“Well, I suppose it’s what you sign up for when you put yourself in the public eye isn’t it? If you can’t cope with the trolls then don’t be in the public eye!”
I hear this a lot, in fact, anyone who has even the vaguest of social media following will hear this. Anyone who discusses an important topic in the press, discusses something online… they will hear these words and I’ve just about had enough of them.
The anonymity of the internet means that you can say pretty much what you like and get away with it. Until recent years you could very literally say whatever you liked to as many people as you liked and there was no come back, and now the abuse online, the threats of violence, rape and everything else are policed but only once they become harassment. I am incredibly lucky, trolling hasn’t been too bad for me. I’ve had the odd “You have a foul mouth, it’s disgusting and you shouldn’t be a mother” (I will cop to the first bit), name calling in disagreement with political/social views “Baby killer”, “feminist twat” etc and the likes of “Your eyebrows suck” (also, like the potty mouth, accurate) but nothing along the lines of threats of violence and/or rape. Despite the above leaving me feeling a bit of a sting at first, I’ve learnt to glance over it, turn a blind eye and I’ve thickened up my skin to be tougher than an old’s rhinos backside. The calls of fakery have started to glance off because, well, frequency does make us somewhat immune and it appears that no matter what you do, anyone who is successful and female will be called “fake” – no matter who they are or what they do.
Whilst anonymity allows the worst of humanity to prevail and we seem to have become a culture that spews forth whatever springs to mind because it doesn’t really count if it’s online, the rest of us seem to have decided to turn a blind eye to it, to “victim” shame – the blame for these awful, abusive messages is somewhat with the person sending them but also with the person who dared to put something online – you put it online, you take what is coming to you.
What strikes me is that we don’t allow this anymore in any other walk of life, for example, a rape victim walks through a dark alley at 2am with a mini dress on, clearly a bit too intoxicated – in years gone by that would have been a perfect case of victim shaming, but now, even though some may try, they will be called out for it. They will be lambasted for their horrible attitude and told by a vast majority that it is NOT ok to victim shame. Yet if you have a woman who campaigns for rape victims, campaigns for women’s rights and identifies as a feminist, it’s her responsibility to take it on the chin when she’s told she should die because, the internet yo’? No.
A less extreme example is the fat shaming I saw on another blogger’s post a few weeks ago, someone had commented “disgusting” in response to her body positivity campaign. Why is that ok? Ahh well, she put it out there so, well, she kind of invited it? NO. If you went to the beach and you wore a bikini, you would be pretty shocked if someone walked up to you and told you to your face that you were disgusting. You wouldn’t know how to respond or what to say, in fact the chances of it happening are virtually non-existent because trolls very rarely have the courage of their convictions and when challenged – like the TV programme where celebrities tracked their trolls down – they hide out, concave and weak.
The culture of “you put it out there, you deserve it” or “it’s a part of your job” for public figures needs to stop, facebook is not a place for you to work through your issues by being unkind and typing furiously. There has to be the same accountability that there would be in the real world because, like it or not, the internet is becoming more and more our “real world”, divides are getting slimmer and lines more blurry by the day. I remember once being told by someone that I was a “stupid, irresponsible pig” who didn’t deserve my children for writing about the sickness policies for schools… but a click on her name and a quick follow through her profile gave me both her facebook business page – something you wouldn’t want the people you have trolled on – and her town. Can you imagine how insanely stupid you would feel if someone looked you up? Like the boxer who went to the house of a guy trolling him? What would you gain from putting yourself at that risk. (Side note, obviously I’m not that way inclined but it is interesting to see what you can find on someone when they are trolling you).
You don’t invite the worst of humanity, you don’t invite bile or hatred and you don’t intentionally cultivate a place where that behaviour is acceptable. Internet trolling has become so extreme that there are groups where people try to one up each other, from base level trolling where someone’s afternoon might be blighted by a mean comment on a body positivity post to full blown Wi-Fi warfare where the person is hounded, their self worth is demolished and they are even encouraged to commit suicide, and in ever increasing cases, do. Yet we say that this is part and parcel of the online life?
I don’t think so. Would you think so if it was you?