Bullied by the Word “Bully”

by Bill Brenner on April 28, 2014

Walk into any school these days and you’ll see anti-bullying posters everywhere. I’m happy to see it, because kids need to learn what it is and how to stand up for themselves. Unfortunately, they’re taking cues from grownups who don’t always know what they’re talking about.

Mood music:

I was reminded of this after reading a blog post from Brian Martin, A.K.A. Jericho, of attrition.org.

Martin got into a protracted debate recently with Elizabeth Weidman, mother of security practitioner Georgia Weidman. I’m not even going to attempt to piece together the string of comments that lead to the inevitable cry of bullying, but I’ll do my best to give you the gist: Georgia tweeted something Jericho disagreed with. Jericho responded. Georgia didn’t like the response. Then Elizabeth came to her daughter’s defense:

Is this really the InfoSec community you want? Stand up for what you want. Don’t let the bullies of InfoSec do this to people. Stand up to them. Support each other loudly. If you don’t, this is the InfoSec you get. Georgia’s gone to some pretty dark places out of inexperience, out of fear, and out of mistakes she admits were her own. She’s made it out, I hope, but what about other new people in InfoSec, other people going through a hard time? Is it going to take someone dying to make you see/care?

Which led to Jericho’s response, which focuses on misuse of the word bully.

If we can arbitrarily call it “bullying” solely based on one side’s perception, then we’re all equally guilty of bullying. If I call you a jerk, and you call me an ass in return, we are both potentially guilty of it. In reality, I think we can all agree that is a bit absurd.

I don’t always agree with Jericho, but in this case he has a point. There’s a lot of snark, sarcasm and hearty disagreement in the security community. It plays out on Twitter around the clock. And while people can be assholes at times, I don’t think they can be called bullies. Not as it’s described in multiple dictionaries at least. Jericho offers a few definitions in his post, and writes:

The words threat, force, and coercion appear more than once in the definitions above and are the crux of what bullying is about. Everyone who is now equating the term “bullying” with anything less than a malicious, sustained campaign of hatefulness with the intent of coercing/threatening is the worst sort of cowardice and dishonesty. They are doing a disservice to society and themselves.

I was bullied as a kid. I also did more than my fair share of bullying. It’s something I regret. But while people can be jerks on Twitter, I don’t think it comes close to bullying.

People disagree with me frequently, which I expect and appreciate as a blogger who throws a lot of strong opinions out there.

Recently, some friends strongly disagreed with my posts suggesting we be more civil in the security community. I disagreed back, and at times I got annoyed. But I never felt bullied. I was being disagreed with, not threatened or forced to take a certain position.

If we can’t get it straight as adults, the anti-bullying education we’re trying to give children will be for nothing.

John Boehner Crying

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Adrian Crenshaw May 8, 2014 at 7:16 am

I disagree with you and will give you a Dutch rub at the next conference I see you at. 🙂

Bill Brenner May 8, 2014 at 7:27 am

DO I get a prize for that? 🙂

Branden Miller May 8, 2014 at 9:44 am

Great article as usual.

P.S. I think the Dutch Rub is the prize.

Marcus Pinto May 8, 2014 at 10:24 am

Brian Martin is one of the most unpleasant individuals in the industry. Period.

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