WORDS are powerful.
If used well, they can make a page sing. They can reach out and wrap you like a blanket, offering warmth and comfort.
But sometimes, they hurt. And in some cases, they sting – and for a lifetime.
That’s why a Bendigo magistrate yesterday delivered a strong message to the creator of a Facebook page that rated the sexual performances of people as young as 13 that what he did was abhorrent.
The offender pleaded guilty to using a carriage service to offend and using an online information service to publish objectionable material after opening the “Benders root rate” page on Facebook last year.
He did it because he was bored and there was “nothing to do’’ and his defence team argued that he was not responsible for the comments posted by others on the site.
However, he invited the comments and allowed them to appear. He created the page that, within a day of going live, had 1000 comments and 3000 friend requests.
His online game became a real-life nightmare for so many others. And the punishment for allowing this to happen? A suspended jail sentence.
But the punishment for those “rated’’ on the site? Lifelong psychological damage.
The words on that page will forever sting. They will forever haunt and forever live with the young people so hideously degraded through a public forum.
The page was open to all.
Bendigo Advertiser staff were so sickened by what was happening in June last year that the newspaper highlighted the situation and then approached those responsible.
They admitted they had done wrong and apologised through a story in this newspaper.
But the apology was too late – the damage had been done to hundreds of young people.
Forget the old saying of “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me”.
The comments posted on that page were beyond nasty. They were beyond cruel and beyond what anyone would consider schoolyard taunts.
They were sexually explicit, graphic, horrid and extremely painful for those about whom they were written.
One brave young girl stood up and said that what was happening was wrong.
Her victim impact statement was powerful and emotive.
She had suffered – and would do so for some time.
So too, had many others – but understandably, they were too embarrassed to speak up and make statements to the police.
As Magistrate Ian Von Einem said, “people are considerably shocked and embarrassed by this, people have suffered’’.
His warning to others thinking of doing similar was that they would face a jail term.
“How would people feel if their sexual performance was judged by someone who had a grudge against them? The sheer embarrassment,’’ he said.
The outcome of yesterday’s court hearing is a reminder to all of us of the dangers of social media and how damaging words can be.
Let’s hope every one of those who posted a stinging, disgraceful and hideous comment on that page reads today’s newspaper and thinks about what they have done.
May it be a lesson to all of them that words are powerful – and they can strike a harder blow than a punch.
Nicole Ferrie is the Bendigo Advertiser’s deputy editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org