What constitutes abuse? Are we just being cry-babies when someone calls us a mean name, derides us, humiliates us? Is one cruel name a mild thing and another a name that crosses the line? Where is the line anyway? Do we even know?

In James Brooks’ 1987 movie Broadcast News, William Hurt — the smart and ambitious newscaster  — is reprimanded by Holly Hunter, who says to him, “You crossed the line!” He replies, “It’s not hard to cross it. They just keep moving the little sucker, don’t they?”

That’s the way it is these days with what’s abusive and what’s not. I thought about this recently when a really nasty review of my novel Till Human Voices Wake Us was posted on Amazon. The reader said he hadn’t finished the book, then called it embarrassing and said it lowered his IQ. There were some other nasty words in there. It wasn’t a review, it was name-calling. Amazon has a “report abuse” button. So does Facebook and other social media sites. At first I thought, well it isn’t really abuse, I guess — he didn’t use swear words. He didn’t threaten me. But the next day I thought, wait a minute — where am I placing this line? Someone just anonymously attacked me and my work without even reading it all the way through and without giving any kind of legitimate reason. I clicked on this “reviewer’s” name and saw he had treated other authors the same way — some who are way more accomplished than I. He uses Amazon as his own personal boxing ring. And it got me thinking — does Amazon know what constitutes abuse? Does Facebook or Twitter? Do any of us? I did click on the report abuse button, but I know it isn’t going to make any difference. Because no one knows where the line is anymore.

We’d better decide though. The old sing-song adage about sticks and stones can break my bones but “words can never hurt me” is gone. Words do hurt. Kids have committed suicide because of the words hurled at them from classmates and posted about them on line. People have sought revenge — violently — because of slurs and slander, both on-line and off. We have become a culture with no boundaries when it comes to civility. And that’s not a sustainable situation. We need boundaries. We need to know what’s right and wrong, what it means to cross a line. Which means we have to draw lines. How about this — if your only motive is to hurt another human being, you’ve crossed a line.

2 Responses to Abuse

  1. barbara burchjolla says:


    Cyberspace has become a killing field for so many small-minded people who seem very disenchanted with their lives and disengaged from humanity. Many of them appear to be male.

    The line of abuse is drawn where you say it is – NO ONE ELSE. It’s like raising children; in the beginning one corrects misbehavior to prevent mutation of an uncontrollable virulence.


  2. I am glad you cemented your line.
    Now Amazon has the ball.
    His guy is out to pick a fight.
    I hope Amazon steps up!

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