Normally the first thing people say to me when I share messages sent to me by internet trolls is ‘just ignore them, all you’re doing is giving them the attention that they crave.’
This really pisses me off.
It’s not enough, apparently, to be told I’m fat or ugly by a stranger on the internet. No no, I need to be reprimanded for standing up for myself as well, by the good guys no less!
In the last few days I have been told, via the magic that is Instagram (ily bbz) that I am failing as a feminist by sharing a photo of my peachy behind, that I am 90% fat (a scientific impossibility but that hardly seemed worth mentioning) and that I need to get my shit together and shave myself (the chap in question was referring to the smattering of untouched beautiful blonde hair I have growing a’top my thighs).
Of course when you compare that to some of the trolling I used to receive or to some of the hateful messages that are sent to other people, these are positively compliments, but that doesn’t make what these people are doing OK.
Since we are now exposed to such extreme cases of trolling we are inclined to swat away these comments from the part-time-trolls, the amateurs, the newbies, as power for the course when it comes to existing in a post-Zuckerberg world.
In my little life thus far I have been sent violent threats, death threats and most frighteningly, rape threats, all received via direct message.
I have also received a lot of public abuse surrounding my physical appearance; I’m fat and ugly with bad hair, terrible clothes and a big forehead (in fairness I’ve known about the forehead for ages and used to cry the same thing about my wardrobe to my mum alllll the time but, to quote the movie that taught me what it means to be a woman, Mean Girls: that’s only okay when I say it!).
From the age of 17 I’d dread heading out in public with my dad for fear of being photographed and then published in the Daily Mail where an onslaught of haters would come at me as if they were attacking the town pervert and not a chubby teenager walking, literally, in her dad’s shadow.
They don’t publish many photos of me anymore (I like to think that’s because I wrote a whole chapter about the mental stress their ‘journalism’ puts people under in my book, although sadly I think it has more to do with the fact that I am decidedly-uninteresting and uninterested), but on the off-chance they do, I have mastered the art of not reading the comments, a skill I never thought I’d get the hang of but, whadya know, I did!
Back in 2014 if I ever called anyone out on trolling I was met with the same response time and time again: if you don’t want to be trolled, then don’t be on social media.
As if that was a bloody option, even then.
Thankfully, thankfullyyyyy, people seem finally to understand that violent abuse is not the price you should have to pay for an online presence anymore, not since their nan got Facebook at any rate.
But that hasn’t stopped the awkwardness surrounding trolling-etiquette (the ultimate oxymoron) from being very much a thing.
As a victim, what are you meant to do?
Call out the trolls, share the tweet and thus spread the hate, all the while making yourself incredibly vulnerable and then get it in the neck from people who are ‘sorry this happened to you’ but think it’s probably better ‘if you don’t share this negativity and give these evil people the attention they so desperately crave’?
OR to sit in silence, deleting, reporting and blocking various comments and accounts as and when they come in, which is basically the online equivalent of squeezing a spot; short time satisfying, long term disaster?
I have tried both things and whilst humiliating to share with the world the negative things people are saying about you (which are normally, by the way, all the things that you don’t like about yourself just pointed out by someone else), there is no pain comparable with keeping things to yourself.
I remember receiving my first rape threat (not a sentence I thought I’d ever have to write) and I was so shocked that I slammed my phone down on the table and felt a flush of shame spread all over my body. I ‘declined’ the message and reported the sender and tried to pretend it hadn’t happened.
The second time I received harassment of a violent sexual nature I screen grabbed it and shared it on Twitter and was acutely grateful to the people that rallied behind me to block and report the guy responsible.
Rather than feel the sense of shame I thought was normal after receiving a message like this I felt a sense of empowerment rush around my body that actually saw me pull out my Beyonce walk (who even are you if you don’t have a Beyonce walk?) as I went about the rest of my day.
I still don’t know what it is that trolls are after when they make negative remarks or send abusive messages on social media, but the more it happens the less I think they are doing it for attention, least of all because normally after I call them out they retreat, quickly into whatever cave they came from.
Couple this with the fact so many trolls are accounts with under ten followers and no profile picture, I’m inclined to suggest that it’s not fame or attention these people are after at all.
Katie Hopkins does it for attention, the guy DM’ing me about my hairy thighs? wtf is that about?
I’ve said it before and I’ve said it before, social media, in it’s current format is the most dangerous and toxic combination of anonymity and a total lack of accountability.
The messages that I am getting now are from people who believe that their right to say what they want to whomever they want is god given and most the time they get away with just that.
We have taken this idea of freedom of speech and we have run it into the ground. In doing so, all we have really proved is that, given the freedom to say anything, we say a lot of horrible things.
And I’m not here for that.
I’m not here for allowing trolls to be the example of what human-beings are when left to their own devices.
To ignore it is to normalise it.
To ignore it, to keep it to yourself, to crack on without making a fuss is saying to the trolls of the world that what they are doing will go unpunished.
Fuck knows why they do it in the first place but with no punishment, no consequences for their actions, you can be sure they’ll just keep on doing it.
When I first received a bout of internet hate I took it really really badly, it’s a long story but my response to that was what caused me to get my book deal in the first place and when I wrote the thing I knew that internet trolls were going to feature heavily (I literally copy and pasted the 50 worst insults I’d ever been sent and that was the most liberating thing I ever did).
As I have grown as a person and as a presence online I have not only become more accustomed to it but more able to deal with it; it doesn’t really hurt that much anymore.
But I know that there are a lot of people out there who are not yet where I am at. They are not yet reading these messages and thinking: ha ha, what a tosspot this person is. They are reading things written about them and they are taking that on board and letting it under their skin and it is hurting them.
And so I don’t know why, with that in mind, we shouldn’t be talking about this. I don’t know why there is still this taboo surrounding people sharing the hate that they receive.
Whether it’s regarding someone’s appearance, sexuality, race or as is becoming more and more common with the growth of bloggers and Instagrammers, their profession, no amount of trolling is okay and no one should be made to feel that they shouldn’t make a fuss, that they deserve it, that if they ignore it then it will just go away.
It should not be the responsibility of the victim to manage their reaction but I’m afraid, once again, here we are.
And so as a victim, we have a choice to make.
Do we ignore it and hope that it goes away? Do we delete it and block it and hide away from it in shame? Or do we say er, actually, this isn’t okay, fuck off you little shit, I’m not taking this??
Sometimes people don’t have the strength or the time to standup and fight, and that’s okay. Because it DOES take strength and time to do it.
And so with that in mind, the rest of us must remember that the victim must not be judged or criticised for dealing with this shit in their own way.
Personally I think anyone calling out their troll is to be celebrated, why not pull these fuckers out of the dark and into a place where they can be held accountable for their cowardly antics?
Sure, their crimes won’t see them in a court of law anytime soon, but I’m not adverse to organising a kangaroo court every now and then.
At least until people are able to realise that it is not their god given right to be an arsehole on the internet anyway.