It’s bad enough that one in three teens have experienced on line bullying, but recent Pew Research shows that three time that percentage of adult social media users have witnessed this mean and cruel behavior to others on social network sites (“Dealing with Digital Cruelty,” New York Times, August 24).

While cyber bulling is not rampant in the field of sales performance, several posts among professionals in our world have concerned me deeply.  Clearly cyber bullying is not just a problem for teenagers.  It has entered our world.

So what is cyber bullying?  It is repeated harmful and hurtful comments posted on the web.  The common elements that distinguish it from whistle blower exposes are the attacks are cruel, rude, personal and additive and often unrelenting. They substitute insults for an argument that is well reasoned, documented, and fact checked.

As an educator and coach I have tried to live what I first learned at home:  if you have a problem with someone go the person directly and first to discuss and try to work it out.  It is wrong to bring an issue and a reputation to a public forum without this human courtesy.   And even having done that, making the attack personally hurtful still crosses the line to cyber bullying.  And while I am a passionate proponent of free speech and grateful for frank feedback, name calling, half truths, questionable fact checking, rumors, personal attacks in the name of not keeping silent, sharing personal emails, and axe grinding all add up to cyber bullying.

We are in dangerous new territory here.  The ability of others to “pile on” to the initial bully blog or article adds to the destructiveness and the audience reach makes it more damaging.  The “pile on” then is used as the justification and evidence of proof.  We in the field of learning and development, communication, and sales are in a position to raise the bar on behavior, not to reach a new low.

Too often the cyber bullies and harassers go uncensored and rarely are they big or aware enough to apologize. But in some cases as mentioned in “The Troll Slayer” article (New Yorker, September 1) apologies are made and relationships formed. In some setting such as a university if a professor engages in cyber bullying by viciously attacking research or the researcher, institutional review boards can intervene to make an assessment and contain perpetrators. Without this kind of structure in our industry and with a forum to spew aggression and perpetrate harm with a simple click, we must be vigilant in policing ourselves.

The key question to ask in regard to what we write is what is the intent.  Is it to grind an axe, to embarrass, to retaliate, to discredit a competitor, promote ones self?  Or is it to right a wrong, to improve a situation, to bring about an important change? Under any circumstance cyber bullying has no place among professionals.

The responsibility on each of us is enormous because of the reach and permanence of the internet.  It far exceeds the schoolyard.  We normally think about teenagers when we think about cyber bullying, not adults or businesses.   As adults we should be stronger than teenagers and better able to handle unleashed aggression. But in fact that’s not necessarily the case.  The potential damage is so great that even the strongest can be hurt professionally and personally.  We can’t allow that for any age.

There must be a better way.   Some victims ignore trolls and others join the fray to not to embarrass but to educate.  Others respond privately to take the situation out of the public forum.  The answer is somewhere out there.   Let’s find it together.