What teens can learn from Ashley Judd's campaign against online hate

Ashley Judd is speaking out against cyberbullying. In a poignant essay, she speaks out against those who have targeted her online, in an effort to shift the discussion toward healing. Teens can take away some valuable lessons from what she has to say.

James Crisp/AP
Actress Ashley Judd, left, poses with a young fan after an NCAA college basketball game between Florida and Kentucky, Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Lexington, Ky.

Thanks to #AshleyJudd (you may’ve noticed that her Twitter handle became a hashtag recently), online harassment, bullying, hate, and misogyny got the kind of exposure that could actually bring positive change to this global network of ours. It could do that because Judd is not only an intelligent, articulate, high-profile warrior against hate, she’s a warrior for healing. As a human race, we will not end the hate and cruelty online (and keep this global network useful to us) without doing two things: exposing it and healing it. 

Judd is unusually effective in exposing it because of her deep understanding of the problem and solutions (personal and collective), her ability to communicate them and her being a huge basketball fan during March Madness! Judd posted a tweet, which has since be deleted, defending her favorite college basketball team, that of her alma mater, the University of Kentucky. In response, Judd was met with everything from obscene name-calling to threats of sexual violence.

In a way, it’s beyond extraordinary what verbal violence a fan’s simple comment – the kind that any concerned fan would make when his/her players land bleeding on a court or field – brought down on her (see the Washington Post for details). In another way, it’s not extraordinary at all:

“What happened to me is the devastating social norm experienced by millions of girls and women on the Internet,” Judd writes in a powerful essay at Mic.com. Online harassers use the slightest excuse (or no excuse at all) to dismember our personhood.” 

But she doesn’t stop there. She doesn’t leave us with that potentially demoralizing reality. She knows that exposing hate and violence, and seeing them for what they are, are essential, but she didn’t stop there in her own healing as a survivor sexual violence.

“I am greatly blessed that in 2006, other thriving survivors introduced me to recovery, I seized it,” Judd writes. “My own willingness, partnered with a simple kit of tools, has empowered me to take the essential odyssey from undefended and vulnerable victim to empowered survivor. Today, nine years into my recovery, I can go farther and say my ‘story’ is not ‘my story.’ It is something a Higher Power (spirituality, for me, has been vital in this healing) uses to allow me the grace and privilege of helping others who are still hurting, and perhaps to offer a piece of education, awareness and action to our world…. The nature of recovering from trauma is that it can be ongoing, with deeper levels of healing and freedom coming with indefatigable persistence to keep chipping away at it.”

She sets a profound example for collectively chipping away at hate and violence online, too. If we want the Internet to be first and foremost a tool for good, we can’t afford to be demoralized by the ugliness it exposes. We can’t stop and stay there, like a deer staring into headlights. We can’t afford to make hate and harassment a social norm online by spreading the idea that this is just the way things are in digital spaces. It is too common, but it is not the norm. Heed the social norms research, people! It has shown over and over that people’s behavior changes as their perception about their communities’ norms change. So change online behavior by spreading the truth that most people are civil and respectful online. That’s the norm. [Where youth are concerned, for example, the Cyberbullying Research Center reports that only about a quarter of U.S. teens have ever experienced it, and the Centers for Disease Control‘s latest data shows that only 14.8 percent of Americans in grades 9-12 have experienced it in the 12 months prior to being surveyed.]

Pushing on for “deeper levels of healing and freedom” is a collective as well as personal imperative in this networked world, where our interactions can have instant impact on each other. The term “user-driven” is a cliché now, but a true one. It really is up to us. Our culture is global now; it’s networked, neural, not hierarchical. We can certainly try to pass intelligent laws to protect the vulnerable and write to people in governments who represent us and we must expose hate, but we also need to disempower it. As Judd shows, that can be done right now – individually, collectively and from the grassroots up – by exposing it as the marginalized behavior it actually is and by demonstrating and socializing solutions such as self-care and compassion for others.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews, and you can find this original post with relevant related links here.

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