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Hashtag mob mentality yields mean tweets on negative stereotypes

When Twitter goes from fun, games and Bieber love to mean trending topics, it becomes a form of bullying, an expert says.

"When you look at taunting and teasing within Twitter ... that type of bullying can drive a person to some serious depths of despair," said Tim Richardson, social media expert and e-commerce professor at the University of Toronto.

Trending topics like #whatmakesablackgirlmad illustrate how Twitter can become a platform for negative stereotyping and cyber-bullying, said Richardson.

Last week, Twitter showed its mean streak again when users began posting hundreds of tweets suggesting overweight people fear exercise, lettuce and the middle seat on flights.

"People were saying these things that are so hurtful that they would never have the guts to say in person," said Sam Tremblay, 22, who tweeted to criticize the #fatpeoplenightmares hashtag.

Richardson said many Twitter users do not think twice before tweeting because they can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet.

"The thing with Twitter is that people are distanced from the pain that they're causing other people, and so they will do these things more easily," Richardson said.

Maritza Sanchez, 21, tweeted that overweight people are afraid their cake will come to life and run away. Sanchez said she knows it wasn't right, but she didn't consider how others would feel at the time.

But one Torontonian, who tweets as @Kanadian_Kid, said users should lighten up because Twitter is not a serious platform. Another user, @guyanesemon, equated the tweets to standup comedy.

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