Stop Cyberbullying on Weight Watchers Community Boards

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Bullies: They Aren't Worth It

Bullying is an evil, monstrous virus that takes many forms.  It may appear in the form of physical abuse, showing visible harm and injury; worst of all, even death.  It may appear in the workplace, when vicious rumors are spread to sabotage a colleague’s career, or even when they receive the silent treatment day after day.  It can haunt the days of a child, as he or she tries to learn and play, but is constantly faced with tormentors.

And then there is online bullying, which takes a cruel form of its own.  Though the bullies usually cannot visit physical harm upon a victim, they fashion words into savage weapons which can have the same devastating effects.

Cyber bullies will employ every method at their disposal to verbally wound their victims:
    They will mock the victim.
    They will discredit the victim.
    They will attempt to silence the victim.
    They will attempt to prevent the victim from having meaningful discussions and relationships with others.
    They will attempt to claim the online forum as their own, and ostracize the victim from the community.
    They will lie about the victim.
    They will say defamatory things about the victim to destroy his or her reputation.
    They will attempt to humiliate the victim.
    They will attempt to dehumanize the victim.
    They will violate the victim’s privacy, often endangering the victim in the process.

Bullying can strike anywhere, including where you least expect it.  When I visited the Weight Watchers online community in April 2014, specifically the “General Daily Thread”, I was completely blind-sided.  I had been a member of the Weight Watchers community since 2011 and had posted infrequently over the years, but to a different forum – the “Motivate Me” board.  Whenever I did interact with others on the board, they had been civil and usually supportive.

However, in April I visited the GDT to ask a question about how I might find a good babysitter for my son, as I am a single mom and have no family nearby.  When I posted, I felt near wit's end and was desperately looking for support and encouragement.  Perhaps that was my first mistake – wanting help so desperately from strangers.

Some of the responses I got right away were civil enough, but they were not responsive to my original question.  I had specifically asked how, as a member of, what qualifications I should look for in prospective candidates.

The initial responses did not address my question at all.  They completely disregarded the fact that I was already a paying member of and wanted to find a babysitter through that service.  Instead, they told me to look elsewhere – at daycare centers, schools, universities, family, friends, etc.  I began to feel overwhelmed because now, instead of getting helpful answers, now I had to answer all of their questions in addition to solving my problem.  I answered some of the questions, believing that the askers were sincere in trying to help.  But several posters used my answers as fuel to criticize me instead.

I then began to get frustrated in my responses, and I was met with mounting insults in return.  I was completely flabbergasted.  Why would these people be so malicious?  I had trusted Weight Watchers for so long and, despite many failures with the dieting program in the past, was finally beginning to have success.  How could this be real? 

In trusting Weight Watchers as a company, I also trusted them to manage their community boards in such a way that online bullying wouldn’t even make it out of the gate.  Who better than WW to know how detrimental cyberbullying can be to someone’s self-esteem and morale, and how destructive it is to dieting efforts?  I trusted and relied on WW to protect me from bullying on its websites.  Also, an organization or product is only as strong as its weakest link, and why would WW tolerate such a weak link as an abusive online community, the same community which is frequently advertised as welcoming and supportive, which one endorser described as being like having a crowd cheering you on while running a marathon?

Weight Watchers failed my trust.  On that day and ever since, my experience on the WW GDT board has been marred by repeated cyberbulling.  I am an attorney, licensed to practice for over ten years, and am constantly mocked with claims that I am not an attorney, or a “faux attorney,” or similar garbage.  I have been called a “bad mom.”  My Facebook page was posted on the GDT without my permission and against my will.  I have been falsely accused.  The bullies have attempted to silence me.  They have attempted to block my access to the friendly and helpful members of the community.  They have tried to run me off the GDT.  And more…

And I have not been the only one – there are countless other victims of bullying on the WW boards, some of whom have been treated far worse.  One victim, a cancer patient, had to file a lawsuit to stop the bullying and abuse.  Another woman has been harassed and defamed by the GDT for over four years.  The GDT created a separate website for the sole purpose of harassing this woman, and constantly broadcast the site to new WW members so that they can join the ranks of the victim’s enemies.

I may have had many failures in my life, but one thing I have never stood for is bullying.  I was extremely privileged to attend Rutgers College, where I obtained my B.A. in American Studies.  It was there, for the first time, I saw real activism in action, rather than just reading about it in history books.  I learned about the proud culture of New Jersey to be outspoken, stand up for what you believe in, push your ideas, celebrate diversity, and be proud of everything you are.  Rutgers never left me – I have taken it with me everywhere I go – across our great country and back, through the Army and seven parachute jumps, through my career as a paralegal and attorney, and to my life in Florida.

The main thing about bullies, whether in real life or online, is that they are cowards.  They are afraid to face or conquer their own problems or challenges, so they single out anyone they perceive as an easy target.  Online, they may hide behind endearing pictures of babies or dogs to disguise their true nature.  But they are the biblical wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I know this now.  Prior to April, I visited message boards or social media only once in a blue moon, other than to promote my latest book.  I wore no emotional armor when I made my first fateful visit to the GDT.  But I know now.

I write these for two reasons.  First of all, to empathize with bullying victims everywhere.  I know that bullying often has far worse consequences than emotional pain, including severe injury and death, and my experiences are nowhere near that realm.  But what begins as emotional distress can eventually take a sickening hold over one’s life and potentially lead to tragic consequences, as it did for my fellow Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, and ultimately claimed his life.

Second, I want to warn others about the Weight Watchers boards.  I realize that many are more seasoned with social media than I am, and would approach any online community more cautiously than I did.  But if you are following WW and visit their online communities, particularly the GDT, do so with appropriate emotional armor.  Unfortunately, not everyone will be supportive of your weight loss efforts, or of you as a person.  Cyberbullying exists on Weight Watchers as well.  Be forewarned.  If a poster says anything hurtful, false or abusive to you, do three things in sequence:
1)    Report them.
2)    If they made a false claim about you, politely correct them and then move on.  Don’t try to convince them beyond that because they do not want to be convinced.  They just want to be the bully they have just revealed themselves to be.
3)    Move on with your life and diet, and focus on all the good things in it.  This can include the friendly and helpful posters in the online community.  But if one or more people has started being abusive, it is probably best to just leave the conversation immediately.  WW staff will most likely take care of the rest, and you can return and have positive interactions again once the abusive language has been removed or dealt with.

Dieting (not to mention life itself) is difficult enough without having to deal with bullies. There are authority figures in place to deal with bullies, and with persistence, they can be overcome.  Do not let bullies steal your life or destroy your dreams.  They aren’t worth it.

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