuals should be shut down immediately.
- Training: Military spouses must be trained on cyberbullying, safe and secure usage of social media (as OPSEC is continually violated), and cultural sensitivity/diversity training. Military spouses are from many different cultures, ages, experiences, and education levels. Training would help our entire community to be on the same page and understand what the expectations are for online behavior.
We should be building each other up, sharing resources to help each other, and teaching others the lessons we have learned along the way. We should be paving the way to make this life easier for others, not more difficult than it already is. Military spouses need to show more compassion to each other online and reach out a helping hand instead of a dagger. As an Army wife, I am appalled by those who harassed and bullied Burnham to the point of suicide and ruined the entire Army and military spouse reputation in the process. It is time to combat the issue of military spouse cyberbullying once and for all.
By Wendi Iacobello