You’ve got to be cruel to be kind, or so we’re told, right? ‘They’re being mean because they like you’ is – quite honestly- a messed-up role we accept as a must-be fact when we’re infants; A bright-eyed and bushy haired four year old believing that the boy who pushed us over on the playground and scraped open our bruise-riddled knee cap was picking on us because he liked us. Some folk build their whole personalities around their brutal ‘honesty’ and the fact that they’re #real, claiming the title of the bitch of the group as if it were a Pride of Britain award. “I just say it how it is babe”. What you’re saying- babe – is that you’re a prick.
For far too long we’ve brushed off rudeness as a character trait, something to laugh along at although we wouldnt dare say it ourselves. Excusing the behaviour of that friend who’s slut shaming others from the pub corner because ‘that’s just what they’re like’. Or letting your elderly relative get away with calling the woman on the table next to you ‘a bit of a porker’ because ‘he’s from that generation’. But what if this ‘harmless’ fun in which you giggle at under closed doors amongst your tightly-woven friendship group is breeding something more harmful than a sour-mouthed
loveable rogue? One who can’t be scoffed at and told to pipe down over a pint of Heineken and a packet of bacon fries, or sighed at that ‘Grandpa you can’t say that anymore!’ through muffled laughs of secret impress. What if these small spikes of validation are slowly encouraging the rise of thy once woeful friend or relative to tread into ever more dangerous territory; Territory where they cannot be monitored, recognised or identified, Where they can hide under a false persona and push young girls to attempt suicide through their smug opinions and ghastly off-the-cuff comments. What if you’re giving birth to an internet troll?
Sounds crazy, right? But they’re arising from somewhere, and at lightning speed. As someone who has unfortunately been on the receiving end of online trolling and name-calling, I can *categorically* state that these individuals aren’t overweight, sweaty men who wear off-white vests and hang out in their mums garages giving their wrists a good work out –not all of them anyway. These people are really, really….normal? Your mum’s friend Carol (it’s always Carol isn’t it?) who lives a few doors down might send round some of her left over apple pie on a foggy Thursday evening, but what you fail to see is that she’s also pressing send on a Facebook comment calling a twenty-something girl she doesn’t know a slag on a local newspaper’s page. Your loveable elderly Uncle? He’s sending unsolicited dick pics and graphic sexual comments about what he wants to ‘do’ to women fifty years his junior straight into their inbox. Your brother? He’s belittling women on Twitter and telling them to get a real job. And your sister? Well, she might be tagging her friend in an Instagram post as they laugh at the way a girls belly roll sits. These people drop their kids off alongside us at the school gates and they bust out a sweat on the bike next to us at a spin-class. They could be sitting alongside you in the office or at the table on Christmas Day. Intenet trolls don’t have three-feet tall purple hair and hide under a bridge ready to steal your pet goat as it trots by, Internet trolls walk amongst us and it’s highly likely they’re being spurred on by someone – or something- which has led them to genuinely believe that they must share their opinion that you have fat ankles and are boring AF before they combust into a cloud of frogs because they haven’t been #real in at least ten minutes.
Jesy Nelson’s gritty BBC Three Documentary ‘Jesy Nelson: Odd One Out‘ exposed the side of the internet we all try and dismiss, turning our heads to the outpour of hatred that spills out of the fingertips of thousands of individuals online. ‘Don’t Feed The Trolls’ we’re told. But when someone is attacking your character, manipulating your image, stealing your photo’s or lampooning the bits of your body you hate to see reflected back at you in the mirror, it’s difficult to shrug it off as just nothing; To not want to defend yourself, or not take their comment personally. If a kid called you a name in the school playground, you would’ve called them something back, or at the very least gone home and cried into your pillow about it afterwards. To suggest we can choose to totally ignore it is a difficult pill to swallow. In fact, it’s like trying to swallow a scotch egg whole. It’s just not going down. To see the affect these stranger’s comments have had on Jesy’s character was heart-shattering. A once confident and laughter-hungry young girl now riddled with insecurities she didn’t place on herself. We can say it time and time again- these trolls are sad, they’re bitter, they’re lonely. But how do we stop them? How do we re-train them, change their behaviour, convince them that they’re wrong? How can we stop these secret (and sometimes openly proud) hate-breathers in their tracks? They seem to have no shame, no empathy, no emotion. Somewhere along the way we’ve created a society where people feel completely comfortable being a knob. It’s really, really concerning.
It’s cool to be kind, it’s nice to be nice. But Mary Poppins isn’t real and life isn’t always as straight as a twelve-inch ruler (what did you think I was going to say?). We say mean things sometimes, we laugh at horrible things sometimes and we occasionally, un-intentionally encourage bad behaviour. We’re only human, after all. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could all be a little more aware of eachother’s feelings? Even strangers and people behind Instagram posts and reality-tv shows have crappy days. When did we become so de-sensitised to that?
Let me serve you up some homework that will warm your cockles more than your Nan’s roast potatoes on a hungover Sunday. For seven days, comment something positive under someone’s Instagram/Facebook/Twitter picture. Seven People. Seven nice comments. Seven days. Trust me, it’ll leave you feeling a whole lot nicer and much more appreciated by the World than letting a Kardashian know what you really think of them under their most recent post will.
#777 Are you in?