Riyadh Khalaf was 16 when he set up his YouTube channel as a creative outlet and “safe space” away from the real-life bullies he faced every day at school. But far from the sanctuary he sought, the 27-year-old said he started to receive daily attacks from anonymous users almost straight away.
“I didn’t understand how someone who didn’t know me could hate me so much, and for something I couldn’t control - my sexuality, how I spoke, how I moved,” he told HuffPost UK.
Riyadh is just one of the people to appear in ‘Bully’, a new short film by director and campaigner Jake Graf. The film sees high-profile members of the international LGBT+ community read out hurtful messages they’ve received online, in order to raise awareness of the impact of cyberbullying.
One in 10 LGBTQ people have experienced abuse online directed towards them personally in the last month, according to the charity Stonewall. This increases to one in four trans people directly experiencing transphobic abuse online in the last month.
As a trans man, Jake feels it’s important that people be made aware of the hugely negative and dangerous impact cyberbullying can have. “Even after my recent wedding, my wife Hannah and I were trolled by people saying we shouldn’t be allowed to marry, that we were just freaks, that we were both mentally ill. This was all after the happiest day of our lives,” he told HuffPost UK.
He hopes the film will make people rethink before posting hate online. To the bullies, he says: “Maybe just take a moment to consider how you would feel if someone said them to you, and write something kind instead.”
TV presenter Sade Giliberti, who appears in the film, said she often receives nasty comments on social media related to her sexuality.
“There’s always an instant feeling of hurt, and wondering what you ever did wrong to that person. But I’ve realised that people who hide behind avatars and troll people’s profiles have deeper issues, and retaliate to make themselves feel better,” she said.
“Cyberbullying is cowardice and I hope that people watch the film and see that and more so understand what it’s like being on the receiving end of the hurtful, harsh and horrid comments.The words come at you like loud sharp piercing screams, deeply penetrating every part of you, and for a moment you doubt yourself, your worth and more so your purpose in this life.”
For Sade, appearing in the film was a “no-brainer”. Singer-songwriter Jaimie Wilson, who began to experience cyberbullying during secondary school, also didn’t think twice about sharing his experiences.
“I hope people can watch this film and be able to take away that cyberbullying goes further than just some mean words written on a keyboard,” he said. “The words written can strongly affect an individual, and I think this film exhibits what goes on even after the words have been said.”
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