Last week, Lena Dunham became the latest celebrity to speak out about how she's been affected by Twitter trolls. Speaking at the annual PaleyFest in Los Angeles, she talked openly about her experiences trying to brush off comments that had been made about her online:
"I was like 'the spelling's so bad, I'm not taking these people seriously; they have eggs for avatars, I don't care!' And you walk through the day and these horrible phrases are being repeated through your head... There are things that affect me; I'm weird, I'm affected by violence, threats of rape, I'm a mess!"
As someone who has had her own experiences with Twitter trolls, I know those feelings all too well. It's been almost a year since my Twitter went into meltdown over a mistaken identity with former Manchester United boss David Moyes. I'm not trying to say that I received even a tiny percentage of the abuse Lena gets on a daily basis, but I can certainly understand how people like Lena are left feeling after checking your phone to find hundreds of horrible comments.
When I was getting abuse online, people continually told me to ignore what other people were saying. But trust me, it's a lot easier said than done. I mean, how would you feel if people said these things to you on Twitter?
"@Moyesy is such a cunt. Your dad deserves to be injected with the Aids virus and you little shit gang raped by buffaloes! Whore"
"Your dad is a proper cunt you bitch. Tell him to fuck off you slag, waste of oxygen and stop sleeping with every United player"
"@Moyesy get your inept father out the club before I fucking burn him alive! You probably got a fanny like a window cleaners bucket!! #Slag"
"@Moyesy what happened to your face or are you naturally that ugly?"
This is only a tiny selection of the tweets I got last year. I lost count of the number I got from people who were calling me everything from a slut to someone who should die because she was so ugly. Just like Lena, I found it really hard to push these sort of comments aside, even though I didn't know the people who were saying it. And if you're someone who doesn't have much confidence to begin with, then these comments will only knock that confidence even more.
I also had the unpleasant experience of running into someone in a bar whose friend had given me abuse online. Last month, I could hear my name being said really loudly by someone at another table, and within a few seconds he was over at my table telling anyone would listen that his mate had given me lots of abuse on Twitter. Although instead of being apologetic about the whole thing, he seemed really proud about it. It was as if he was expecting me to give him a high five or something.
So what's actually being done to help people who get this sort of abuse online? Well if the abuse is really bad, then you can report it to the police. It's a step that Chloe Madeley took a few months ago when found herself on the receiving end of rape threats via Twitter. Looking back, it's something I wish I had done. I wouldn't say I felt in any real danger from the rape threats, but if a journalist from The Sun newspaper can turn up at my flat unannounced, then I'm sure other people can find out my whereabouts too.
I went down the route of shaming, blocking and reporting the people who said the vilest things. I felt a huge wave of support from people I didn't even know as soon as I started retweeting what people were saying. I had quite a few people who continued to send offensive comment after comment, so knowing the block function stopped them from being able to do that again was a great help. I also reported these people to Twitter, as did quite a few of my friends, but I'm still not convinced any action was actually taken. I found the reporting function on Twitter to take a lot of time, especially since I couldn't keep up with the number of tweets I was getting to be able to report them all.
In December, Twitter announced plans to make it easier to report abuse so it does look like they're trying to help people who find themselves victims of Twitter trolls. However with a rise in the number of people falling victim to these trolls, it looks like we're a long way off finding a proper solution to help them.