Warning – This post may be considered as triggering to some mental health conditions. If you are vulnerable I have plenty of non-triggering posts, like this. Please read responsibly.
I looked at my phone and I went cold. It was an almost-instant reaction to something unexpected. I had become the victim of online abuse.
I was supposed to write this post last week, a couple of hours after the incident happened, but in all honesty, I chickened out. I can pretend it didn’t affect me, but that would be lying. It has, and I needed time to collect my thoughts.
I want to also take this moment to say right from the outset that the purpose of this post is not to attention-seek. As will become clear later on in the post, I had plenty of opportunities to become the centre of attention, but I didn’t. Whilst this post is focused on my experience, it’s not about me. This post is about the effects of online abuse and, hopefully, opens a few peoples eyes to the damage they can cause. As a side note, the fact that I feel that I have to put this disclaimer in a post on my own blog, as do many, is enough of a symbol to show how much people are trying to prevent hate directed at them. Online hate isn’t a mythical thing that happens to celebrities. It happens to real people; real people like me.
My Online Hate Story
I supposed I should start off by explaining what happened to me. Last week, I received 9 private messages on social media, one after the other in the space of a minute, all from a total stranger. Curious to see what was happening, I opened the messages up. At this stage I had no reason to think it was hate, I mean, why should I? It’s not exactly something you anticipate from a total stranger. Then I read the messages. One or two things I could just shrug off, but in total there were over 30 messages. All in space of 30 minutes. Starting off as just insults, it then became more personal as the stranger thought he was having no effect on me. It ultimately escalated to the stranger telling me I should commit suicide.
I’m not going to post the exact things that were said because that just puts more hate into the world which is the last thing we need. The exact things said don’t matter anyway. They were just the first things that popped into the head of somebody who wanted to hurt me. I say me, but to be honest, I don’t think that person specifically went out to target me either. The things were said directly to me, so in that respect, they were meant for me, but it could have been anyone. As cliched as it sounds, I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s why I think it’s important to talk about it; because this could happen to anyone but should happen to no one.
I don’t think I should need to justify myself, but I’d also like to add I’m a nice person. That might seem kind of a pointless thing, but it’s important. I don’t get involved in online drama and I don’t cause confrontations. If I don’t have anything nice to say, I won’t. Simple as. Essentially, I treat people like I’d like to be treated. So this wasn’t a case where I ‘had it coming’ or ‘deserved it’; I didn’t. It was 100% unprovoked and even sadder, I couldn’t have done anything to prevent it.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt that many emotions in a single hour as I did last week. It was overwhelming and I needed the rest of this week just to process it properly.
Let’s take it step by step. When I first read the messages I was confused; upset, but more confused because why? Why featured quite heavily in my mind. Why me? Why send hate? Why be so mean? Not thinking rationally, because let me honest, you don’t in that situation, I responded. Yep, I did the thing everyone tells you not to do; I fed the troll. But I was confused and wanted someone tell me this was a mistake or something. I wasn’t going to get that answer because it wasn’t a mistake.
Then more hate came. The moment of realisation that this was directed at me hit, and hit hard. I’ve been bullied before, and I actually think this hurt more. Not because of the things said, but because it was by a complete stranger and invaded my home. Your home is supposed to be a safe place, but when you get online abuse, it taints it, making you feel more vulnerable. Upset and already making the mistake of responding, I tried to show the stranger I wasn’t affected by the unwarranted attack. I put up a front, laughed it off, even pointed out what they were saying was contradictory. I know I shouldn’t have. I know I was feeding the troll, but I did it. That was my reaction; show them they’re not affecting you and they will move on. That logic didn’t really work. Did it make things worse? Hard to say without a time machine but judging by this stranger’s actions, the hate would have still come.
How did I feel during this time? Hurt by the comments. Confused about why it was happening. Overwhelmed by the situation. Angry by the situation. Embarrassed for the things the person. Anxious for what else was to come. Isolated by dealing with it on my own. Self-hate by starting to believe the troll was speaking the truth. And a million other emotions I can’t even process.
I’m not ashamed to say I cried. If somebody tells you the same thing over and over again, you question yourself. You question if you deserve this (you don’t) and you question if what they’re saying is right (it’s not). I think that’s what’s affected me the most, the mental impact. I’m a confident chatty person and I know people are generally good, but even this week at work I’ve been a bit more reserved. You might think someone is strong, but inside everyone has moments of self-doubt. Hate plays on self-doubt and transforms it to what you think is the truth.
I’ll even hold my hands up that I was, and still am, embarrassed by the whole situation. Writing this post is making me cringe a little, and the only way I’m getting through it is because it’s on a site I have total control over.Why was I embarrassed if I hadn’t done anything wrong? Because I was a victim and someone to be pitted. In my head, I had become weak and a target. I was also embarrassed about the things the person said, because, like I mentioned, I’d started to believe them. I don’t say these thoughts were rational, but it’s how I felt.
I also said I was angry. That came as a surprise if I’m being honest. I’m not an angry person, so it was another unexpected event that happened. I was angry that this complete stranger decided to send hate. I was angry that I was upset over the utter rubbish this stranger was saying. I was even angrier that I was starting to believe what this person was saying was true. It was essentially this anger that led to my response.
In the first instance, my response was less than glowing and not something I’m proud of. I let my emotions rule my thinking but quickly came to my senses. My initial response was going to be to “out” the stranger publically. On further investigation, I found that they had used their full name, mentioned their university course and university in their bio and linked their other social media accounts.
What was more upsetting was that we had quite a few mutual friends. Friends of mine, who I think are great judges of character, are friends with a person who victimised a stranger for no reason on the internet. It was this thought that I still can’t get my head around. Sit back and think about your own friends. Could you imagine one of your friends doing this? Probably not, but that’s the reality. These haters, trolls or whatever else you want to call them are, at the end of the day, connected to someone.
In my head, I was going to attach screenshots of the messages to a tweet with this person’s details and that would embarrass them like they had embarrassed me. The truth would be known. So what stopped me? Because if I did that I would be no better than the stranger. That stranger has friends and family, and it’s unfair to publically embarrass them for something they had no control over. I was better than that and would be ending the cycle right here.
I still wanted to do something though, not as an act of revenge, but to show the stranger the damage he had caused and, if I’m honest, show I wasn’t a victim. So I replied to the troll again and asked them how they would feel if their friends and family saw the screenshots of the messages. I then asked how they would react if they got such comments. That got their attention, especially when I pointed out we had many mutual friends. Instantly, the stranger began to apologise. I took this as my opportunity to explain how it had affected me. I told the stranger that I had been deeply impacted by their comments and it had really taken a toll on me emotionally. In a similar style to the hate before, they sent multiple messages in quick succession stating that they hadn’t meant what they said, they were sorry for the hurt that they had caused, they didn’t realise it would have an impact and even said that the messages were made by a friend and not the stranger. It was obvious they were scared and would do anything for me not to tell our mutual friends. After apoglising some more, the stranger then stopped messaging me, and I haven’t heard from them since. They no longer had power over me.
I won the battle against my troll but I’m still dealing with the war inside my head.
What Online Abuse Taught Me
It was after asking that simple question to my troll that I realised a lot. Haters, whatever form they take, are human. They have no more control over you than you have control over them. You have the control of how you respond, and that is something they will never take away from you. They also share the same fears and insecurities as their victims, even more so as it has caused them to lash out against someone else. It took me to mention the names of mutual friends to remind the stranger that I was human and more similar to them than they thought. I wasn’t just a face or a name anymore. I was a person who was connected to them.
I also learned a lot about myself. I learned that, despite having the means to react to things, I will always stay true to my principles. Having experienced first hand the effects of hate, I will never intentionally subject someone to that, either through my actions or their consequences. Two wrongs never make a right, and I won’t give that control to the hater. I also learned that I need to spend more time on loving myself. I always preach to people that they are amazing, shouldn’t care what people say, and their friends will have their back no matter what, but I certainly don’t act on it for myself.
Most importantly, I learned that it costs nothing to be kind a lend a shoulder to someone. When I was in the midst of this situation, two people jumped to my rescue and asked how I was via social media. I’m not naming them, but I just hope they know how grateful I am to them. It’s very easy to ignore a status update and deem it as attention-seeking or believe you’re not close enough to that person to respond. But do it. Feeling isolated and embarrassed, these two people reminded me that I am loved, people do care and that the hater is an exception. Unless you have been in that position, you will have no idea how a simple “you ok?” can mean to someone. Two words that can change an entire situation.
Sadly my story isn’t the only one of online abuse. Just this week I’ve seen a handful of people on my social media talking about their own personal experiences. From now on, I’m going to go out of my way to make sure people know I care, and I challenge you all to do the same.