Yesterday, my good friend and colleague Darryl Morris posted this article 'Dear Haters, I'm Calling You Out'. Firstly, you should read it because it perfectly states why abuse is not okay. It summarises how crappy it makes people feel. However, I think it creates an 'Us vs. Them' which simply isn't true. There aren't a group of people who identify as 'haters' roaming the streets and kicking bins over. They are individuals with individual backgrounds which make them do silly things.
I spoke to Naughty Boy recently and brought up the backlash he faced after his relationship with Zayn Malik fell apart:
I would never walk into a room at a party, ask them all to love me and not expect someone to tell me to jog on. What stands out to me from the chat with Naughty Boy is that we have already walked into a room and said something provocative, we have already put ourselves on that stage. Instead of telling people they don't have a right to react negatively, frustratingly we just have to reward positive behaviour. That is way more important than scolding the negative. It is a much better use of our time and way more practical. It should be true that people get further in life by being nice and if we give negative behaviour any attention, then it has succeeded in it's aim. (I am aware that this article is already hypocritical by discussing the issue). My next one is definitely going to be about the positive feedback I've received.
I have certainly been upset by what I've read online, strangers have tried to hurt me and a lot of the time it's felt entirely unjustified. My immediate reaction is similar to Darryl's: If you don't like what you hear, fine, don't listen to me, it's a shame I couldn't entertain you but I am doing my best and I know I am entertaining others, they tell me so. If you cannot fathom that your opinion is not the centre of the universe then quite frankly, I'm glad that I'm not your cup of tea. However, when you take a step back and understand why someone has had the audacity to tweet that to you, it takes the sting out of their words considering that abusive tweets don't actually have a lot to do with the intended target. What individuals decide to tweet is a self expression and what we need to teach them is that they are responsible for the bit after that. They want attention and to feel heard without any real consequence (because honestly, if you have a complaint, send it to my boss, he never checks twitter) but these actions should have consequence and that is taking their voice away. Being ignored is really painful, we are social beings, it's how we tick.
For me, having an online presence to voice your opinion whether positive or negative, is so important. Aged 15, I remember scratching my arms hard enough to leave a mark whilst listening to Yellowcard (a pop/punk alternative band who made music designed for teenage angst) and being so angry because I was and I still am, gay. I felt a lot of emotional pain which I tried to transfer to physical, but luckily I always seemed to hold myself back from doing anything serious. Being a teenager is all about feeling. It's when you're most alive because the world is overstimulating and you feel such intense joy but such intense pain at the same time. In 2006, before twitter was a twinkle in the internets eye, I used an online forum to vent my pain called 'AfterEllen'. It is a US based popular culture website, orientated for those women who identify as gay, lesbian and bi. I found two or three friends on that website (who I still talk to) and I think that's part of the reason I turned out okay. It was tough remembering to delete my internet history every day but I'm glad I had people to turn to. I found a safe space to work out who I was, who I fancied (super mega important) and what I cared about without ever being judged for it. Most importantly, I was able to ask for advice on the plethora of straight girls who I fell in love with. Since coming out to my parents, who totally nailed handling the news by the way (hugs all round), I have had to lean less on the online community and have found my place in the 'real world'.
With my experiences in mind, I can easily understand the appeal of the online community to a teenage audience because in hindsight, every teenager has their struggle to fit into this society. It might be sexuality, geekiness, appearance or maybe even political beliefs. When was the last time you saw an adult feel so intensely about the world as a teenager does? To love so passionately, to connect so instantly with a song or to switch so easily in opinion? Despite the intensity of the connection that they have to this world, it is not designed for teenagers. By that I mean, there are very few safe spaces. At school they might get bullied for being different, teachers tell them how to behave, at home there are adults who are trying to control them. Whilst I use the word 'them' really this is 'you' because we've all been through it. Can you remember society wanted you to act like an adult but when you wanted to do adult things, it reminded you that you were a child? I can't say for sure how many times I had that argument with my parents but eventually, the laugh they gave after I said 'it isn't fair' stopped stinging and I accepted that my parents were dickheads. (Clarification: Mum, Dad you aren't dickheads, I just may have thought it once or twice as a teen). So if you get told what not to be at home and get told who to be at school, you need a space to decide for yourself.
The people that listen to my radio show are at that vulnerable age that I can remember all too clearly. They need help, confidence, attention and reassurance which they will only find by being able to say what they feel. This is why I can see Twitter or Facebook for the helpful platform that it is. We've heard the tragic stories about teens being duped online but it's also a world where teens can receive support and attention, push boundaries seemingly without immediate consequences. Debating a topic with a stranger online is like dropping a bomb in a different country. It can cause a lot of disruption but won't affect you directly. However if everyone has the stance that they don't react to mindlessly malicious tweets, the bombs strength will lessen and teenagers will realise the power lies in praise. I will never again favourite a tweet which abuses me. Someone who screams and shouts needs to be taught that is not the path to success. I'd like to reiterate, these are individuals, people with real lives for themselves that need educating not scolding and that would probably never say this to anyone in what they consider to be their 'real life'. As Naughty Boy said: You must take it for what it is and part of that is making them realise their online representation is still real life.
Teens get a bad reputation. The nicest tweets I've ever received come from teens and often the abuse I receive comes from adults (who should know better). All I can imagine is that the reason they don't know better is directly linked to their quality of life, which makes me more sad than the abuse itself. Rather than thinking to themselves 'she's shit' and changing the channel to get on with their lives they waste 20 seconds of it tweeting me to tell me that I'm shit. I want to grab them and shake them and say 'Stop wasting your time telling people they are shit'. Prove your statement is true by supporting someone you like or by doing it better yourself. I do agree with Darryl, people need to be nicer online but understanding why they do it is the first step to making it stop. This is not only our chance to feel better about ourselves, but it's also a chance to give people the focus to believe they can find their own platform.