The responsible usage of words

“Do you consider negative comments made online to be bullying?” was the question posted on The News and Sentinel website last week.

The responses were more than a little interesting … and somewhat frightening for their lack of understanding.

First, let’s take a look at the definition of bullying so we all have the same understanding.

According to, bullying is “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.”

Wikipedia contends “Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively to impose domination over others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power. Behaviors used to assert such domination can include verbal harassment or threat, physical assault or coercion, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particular targets. Justifications and rationalizations for such behavior sometimes include differences of class, race, religion, gender, sexuality, appearance, behavior, or ability. If bullying is done by a group, it is called mobbing. The target of bullying is sometimes referred to as a ‘victim.’

“Bullying can be defined in many different ways. The U.K. currently has no legal definition of bullying, while some U.S. states have laws against it. Bullying consists of four basic types of abuse – emotional (sometimes called relational), verbal, physical, and cyber. It typically involves subtle methods of coercion such as intimidation.

“Bullying ranges from simple one-on-one bullying to more complex bullying in which the bully may have one or more “lieutenants” who may seem to be willing to assist the primary bully in his or her bullying activities. Bullying in school and the workplace is also referred to as peer abuse. Robert W. Fuller has analyzed bullying in the context of rankism.”

One person on the poll question commented, “Disagreeing is not bullying. There can be no debate if there is no disagreement.”

Another commented, “Is this not still a free country I thought it was called freedom of speech!”

Still another wrote, “Let’s say someone posts personal information that you know is false (say imaginary cookouts, adviser to the mayor, a “look the other way” from the police when breaking the law, etc,) is it bullying to call them out on their comments?”

Another wrote, “I guess it depends on the person who is getting ‘bullied.’ Someone might feel picked on if another merely disagrees with their comment. Since this forum is anonymous, unlike Facebook, I don’t see why it should be taken personally. But people are different. Maybe we should remember from our childhood, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.'”

Still another wrote it is bullying “Only if you’re personally attacking someone.”

I believe there’s a huge difference between expressing one’s opinion and verbally attacking another person or their opinion, which in my book could be considered bullying.

Freedom of speech comes with responsibility for one’s comments, which is what far too many posters and commenters fail to either realize, understand or accept. Yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is the prime example of freedom of speech being overshadowed by public safety, just as one has the “right” to swing their arms right up to the point one of the arms strikes another person … then it’s called an illegal act of battery.

Words have meaning and the use of which come with responsible usage. And, yes, words can bully and be violations of law.

Contact Jim Smith at