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Diabetes and Cyberbullies

Recognizing and handling harrassment online

Have you ever been bullied because of your diabetes? Have you ever read a comment or article online that made you mad or upset because it was untrue or hurtful?

It may be nearly impossible these days to spend time on the Internet without reading something that’s upsetting. As someone with type 2 diabetes, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with Internet trolls and have dealt with a bit of bullying online. Through my connections in the diabetes online community (DOC) I’ve heard stories of other people’s issues with these types of aggressors.

Most of us know what a bully is and understand that bullying can cause emotional harm to a person. We also know what it’s like to live with diabetes and how challenging it may be. When you combine those two things – bullies and diabetes – it could be a perfect storm of recriminations, guilt and depression.

When people living with diabetes are faced with the idea that “we did this to ourselves” day in and day out, it might be easy to believe it. Other than the fact that it may feel awful to read these things, bullying could also cause people to pay less attention to their self-care. A 2006 study showed that teenagers with type 1 who experienced bullying about their diabetes at school had higher A1Cs and were less likely to keep up with their self-management.

Cyberbullies, trolls and misinformation

A cyberbully is simply a bully on the Internet. They may post mean, hateful and hurtful messages on social media and other public sites, targeting someone with the express intent of causing them distress.

A troll, on the other hand, is someone who posts inflammatory or inappropriate messages or comments with the express desire to upset others and provoke a response. Trolls enjoy stirring the pot and then sitting back to watch the show.

A third and related issue is misinformation about diabetes found in poorly researched articles or comments from people who may not be malicious, but don’t know the facts. It may be frustrating, to say the least, to read things that are wrong or untrue about something that personally affects you.

It might feel overwhelming to take on a fight against misinformation and stigmatization in addition to managing one’s diabetes, but there are things we can do both individually and as a community to squash the stigma we sometimes encounter. Below are some tips that I have found helpful. (Be sure to talk to your care team if you have concerns about managing your diabetes, or your well-being).

  • Put bullies in their place by realizing that they are the problem, not you. Refuse to give them power over you by remembering that they are wrong and you do not deserve diabetes. Seek strength through your social circles, whether your family, your friends or the diabetes online community. Let someone know that you are being bullied and let them help you process the emotions. Diabetes forums, such as those at TuDiabetes, Diabetes Daily and the American Diabetes Association, are a great place to seek out support.
  • There’s a saying online: “Don’t feed the trolls.” If someone gets joy out of upsetting others, take the wind out of their sails by simply ignoring them. Instead, report anyone who is trolling with intent to stir things up to a moderator or site owner. Most websites or forums have a mechanism in place to deal with abuse.
  • When you read or hear someone perpetuate an untruth about diabetes, correct them. Educating others may go a long way to decreasing stigma. Don’t ignore misinformation, thinking that someone else will deal with it. Do your part to correct the assumptions that hurt all of us.

Educating people about diabetes is a good step toward stopping the bullies. The more people know, the more they can help educate others and fight stigma. Start with those people closest to you: family, friends and co-workers. The following resources may help you educate others:

The American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Myths

The Center for Disease Control’s Diabetes Press Kit

Living with diabetes can be difficult; we shouldn’t let others make it even harder.

Kate Cornell was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in June of 2005. She blogs about her life with diabetes at Kate’s Sweet Success. Cornell is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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