The dangers of crying ‘bully’

Bullying can be crappy, horrible, terrible, debilitating. Sometimes it is clear cut and obvious, but it can also be subjective, and bullying can easily be perceived as such when it is closer to over-expressive leadership, and even of being a justified bollocking.

Listener (Noted):  Maggie Barry and the dangers of crying ‘bully’

It was easy to applaud the advent of #MeToo. The felling of atrocious tyrants, such as movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the drunken, groping New Zealand legal titans who were revealed as serial sex pests, was long overdue. There has been a welcome global consciousness-raising.

There has been overdue attention given to despicable behaviour.

But as this era of atonement for workplace bullying matures, its fine print is proving divisive. The recent inquiry into police Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha’s conduct and allegations against MP Maggie Barry show a lot of on-the-job conflict is rather more nuanced and debatable than the headline #MeToo cases.

I don’t know how nuanced either of those situations was, but they are certainly debatable, especially with the absence of much evidence.

Haumaha’s career was called into question because three staff in his unit didn’t like the way he spoke to them. A QC’s enquiry has found no evidence of bullying, but a robust leadership style. Barry stands accused of bullying two former staff by such actions as swearing in front of them, teasing them and saying disparaging things about other people.

As far as I’m aware the jury is still out in both these cases.

It’s straightforward to diagnose such things as violence, threats, groping and sexual extortion as abusive. The older #MeToo grows, the more amazed we’ll be in retrospect about how much of it society has tolerated and excused.

But, speaking tersely, swearing, bantering, tantrums, sniping behind colleagues’ backs – are these necessarily bullying? They’re generally undesirable, and in quantity can become abusive, but in occasional doses, such behaviour is normal and human.

If people are going to start informing on each other, or as with Barry, covertly taping for such transgressions, we risk creating another form of workplace danger: a low-trust environment.

Worse than that – it risks over-embellished accusations, hit jobs and revenge attacks.

The allegations against Barry seem well short of the sort of mistreatment #MeToo was conceived to root out.

As for personal remarks, such as Barry’s likening a staffer’s attire to that seen in The Great Gatsby, one person’s affectionate teasing is another’s hectoring sarcasm. We cannot reform human nature. Teasing, and even its ruder cousin, banter, is often a sign of deep affection and a way of signalling mutual trust. A little gossip can be team-building. These things can morph into bullying, but are we seriously considering outlawing them as inherently dangerous?

Banter one day could be perceived as bullying the next, depending on the mood and the situation. Too much ‘banter’ can become bullying.

Parliament’s timely inquiry into its bullying is justified by the serious transgressions of MP Jami-Lee Ross and former minister Meka Whaitiri. But there’s a danger of our getting to the stage where just crying “bully!” is enough to blight someone’s career, and for that suspension of doubt to be misused out of spite. Not all workplace interactions can be positive and nurturing. High-pressure situations cannot always be gentled with pleases and thankyous. And it’s not abusive to tell a staffer their work isn’t good enough.

It’s easier (and human) to allege bullying than concede and accept ‘I was crap’.

Workplace safety can surely be protected without outlawing many manifestations of the human personality, or holding that feeling slighted is proof of abuse. We need simply to treat others as we’d like to be treated, and have the wit and empathy to notice if our tone or humour isn’t well received.

Sometimes relationships turn to crap, in workplaces as well as in homes.  It is easy for for behaviour that had once been acceptable to become intolerable.

All of us can at times overstep the banter line.

We need to be careful we don’t overstep the line of acceptable behaviour into dumping on anything someone else says they don’t like.

This is a particular problem in politics where it is common to exaggerate things for devious political motives.

We should expect reasonable and professional behaviour from our MPs and public servants, but we should also not cry ‘bully’ when it isn’t justified.

If we get too picky and too sensitive and too intolerant of normal human behaviour then we will take our eye off the important ball – the serious cases of harassment and assault and bullying that deserve proper investigation, and condemnation when proven.

How do we make Twitter and the internet a kinder place?

Lisa Owen finished her interview with Jon Ronson on The Nation about public shaming – see Ronson on online shaming – asking “How do we make Twitter and the internet a kinder place?”

One way to do this is to create and maintain kinder places, and I like to think that’s what we have done here with Your NZ.

Another way is to keep reminding yourself that the name or pseudonym you might feel like attacking is usually associated with a real person who is possibly much like yourself. Feelings and reactions can be difficult to exprewss and easy to ignore in cyber conversations, especially with the tight character restrictions that Twitter imposes.

Lisa Owen: how do we make Twitter and the internet a kinder place?
Well, I think conversations like this. I mean, my book came out; Monica Lewinsky came out with a TED talk which I thought was wonderful. Good, important thinkers like Glenn Greenwald are kind of jumping on it too.

And I think if— I think the best thing that can happen is if you see an unfair or an ambiguous shaming going on, speak up. Say something about it. And it’s going to be no question that the shamers will turn on you, and, believe me, I’ve experienced that over the past few months, but it’s the right thing to do. Because a babble of voices talking back and forward about whether something’s deserved or not, that’s democracy.

I think that speaking up and confronting bad and nasty online behaviour is important. Sometimes it works. If you get in early you can sometimes shut down online bullying or at least swing the debate to a more even battle rather than a mob attack against one.

But it has it’s risks. I know this from experience over the past few years that I have been actively involved in blogs and to a lesser extent Twitter.

I’ve been banned from Whale Oil, Public Address and from Dim Post for speaking up against what I thought was awful, or presenting a view that ran against the forum.

I’ve been banned a number of times from The Standard. This has usually involved me standing my ground against mob attacks until the ‘moderator’ pings me for ‘disrupting the blog’ – which is exactly the intent of the attacks tactics used against me (and others, it was a common means of shutting down and kicking out alternative voices there).

Despite commenting at Kiwiblog far more than anywhere else I haven’t been banned from there, but I have also been subjected to mob attacks, some insiduous threats, either misguided or malicious ongoing criticism and deliberate lying smears lasting for months or years (Manolo is a notable resident troll).

And as a result of moderating potentially defamatory comments here on Your NZ, providing a right of reply, and confronting unsubstantiated and false accusations on Twitter I have found myself on the receiving end of some particularly insidious attention from recidivist online attackers, the full extent of which I can’t yet reveal for legal reasons but will get that story out into the sunlight if and when I’m able to.

But to make at least parts of the Internet kinder places the bullies have to be confronted and exposed, or they will keep attacking and bullying.

Thanks to those of you who have helped make Your NZ a kinder place to discuss and share things. It can be done, and if it works well it will grow and spread,

A healthy democracy needs diverse opinions openly expressed and issues robustly debated. It also requires decency, respect of others, respect of the right to disagree, and recognition of the responsibilities involved with free speech.

Good things often don’t come easily but if we keep working on it we can and will contribute to making the Internet a kinder place.

It’s worth remembering (the Bible has some wise quotes):

 “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

And the similar Mosaic law:

“Whatever is hurtful to you, do not do to any other person.”

Plunket with Alex Wright on Shane Reti and bullying

Sean Plunket interviewed dusty roads activist Alex Wright on RadioLive yesterday about her claims that Whangarei MP Shane Reti bullied her.


Up to 100 logging trucks a day use a network of unsealed roads in Northland. Pipiwai Titoki Advocacy for Community Health & Safety Group have have been campaigning for years to improve road funding in the region. Sean Plunket asked spokesperson Alex Wright, the woman who claims she was bullied by a National MP, who is doing the bullying?

I haven’t got time to transcribe it all but here are some key points followed by some transcription.

About fifty members in the group that has been campaigning for about four years.

The group has no rules or a membership list, in the process of making it an incorporated society. Very informal at this stage, they have meetings.

Advocate only on dusty roads.

Not a political group, a community group.

Wright has never been in a political party.

Advocating to get rid of dusty roads.

Been on TV 1 twice covering what they have to live with – Choking dust from trucks has Northland residents demanding help

No contact with Shane Reti before. He phoned her early February.

And then phone call made by Dr Reti Wednesday last week about emails sent out by Andrew Blake referring to the campaign. Nothing threatening in emails. Sent to all Parliament last Wednesday  how Northland is neglected in ‘Mike Sabin’s electorate’.

Group’s banners are red.

Then Wright got a phone call from Shane Reti talking about “threatening email, very wish washy.

Email was not signed – anonymous? No name at the bottom. Heading – from AD and CE Blake.

Reti made connection with group and Wright.

Blake is part of the group, Wright didn’t know Blake was sending email.

Dr Reti should have phoned Mr Blake.

Phone call totally unplanned, not forewarned. Out of the blue phone call from MP.

Reti said it was going to be more difficult to advocate if they campaign against National during the campaign.

Political reality.

He doesn’t threaten to do anything.

Plunket “I really can’t see where the huge threat is, it’s just politics isn’t it Alex?”.

Wright “Well, it’s everybody’s interpretation isn’t it.”

Plunket” Have you talked to Andrew Blake about his emails?”

Wright “No but I would be very keen for you to phone him”.

Plunket “Ok but you didn’t tell Shane Reti to phone Andrew Blake which would have been the natural thing to do.”

Wright “That’s right but as i said to you at the beginning the phone call took me quite by surprise, and I basically just listened.

Plunket “The problem is we don’t have the whole conversation do we.”

Wright “No and I only managed to start recording part way…”

Plunket “When was the last time you released, recorded and released to the media,  a phone conversation you had?”

Wright “I’ve never done it before in my life”.

Plunket “Who did you release the phone conversation to? How did you get it out there?”

Wright “How did i get it out there? Well in the modern day of technology you just, it’s so easy to  email recordings”.

Plunket “Who did you email it to?”

Wright “I emailed it to Radio New Zealand.”

Plunket “Because you knew a reporter there?”

Wright “We have quite a bit to do with the media”.

Plunket “Ok so you basically leaked a private conversation to the news media?”

Wright “Yes. Well I don’t know…”

Plunket “Well how do you feel about that, how do you feel about doing that, how do you think other people might look at that? That an MP rings you and gives you a heads up and says look it’s gonna be difficult for me to advocate for you if you keep stirring during the by-election, that’s just the way politics is. You record that conversation, and then you leak it to the news media. You just, and it’s a free country, you can do that .”

Wright “That’s right, it’s great isn’t it. It’s, I have rights, you realise that?”

Plunket: “Yeah I do, I do, I just wonder if you’re exercising in the best interests of your strategic objective to get rid of dusty roads, that’s all.”

Wright “I think we’re a lot closer now than we ever have been.”

Plunket “Really. So what are you going to do? I mean if you felt so bullied presumably you’re gonna quiver in fear and stop protesting your issue.”

Wright “No, not at all.”

Plunket “No I didn’t think so. So what are you planning, I know there was talk of blockading roads, are you going to do that?”

Wright “Um there’s all sorts of things up our sleeves at the moment, and I’m not going to disclose them of course.”

Plunket “Are you also disappointed that say New Zealand First hasn’t done much for your dusty roads in the last wee while either?”

Wright “Well I wouldn’t say New Zealand First hasn’t been um actually in the background. We’ve had Winston Peters at a marae meeting and he’s ah attended a Northland Regional Council meeting with our group, some of our group members. So actually…”

Plunket “Does your group have a preferred outcome for the by-election…”

Wright “Mr Peters is the only MP that has actually been and met with us. We invited Mike Sabin to try and um…”

Plunket “Yeah. Well he’s not standing in the by-election is he?”

Wright “Who? Who’s that?”

Plunket “Mike Sabin’s not standing in the by-election is he.”

Wright “I don’t know.”


Plunket “All right Alex, do you have a preferred outcome for the by-election? How are you voting?”

Wright “How am I voting. Well I’ll just say I’m not voting for National. And I’m a straight up person sean.”

Plunket “Yep”.

Wright “I’m down to earth, I’m straight up, and I have nothing to hide. I don’t work in secrecy. I try to email everything that I can because there’s a paper trail. A lot of our politicians choose not to do that.”

Plunket “Ok. Could you email me the emails from Andrew Blake so we can all take a look at them and decide for ourselves whether or not we thought they were threatening?”

Wright “Now, um, I, I better just check with ah Mr Blake that he…”

Plunket “Why? You’re happy to release Mr Reti’s, the recording, the phone conversation with Mr Reti without asking…”

Wright “Oh yeah no problem at all. So so what…”

[email address exchange]

Pluinket “You don’t seem someone who’s too traumatised by being bullied”.

Wright “Not at all. You should ask some of my long time friends. They would know what I used to get up to.”

Whale oil be still fighting back

There’s been a substantial show of opposition to Whale Oil’s nasty post against ginger haired people in Told you they’d start fighting back.

Whale has tried to defend his action claiming he is not bullying and making with outlandish suggestions ginger kids should resort to violence and attack bullies – and his post linked to a bullied teen in the US shooting his bullies. Here are his responses and defenses and my responses:

Fuck you guys are touchy…in fact this is very sooky behaviour.

I sent this link to one of my best mate with the subject line “I knew you fuckers would fight back one day” … he laughed and gave me some more ideas…bullys only learn to exist if they get away with it…you aren;t helping your kids by being sooks, they should line up the biggest one and smash them over…then stand over them and ask how they liked them ginger apples.

Honestly harden up…you are quite pathetic

No, it’s you that are way out of line on this.

I’ve heard the “my mate laughed so it’s ok” excuse before and that’s what is pathetic. Because some may laugh doesn’t excuse this sort of crap.

It can cause a lot of grief to not only people with the “wrong” colour hair but also to family. Deep hurt for some.

Apart from being fucking stupid promoting violence as a way of resolving problems, aren’t you aware that people with ginger hair are likely to be a minority of one amongst a bunch of thugs?

You’re the one without any hint of soul on this. You’ve been sensitive on some things, I’m surprised you are oblivious to how insidious and nasty this appearance targeted bullying is.

That is certainly an option, so is your son punching said bullies in the head…giving them a taste of red power.

I’m told I’m a dick all the time, that I won;t be successful, that I’m fat, that i’m a greasy blowfly…that I’m mental…using your definition that is all bullying…i get worse…including emails telling me to kill myself.

The comments and actions by those people say more about them than they do about me…honestly people need to stop feeling outrage over every little thing…htfu…we have become a nation of sooks

What’s sooky about standing up to bullying crap like this?

Because it isn’t bullying is is panty-waist sookiness on your part.

You’re contradicting yourself. You say that kids should harden up and stand up to bullies and nastiness but that blog commenters are sooky if they do likewise.

Who says it is bullying?…frankly people are being way too gay these days calling everything bullying.

My Ginger mate rang me up tonight and suggested that I had missed the point about the article I linked to….he thought the reason why his ginger brethren missed everyone on his shooting spree was because he was too used to the dark and the sunlight was squinting his eyes.

Bullying and being a nasty prat is not excused because someone thinks it’s funny.

Its the berserker gene that comes with being ginger…you know from the Vikings…that and the mutant gene pool

Recessive genes most likely…the berserker gene…polite terms for mutant genes.

There has been more beserkness demonstrated by ginger bashers.

Too true Travis. I’d rather be a bully than a ginger though.

It does seem that you would rather be a bully. Using your hard earned social media power in this way is a real shame.

Nasty blogging detracts substantially from blogger credibility and effectiveness.

“Told you they’d start fighting back”

Whale Oil has posted another attack on a minority in Told you they’d start fighting back…

Gingervitis is deadly…there should be something done about dangerous, soulless sufferers of Gingervitis.

Perhaps rounding them up and re-homing them in Palmerston North might best for us all before  something tragic happens

The Gingervitis link is to the Urban Dictionary:

  1. a disease held by a kid who has orange hair, pale skin and freckles on his face. Don’t confuse them with kids with orange hair but without the skin and freckles. Those freaks are known as daywalkers.
  2. The horrible disease that infects every single red haired person. Symptoms include: red hair, freckles, the lack of one’s soul, and the feeling that you just don’t belong in society. Gingervitis can be passed on to other people with the harmful bite, this bite can spread the disease to any person, so be careful around ginger kids.
    Andy : dude did you see that soul-less ginger kid?
    Eric : yeah, he definetly has gingervitis, don’t let him bite you.
    An incredibly serious disease in children. Symptoms are Red hair, white skin, and freckles.
  3. Okay, yeah, so Gingervitis is not actually serious. But it WAS on South Park (Season 9 Episode 11) !

Etc Etc.

This is disgraceful stirring up of discrimination over a natural appearance. I know it’s a slow blog month and big bloggers may be looking at controversial ways of driving up their hit rates, but the hitting may be not how they expected.

‘They’ may start to fight back.

Not by writing nasty counter attack posts targeting other minorities – like people suffering from depression. (Whale should consider how depression may affect those who are targetted for bullying).

By confronting the blatant blog bullying and encouragement of bullying.

The Truth is that adults, especially those wanting to build credibility and brands and circulations, should fucking well grow up and think about what damage they can do when they attack and bully minorities (and encourage aid and abet other abusers) based simply on the appearance some people were born with.

It’s a cheap shot that could be called childish if it wasn’t so nasty and potentially damaging.

Online bully fired

No, not an MP, they can do much worse and their boss doesn’t care about it.


Auckland Council uses bullying tactics to silence Twitter critic

Auckland Council has used bullying tactics to try to silence a member of the public who criticised it on Twitter.

When Tara Sutherland – an infrastructure designer at Telecom – wrote a scathing tweet yesterday about Auckland’s parking prices, the council’s transport arm, Auckland Transport, complained to her employer.

Ms Sutherland’s offending tweet read: “Screw you Auckland City … your public transport is rubbish and in the space of three hours you triple parking prices!”

Two hours later, she tweeted that Auckland Council had made a complaint to her employer about the tweet.

This created a fuss online, and the end result is the Auckland Transport employee has been fired.


Twitter snitch fired

Auckland Council’s transport arm has fired the person responsible for complaining to the employer of a woman who criticised it on Twitter.

Auckland Transport communications manager Sharon Hunter would not confirm what the person’s job was, only saying: “The person no longer works for Auckland Transport as of the end of yesterday. The person was a contractor.”

Forgive me if this sounds like an over-reaction, but compared to an MP using bullying tactics to silence party members who she thinks are critical on blogs this seems minor. But most of the media haven’t been interested in a story about political intimidation and gross hypocrisy in clamping down on free speech of free speech.

But I guess MPs aren’t in ordinary jobs. They can abuse their power and their boss doesn’t seem to care. Unless they smile at a conference.