I have temporarily stopped using social media and probably will never go back to it, so, this piece won’t be shared there, but will possibly be read by my small following; you; and that’s okay. I still wanted to write it, you can share over on social media if you want to. We are, as I don’t need to remind you, living in very uncertain times, the world has turned upside down. And it’s confusing. On top of living in a pandemic, I’ve experienced being viciously targeted online for a second time. Trolling as some call it, but these aren’t anonymous trolls. I know of them, although most haven’t met me in person, let alone engage with me in conversation. They are however, not short of opinions about my strength of character.
I wrote a piece when it happened the first time, quoting a 2019 You Gov Poll stating 1 in 4 UK adults being victims of online bullying. This statistic shouldn’t be so high. The first time I encountered online bullies, I had opportunities to distract myself, that I don’t have now. I could if I wanted visit a friend, go out for coffee, browse a bookshop, I could deal with my feelings much better than I can this time around. I have been an extensive social media user for years, like most of us I’ve turned to Twitter and Facebook to connect with long distance friends, distract myself from the world, see people’s cat photos and share experiences with different communities via Facebook groups. Communities who I thought understood me. Where I belonged. Where I felt safe. As a child I was misunderstood for much of my school life, that hasn’t entirely vanished in adulthood, so social media was a sanctuary I’d go to find the understanding I needed. That belonging? Feeling safe? It’s merely a memory now. Online abuse has made social media the last place I want to be. I miss my friends who I can’t see in person but I can’t be where they are, virtually.
Being able to belong is important to me, and like many of you, we crave acceptance. To feel valued. A human need, just like food and shelter. Maslow mentioned our need to belong in his hierarchy of needs. Feeling that you belong is important to connect with others and deal with emotions or experiences, having someone to ask “Do you get this too?” helps us to tick as human beings. To find a place in society. I’ve experienced loneliness at various times in my life, and being unable to find where you belong will surely manifest this. We hear bandied around “you are not alone” related to different life experiences, we feel comfort when we hear those words. Words have a power. They are powerful and when used well house meaning. “Oh it’s not just me!” we scream in unison, as we work through our feelings being similar to other peoples. When these words aren’t used well, being targeted online takes away any belonging. The “you are not alone” reassurance feels distant, that somehow it doesn’t apply to you. And you feel lost. Very very lost.
As now, during this pandemic, words we part with on social media matter more than ever. The impact they have can be profound, as our virtual world becomes our main way of communicating, and our life as we know it is changing. There are people behind the words. And such words can eat away at you for such a long time. Victims of online abuse still have a need to belong, and to understand their identity. We could all become victims of trolling and online abuse, it isn’t an exclusive club for celebrities or those in the public eye. It could be you, me (in fact it was me) or Joe down the street. In a world where people being there for their neighbours is reported by the media, people rallying round to volunteer, helping to deliver medical supplies and food, or simply checking in on people to see if they are okay. We’ve seen a kinder, gentler side to Britain. I used to travel to London for work, where it was rare to hear a stranger say hello. Now we stop to chat to our neighbours. I had no idea who lived in my street before this pandemic. Communities are really being brought together. So, being trolled right now when the media is reporting the good of society when faced with truly awful circumstances, feels like some cruel juxtaposition. It doesn’t make sense. Yet here we are.
Anytime is not the time to attack someone online, especially if they are from the same community as you, but it is even more poignant during a global pandemic. Social media being a friendly, safe, supportive space is important now more than ever. It is after all, one of the few spaces we have left…