You’d be surprised at how often I get asked about online trolling or, more specifically, how I cope with negativity. Most of the time, I respond with: “I don’t get all that much of it. So, y’know, there’s not all that much “coping” involved.”
But when I really sit down and think about it, that’s not 100% true. It’s not that I set out to lie; I guess that whatever “negativity” I do get just doesn’t affect me all that much. And here’s why.
Mariah Carey fans don’t really faze me
The first experience I had of serious online trolling was when I made a quip during X Factor. I said: “I blame Mariah Carey for the fact that people now think screaming is singing #xfactor.” I didn’t think much of it until, within 10 minutes, I had hundreds of random people tweeting me. They weren’t just telling me that I was wrong and that Mariah is an incredible singer – although I did get a handful of those.
The majority, however, were tweeting me to tell me how fat and ugly I am. They Googled photographs of me and sent them to me: “See?! Bitch looks good in her avatar but bitch ain’t never looked good in her life!” They told me to “KYS, bitch” (that’s an acronym for “kill yourself”, and if you didn’t know that, then I’m sorry you do now). They started commenting on my Instagram (once again, about how fat and ugly I am). The Mariah Carey fans weren’t happy.
At first, I was slightly upset. It’s not all that nice to be told how fat and ugly you are, even if they are just the words of anonymous Mariah Carey fans. Mostly I was shocked; I’d just been tweeting about X Factor, never knowing the shit storm I was about to unleash. In that 48-hour flurry of non-stop Mariah-related tweets, I went through all possible emotions: shock, upset, anger, frustration, regret, upset (again). Until, eventually, I felt nothing.
I realised that those people don’t know me. They’ll never know me – and I don’t need them to. That’s not the point. They feel good when they defend Mariah. They don’t care if they upset some random Irish blogger in the process. And so they shouldn’t – but neither should I. They don’t matter.
Not all online trolling is bad anyway
That’s not, strictly speaking, true – it would be more accurate to say that not all negativity is bad. I really do believe that – and I don’t believe that every bit of “negativity” I receive constitutes online trolling.
Online trolling does not have a subjective meaning; according to Lifewire, it’s the intent that makes it trolling, rather than good old-fashioned criticism. Trolling is done with the intention of provoking people into an emotional response; it’s not about having a discussion or even delivering criticism they hope will be taken on board. They want a reaction.
The kind of online negativity I get is, by and large, constructive in some way. I try really hard to figure out the motivation behind it and what I can take from it. I know that sounds incredibly Sesame Street, but I want to be making a living online in five, 10, 15 years’ time – and for that to happen, I need to take the opinions of my audience on board.
Take, for example, the woman who snapped me to criticise my Nike Air Max. “Those runners ruin every outfit you put on!” she complained. My initial reaction was, honestly, to tell her to f*ck off. Then I looked down at my filthy white runners and thought, hmmm, maybe she has a point. I still wear them, but I couldn’t be mad at her astute observation.
Or, last week, when a fellow tweeter asked if I ever stopped moaning. “I started following you last week because I liked your Gossies piece – but all you do is complain.” Once again, my initial reaction was fairly instinctual. In fact, three years ago, I probably would have told her to “stop following me then!” But I took a moment and looked over my last 10 to 15 tweets. They were all complaining. The alt-right has ruined moustaches, I quipped. The weather is terrible. Dublin Bus is robbing us blind. I responded: “You have a point.” We were both, I think, a bit embarrassed.
I stand behind my words (most of the time)
Here’s another thing I tell people when they ask how I cope with criticism: I don’t care, because I know I’m right. (LOL!) Okay, well not LOL because I’m kind of serious.
The times when people get the most vitriolic aren’t really the times you’d expect – I’m not regularly on the receiving end of, say, nasty comments about my weight or my looks. I don’t have to deal with online “hatred”. There are no forums dedicated to slating me (at least, not that I know of).
Instead, people get most aggressive with me around emotive topics such as abortion or feminism. They disagree with my stance; they think I’m a “feminazi” who would practically murder her own offspring as they climbed up a slide in the playground. In response to my stance on abortion, I was told it was unlikely I would ever have to consider it, as no one would ever have sex with me. When I told of my own experiences of rape, sexual assault and harassment, I was told I was lying because: “Come on, you’re hardly a Victoria’s Secret model.”
These people don’t bother me for the very simple reason that they’re wrong. Being pro-choice doesn’t make me evil. Being a feminist is not even remotely like being a Nazi. Attractiveness is not a condition for sexual assault; plenty of men have wanted to have sex with me throughout my life thus far. I have no reason to suspect they’ll stop wanting to any time soon.
People who attack women on the internet purely for having opinions are the worst kinds of people. They’re not worth getting upset about – so I don’t.
Some nastiness is inevitable – and says more about them than it does about me
There’s another very after-school-special saying – but we all know it’s true. When people take to their social media to talk about what a bitch I am; or call me a mean girl, who’s nasty for the sake of being nasty (that stung, I won’t lie); or make quips about my hair, my weight or the “annoying way” I’m always messing with my hair on Snapchat… Well, doesn’t that really say a lot about them?
I try, really hard, to be honest without being nasty; to express my opinion without being gratuitous. As well as that, I try not to care too much about my looks, because they’re one of the least important things about any of us. I try to write and talk and tweet without worrying about what people will think about me. Because I’m opinionated and honest and a bit straight-talking, I know that not everyone will like me. (I try not to worry about it.)
And ultimately, if people are talking shit about me, or to me, I just think – at least they’re talking, right? And then I listen to my favourite Mariah Carey song – and forget they even exist.