Criticism is not Bullying


It has become sadly common for authors engaged in a heated argument online to claim they are being bullied.

Bullying is a serious problem. Children as young as seven have killed themselves over it. Around 4,400 kids kill themselves in the USA each year, and victims of bullying are up to nine times more likely to consider suicide.

Workplace bullying, defined as “verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager), another person or group of people at work” is also a serious problem.

However, bullying is not just being criticised, or aggressive behaviour. There are three elements to bullying: an imbalance of power; intent to cause harm; and repetition. The first element is the one most often missing from heated internet discussions and interactions. Bullying occurs between children of differing social ranks, ages or prowess, between adults and children, or in the workplace between workers of different rank and authority.

No such power imbalance applies to normal internet situations. No one can force you, as an adult, to participate in Amazon forums or at Goodreads. No one forces an adult to read critical reviews, to interact with readers, or to initiate discussions which may go in directions that adult can’t anticipate. No one forces an adult to maintain a blog, or a social network presence, nor can you be forced to accept comments in such situations from anyone you don’t approve..

If you can walk away from an interaction without consequences – you’re not going to be beaten up or fired – then you are not being bullied. You can block posters on Facebook and Twitter, and you don’t have to allow comments on your blog. You have all the power in such situations, and it is thus impossible to call even very harsh and unpleasant criticism ‘bullying’. It may not be decent, and it may cross all kinds of moral and social lines, but it’s not bullying.

Ronit Baras: Bullying (3): What is NOT Bullying?

Dr Heather at It reminds me of a recent situation when a parent stopped me, worried about a 6-year-old “bully”. The child in question — in my observation — wasn’t a bully, but rather a fairly typical little girl, testing out her advanced verbal (and not-so-advanced social) skills. Did she hurt her friends’ feelings? Probably. And did her friends reciprocate by saying something mean right back? They sure did. The parent was very upset about the impact of this “bully” in the classroom — and wanted to know what could be done to stop her. But was this truly “bullying?” No, it wasn’t. And I worry about the little girl being labeled “bully”, because the word has such negative connotations.

Nicole F.: Bullying and Reviews: Bad Reviews Are Not Bullying

Jon at OutspokenNYC: Criticism is something we’ve all faced – whether it’s at work, online, at home, at school or out on the street. It’s something we’re taught to grow a thick skin for.  It’s vitally important to prepare yourself for criticism, while recognizing the differences between constructive criticism and bullying. Here’s the thing: both are inevitable to a degree as life is chock full of both; it’s been a prevalent subject in the gay community for years. But bullying doesn’t have to exist – bullying is a choice.

This is your Conscience: Was there some shade in this email? YES. Was it inconsiderate? YES. Was it BULLYING? NO. The man didn’t come out calling her a fat piece of sh*t who needs to be hooked with handcuffs onto a treadmill, he stated that [in his IGNORANT opinion] she should be doing MORE to be a better role model. You don’t have to agree with his uninformed opinion but to unilaterally label it BULLYING does nothing but underscore what REAL bullying is, and frames dissenting opinions and thoughts in a negative manner.

Ken at Popehat: Portraying criticism — even wrong-headed or unfair criticism — as “bullying” and “totalitarian” — is a whine that is not worthy of our respect. It encourages ignorance about the fundamental nature of free speech and the marketplace of ideas. There is no generalized right to be free of offense. But there’s also no right to be free of the words “that’s offensive.” Please. Even if you don’t respect the people you disagree with, have some self-respect.

Kate Sherwood: So, positive or negative, formal or flippant, benign or cruel – your reviews are not a form of bullying. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to buy (hopefully) and read my book, and however you want to express your thoughts on that book is absolutely up to you.

Mia Freedman: Heather Armstrong’s bad experience involved a faulty dryer, a faulty replacement, ongoing woeful service and a total disregard for her rights as a consumer. After weeks of frustration, she finally took to Twitter to name-shame the giant multinational company and vent about her experience. Guess what happened next. She was called a bully.

Kids Helpline: It’s important to remember that not all fighting or arguing is bullying. It is normal to have times when you have conflict and arguments with people. So, it is important to learn how to deal with conflict. Bullying is different to having an argument or a fight.

Alyson Meirs: I find it rather insulting that people who post negative reviews on Goodreads are being characterized as “bullies.” Bullying is something you can’t just walk away from, and while cyber-bullying is a thing, and it can definitely hurt people, something tells me the people behind didn’t have to go through around 8 years of real-time, face-to-face bullying in the schoolyard and classroom.

Amanda at Dead White Guys: Considering that an author has to go out of their way to find reviews of their work, I don’t see how that can be bullying. “I googled myself and clicked through a couple of links and found your post and I can’t believe you called my book crap and YOU ARE A BULLY!!!11!!1!” Anyone who has actually been bullied probably will say that they didn’t seek it out. Criticism? Not bullying. Being snarky? Not bullying. Telling your friends that you didn’t like a book, and explaining why? Not bullying. Posting a reviewer’s personal information so that other people can harass her? Bullying.

Violetta Vane: I had to deal with racist abuse from the age of six on through fifteen. I had my peers physically attack me, throw rocks at me, try to poison me, tell me twenty times a day that everything about my body and face and voice was wrong. I had no choice in the matter. The idea that giving someone a one star for a book is ANYTHING compared to what I went through is disgusting, appropriative and morally bankrupt.

Rose Summers: Matter at hand, there seem to be people in the blogosphere with a lot of bad beefs against the Goodreads community at large, who want to control how certain (or perhaps a great deal more) members express themselves and use an extraordinary amount of belittlement and tactics to be able to do it.   In this particular matter, they’re using the front of “bullying” to make their argument, and insist that it’s not reviewer critique they’re arguing against, but pervasive arguments in the form of such “bullying”.