As a social media creator, I’ve had more than my share of mean comments. I’ve received death threats, rape threats and constant harassment. What’s my crime? I make silly parenting videos.
When my first video “What Does the Kid Say” went viral, it was posted on Reddit Cringe and I was subject to incredibly vile hatred. I was told I was the reason “terrorists hate America.” I was the reason “people shoot school children.” I was told to kill myself. And when I tried to defend myself, I was told, “You deserve it.”
I wasn’t trying to be a social media influencer when I made that first video. Social media influencers didn’t even really exist back then. I was just a mom who made a funny video and decided to post it on social media so our friends and family could see it. I was stunned when millions of people resonated with it. So when the trolling started, I wasn’t prepared. My husband was out of town. I was home alone with two young children. I was terrified and didn’t sleep for 3 days.
It was like jumping into the deep end right off the bat. The vitriol was so intense on that first post, that it kind of numbed me. In the over 7 years since my first video, I’ve received thousands upon thousands of horrid comments and threats. Truly cruel things spewed at me. And rarely do they bother me like those first comments did. I grew a thick skin. I didn’t let them penetrate. My friend Jill Smokler, who founded Scary Mommy, told me never to respond to the trolls. And 99.9% of the time, I have followed that advice.
But recently a photo of me was posted in a photo “shaming” group on Facebook. A friend alerted me that it was there. So I joined the group and asked them to remove the photo. It wasn’t even that bad, no one threated to kill me, but it bothered me to have it sitting there so people could openly mock me. After all the hate I’ve been subjected to, I’m not sure why this one forum of mockery bothered me.
I found the post. I read the comments. And then I responded. Which I know one should never, ever, ever do. But I couldn’t help myself. I said something to the effect of, “There’s a real person behind this photo that you’re mocking.”
No one apologized. They all just doubled down. Which is why you never, ever respond to the trolls. You’ll never get what you want. You’ll never get an apology. You’ll never get someone to acknowledge that they’re hurting an actual human being. The callous replies to your pleas sting even more; because even after you show them your humanity, they continue to attack.
But one reply on the shaming thread struck me. The person said something I had heard many times before. He said, “You put yourself out there, you deserve it.”
At first I thought, “He’s right. I did put myself out there. I did post a photo on the internet. I do deserve this.”
But the more I thought about it, that didn’t sit right with me. For the first time in years I started to really think about this.
Why do I “deserve” to be harassed and bullied because I posted an innocent photo or video online? Why is it OK to troll someone just because you can? Why have we all accepted this as the norm? Why do people deserve to be treated like crap by total strangers? Why should one deserve to be threatened of rape and murder?
For years I accepted this. For years I just accepted the trolls. I felt like, yeah, I put myself out there, I deserve it. For years I left horrible comments up on my social media channels. One time I tried to delete one, and the person kept posting it again and again, threatening me for deleting his comment. So I gave up. I gave in. I just let horrific things be said about me on my own social media pages. It’s like we have just accepted it. Collectively agreed that it’s OK. That people “deserve” to be harassed for sharing themselves online.
But just because we’ve accepted it, doesn’t mean it’s right. I’ve finally realized that, no, I don’t deserve to be harassed, threatened and bullied. I don’t deserve to be mocked. My life doesn’t deserve to be threatened. I don’t deserve to be the vessel of people’s hatred. I don’t deserve it.
And neither do you.
Perhaps some day the internet will return to more civil days (if it ever had them). But until then I hope we can begin to call out this kind of behavior. Defend those being harassed. Never join the pile on. I hope we can all agree that no one deserves to be hated on simply because they posted an innocuous picture online. Hopefully one day we can “put ourselves out there” and not be harassed or bullied for it. Because putting ourselves out there creates community. It helps us connect. It makes us feel less alone. And that’s why, despite all the cruelty, we continue to do it.