‘Just ignore them.’
‘Block and move on.’
‘They’re just jealous’
‘Name and shame the pricks!’
‘One in a thousand isn’t worth getting upset over.’
Just a snippet of the messages I’ve received over the past 24 hours. Yesterday I nearly cried on Instagram stories because I’d again been on the receiving end of a barrage of abuse relating to my parenting ability. This time it was because I posted a photo of Fox on my lap, mid-breakdown, while I was trying to get my work done (that’s already two weeks overdue). I captioned it that I would kill for a nursery drop-off and an office job. This, of course, makes me a shit mum.
The messages above were all sent in support and good intentions, but honestly it’s just further spurred my anger to the whole situation. I grew up on the Internet – I was utterly devoted to MSN, I learnt hardcore HTML to enable my Myspace profile to be as perfectly emo as possible, my Facebook memories are from 11 years ago, I first got a Twitter account when you had to text your tweets. One thing I have learnt from coming-of-age online is that as a woman you will face the worst side of humanity. Rape threats are as common as cat videos, unsolicited dick pics stopped feeling like a complete invasion and insult and just became something to roll your eyes at and show your mates. Add being a young mum to this and I have faced a tidal wave of shit for simply trying my best – I’ve been called a benefit sponger for having to use a food bank, I had a duck (fucking Twitter) reposting photos of my child alongside utter slander because he felt I was ruining the world by taking maternity pay (five years after she was born this came up, God knows…). The internet allows people to type the things they believe and feel but would never say out loud. It takes away the consequences. You can be completely anonymous. You can be and say whatever you want because who the fuck is going to do anything about it? Twitter won’t. Facebook won’t. Instagram won’t. The police won’t.
I’ve got a friend on Twitter I’ve followed for years. For the past couple of years she’s had an anonymous account repeatedly sharing personal information about her, harassing her and her followers, and generally making her life hell. He has been reported to Twitter time and time again by hundreds of people, the police are aware and a case has been opened, but still she logs on to Twitter and there he is.
Now most people say block them. Ignore them. Move on. But at some point we have to talk about how this is not any kind of solution to the problem of trolling and online abuse. First of all there’s the fact that a hardcore troll can and will open another account, it’s not like it’s a difficult task. You can of course keep blocking, but at what point do we accept that this is harassment? If it was repeated phone calls from constantly new phone numbers would we accept it? Of course not. Why does social media make something we would otherwise consider a crime so different?
Now I am of course not saying that the messages I received yesterday came close to the online harassment I’ve seen my friends face. I don’t think it was a professional troll with anything more sinister in mind than briefly and misguidedly relieving themselves of some stress and probably some shit they aren’t processing well in their own life. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt to see messages like that sitting in your inbox.
It’s an attack that comes into your home and makes your stomach drop with utter dread. You don’t expect to read a message calling you a ‘shit mum’ who should ‘be ashamed of how badly you’re fucking up’ and needs to ‘learn to be grateful’. I was breastfeeding my son when I read it. In what other life would you be subjected to such a horrible stream of words while feeding your child in a darkened room?
I was told to ‘just ignore it’ but how can you? That’s as useful as telling a kid who’s being bullied at school that ‘sticks and stones can break your bones but words will never hurt you’. It’s bullshit, frankly. Words hurt. Words stay in your head for decades after they were said. The bully probably doesn’t remember it, but you do. Words breed insecurities that last a lifetime. Words are fucking powerful, they can be used for good or they can be used to destroy. Broken bones heal. (Obviously I am in no way suggesting any kind of attack that results in physical injuries is any easier to get over, it’s bloody stupid to suggest that either one shouldn’t bother a person – if it hurts, it hurts.)
It was suggested by a few people that I should name and shame them, this is something I will never do, because all it does is bring me down to their level. I have over 20k followers, setting them on a person with 10 followers won’t achieve anything. It is simply reverse bullying and the mob mentality of attacking somebody for ‘good’ that happens so often on social media helps nobody. Channel your inner Michelle Obama – ‘when somebody is cruel or acts like a bully, we don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.’ Relevant to Trump, relevant to internet trolls (which quite frankly are one in the same).
And then we have the ‘cheer up’s, the ‘chin up’s, the ‘stay smiling’s. First of all I would like to make this my formal request to ban the use of the phrase ‘chin up’ from all social engagements. It is dismissive, it means nothing, and it’s just a bit of a crap thing to say. Useful advice if you’re worried about looking a bit jowly in a photo, meaningless when you’re feeling sad/depressed/just utterly shit. Ok, now that’s out of the way we’ll get back to the entire idea of telling somebody to cheer up. I think we can all agree that never in the history of ever has that worked. If anything it makes the person on the receiving end much more likely to punch you. If somebody is upset over something they have every right to be upset over it, even if you don’t agree that they should be. An individual’s emotions are just that, their emotions. And they are valid and allowed and you don’t get to dictate them. I was sad, yes. I was angry, still am. I was fucking done with the whole bloody thing. Being told to cheer up didn’t make me smile again, it just made me feel so bloody angry that we’re supposed to just expect this from the internet, we should be able to read personal attacks and then get on with our day, smile plastered across our faces, easy and breezy. Well sorry, but I’m not one to hide how I feel about something, and it’s not about to start now.
I was told by a few people that it’s just part and parcel with having a larger following. Which I think sums it all up really. You have a lot of followers so therefore you have to accept abuse. It’s part of the job. Don’t moan about it because you’re so lucky to get the opportunities you do. Fuck that, I say. Imagine if you worked an office job and were subjected to somebody walking over every few days just to call you a cunt, ‘well you did get a good bonus at Christmas so….’.
I don’t have a solution to how we should respond to online harassment, I do know that the companies themselves need to start taking some action. This conversation comes up all the time and they all make promises to improve it, but I’ve never seen an account I’ve reported shut down. Not for outright racist remarks, not for calling for the death for an entire minority group, not for repeated and direct rape and death threats. If that doesn’t get a response why would the smaller attacks? For all the good social media has done, there is a fucking dark side.
This isn’t supposed to make anybody feel bad for messaging me, I received literally hundreds of messages and I do appreciate you all wanting to make me feel better and remind me that there are good people on the app who don’t want me to throw in the towel. I just think the discussion deserves more than a simple block and move on.
I didn’t block them by the way. I replied asking why they felt the need to say such horrible things. And they blocked me.
I’m taking some time, I reevaluating how and what I share online, I’m considering going back to a personal profile (bye bye paid work) and locking my account. I’m considering no longer including the children at all. I’m still considering walking away.
I don’t know yet. I just know that I’m fucking tired.