24/04/2013 13:39 BST | Updated 24/06/2013 06:12 BST

Spotted: A New Form of Internet Bullying


Over the past few months more and more 'Spotted' Facebook pages have been surfacing.

The basic principle of such a page is for people to write in to the page saying something that they have 'spotted' in the town or location. Then the page then anonymously posts this for all to see. Because they are usually from specific towns or universities there is a strange feeling of community that is arguably more a damaging experience than one of unity.

Recently the town I went to school in as a child has seen a Spotted page arise and within a few days the page itself has thousands of likes and is updated regularly. Like Foucault's metaphor of the Panopticon the page acts as a high place looking down upon the people casting judgement hither and thither from the position of power that anonymity brings. The parasitic posters spout accusations about people around the town and leave them out on the page to fester; those reading, commenting and liking acting as greedy flies. The problem with these pages is that, rather than pointing out serious crimes or problems, they present page users with the opportunity to bully members of the community. They also tend to spew personal criticism, sexism, racism, homophobia... you name it.

Sure, some posts only highlight moments of every day sexism with lads pointing out 'fit' birds and where they work. Apart from providing details about where specific people work, these types of post don't pose a major threat. What causes more serious concern are the posts that I've seen that divulge secrets and scandals. I've seen posts the past 24 hours about builders exposing that their female clients have sex toys, posters divulging details of extra marital affairs to get back at an ex or even outing people as gay/virgin without their knowledge or consent. This is where the pages become truly harmful. They are broadcasting information in the hopes of shaming individuals. People are being robbed of privacy and decency without reason.

I can only assume that the appeal of such a page is that it brings in a warped sense of community, you have to be in the know to get the references and therefore feel in on the joke; this brings a sense of privilege. What must be remembered is that in laughing at these pages and posts you are laughing at real people. These are people much like yourselves, perhaps even friends and neighbours, and if they were to see a post about them it could be incredibly hurtful. I've even seen posts on such pages stating fear of going into such areas because they worry someone will spot them and criticism and commentary about them will be posted online. The fact that a Facebook page has the power to render people unwilling to go into the very town in which they live seems inconvenient and unsettling.

Here we see the ugly side of social networking where subjugation and persecution falls to the hands of the people who have nothing better to do than sling mud at fellow citizens. Whenever anyone has responded to the page saying that it is offensive, marginalising or clearly targeting a specific person comments fill up stating that whoever criticises the page does not understand 'humour' and must 'lighten up' or simply not look at the page. That said, to turn a blind eye to such practices that will set a town on edge in such a way would be irresponsible.

More and more frequently we see the state of humour deteriorate. What is conceived funny tends to be humour at the expense of others. How long until all our laughter seems to be derived from the pain and suffering of others? When we look on tragedy and chortle? These pages are a festering ground for bullying and lewd comments. Some posts have even named the person being shamed for all to see.

Many people have done the sensible thing and opted to report these specific pages in the hopes of washing this vitriol from the internet. Unfortunately, like a vile Hydra, if you remove the head another will spring up where the old one once was, maybe even more will appear.

Spotted: a congregation of bullies void of intelligence who attempt to spread hurt under the guise of 'humour' for all who stop to read.