I’ve heard alot about online trolls. Sam Frost, The Bachelorette and Australia’s sweetheart, hit back at her online critics, calling out hideous online trolls who ruined her Easter Weekend.
She says: “I was having a great time, I was playing with my niece and trying not to cry because I’m thinking ‘how are people so horrible?’”
This week an article I wrote was published on Mamamia and since then I have been asking myself the same question.
The subject matter of the article was sensitive. It was about breaking veganism and the shame associated with it.
I was somewhat prepared for a heated argument. It’s an emotional topic and one that is difficult to approach. I was expecting emotive language and some harsh words.
I wasn’t expecting the barrage of personal attacks I was subject to. I wasn’t expecting my intelligence to be questioned. I didn’t expect my age to come into it. And I certainly didn’t expect the personal criticisms I received.
I’ve never really been exposed to online trolls and keyboard warriors until this week. I never thought I would be. Looking back, that seems quite naiive.
I am starting my career in a digital age. What you write goes online and on social media. That’s how people share and consume information these days. Technology has provided us with great opportunities to read more and to read often. Technology has also opened up a realm of bullying that we have never experienced before.
The article was posted and the comments started flowing. Most of them were passionate but considerate. They pulled quotes from the article and critiqued my writing in a brutal but impersonal manner. That’s fair. People are going to disagree with you and present their own opinion.
But considered opinions quickly turned into personal criticisms.
“What a load of sensationalised garbage!”
“What a disappointing and narrow minded article.”
“Another dumb article…”
“If only she was as committed to spell check as she was to free speech.”
“What a dreadful attempt at journalism, I actually feel dumber for reading it. I hope the writer doesn’t get paid for writing this ill-informed tripe.” That one’s a personal favourite.
I sat back in my chair, staring at the computer screen. I looked at the name above the comment and the small Facebook profile picture. I wondered where that person was, right then and there. What possessed them to be so cruel?
Because I have no self-control I continued scrolling through the comments.
“…the message was lacking just as much as the spelling, so on the bright side, at least you’re consistent?”
“…judging by the sloppiness of the prose, the spelling mistakes, the argument itself and the backpeddling comments, you had absolutely no faith in yourself whilst writing this piece.”
They started commenting on my age and linking my youth with inexperience and ignorance.
“Perhaps just some growing up might be in order.”.
“Click bait written by a 19 yo that knows someone, who knows someone that used to be vegan.”
My body started physically reacting to the criticism. My heart rate accelerated. I started to shake. I was angry. Angry that these people who have never met me feel they can make assumptions about my intellect and my character. I was furious that people could hide behind their computer screen and spit venom with their words, without a care in the world for the person on the other side.
Trolling is often disguised as constructive feedback, or as one commenter put it, “constructive criticism.”
Thinking about these comments still spark a physiological response.
This experience made me question whether I should cease writing altogether. Am I too young to have a voice? Am I immature and ignorant? Is my writing really “ill-informed tripe?” Are people “dumber” for reading what I write? If so, why am I bothering?
Then I saw this comment from a woman called Alex which provided the clarity and assurance I needed:
“Thank you for this article. I was an out and proud vegan for several years, up until 2012. In 2012 I became pregnant with my first child, since then I’ve either been pregnant with or breastfeeding one of my two children.
I made the choice to reintroduce animal products for the wellbeing of both me and my children. I’m racked with guilt but I plan to continue eating animal products until I stop breastfeeding my youngest. I am fully aware that many women continue to be vegans while pregnant and breastfeeding, but for me it was important to get the nutrients I needed to grow my babies from local, organic food sources. I’d do the same 100x over. Thankfully my friends (vegan or otherwise) have been incredibly supportive.”
I don’t write to impress people who spend their valuable time writing vitriolic and venemous comments behind a computer screen. I don’t write for people who wouldn’t say half the things they wrote to my face.
I write for people like Alex who need to see their experiences reflected in the media. I write for people who have a genuine interest in social issues and discussion. I write for people who like to read what I write. I write for people who disagree with me but can do so in a considerate and informed way.
If I want to be in the media I’m going to need thick skin. That’s the sad reality. But I won’t let them win. I won’t let them shame me into submission. I won’t let them quash or demean my voice.
I learned this week that these people shouldn’t have any power over me because I don’t do what I do for them. That doesn’t mean that I’m unaffected by their comments but it means that I shouldn’t dwell on them.
I’ve learned that I’m not as strong as I thought but that what I do is important and worthwhile. Submitting and hiding isn’t the answer; practise and perseverance is.
Follow us on Instagram @breakingdownbeauty and like us on Facebook: The Beauty Breakdown.