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In a special article this week, our correspondent Nic Goddard takes online trolls to task after her recent television appearance triggered around 100 abusive social media posts.
Six years ago my family was on television on Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Wild show for the first time.
Back then we lived on a remote island and it was several months before we visited the
mainland and were recognised. Last week a catch-up show that was filmed last summer went out on Channel Five.
The comments have been overwhelmingly positive with people who know us, and people who don’t, taking the time to let us know how much they enjoyed watching it or asking questions if the show didn’t answer everything that occurred to them while they were watching it.
The internet is a bigger, more sprawling and rather darker place than it was in 2015. Now I am a journalist with a whole host of Google alerts set up on my name for work purposes too. So the negative things that people were saying, not directly to us, but about us, were out there for me to find.
There is a culture of hiding behind anonymous usernames to spew out abuse online which is dark and dangerous. There is a fallacy that people are entitled to their opinions and that they have a right to air them regardless of whether they may be hurtful. I would argue that nobody has the right to say things either to or about others just because they are thinking them.
By the time I am writing this people will have probably already forgotten our names, or quite which island it was we used to live on.
They have maybe even forgotten that on the night the show aired they took to the internet to make a comment somewhere about it. But within 24 hours of the show airing I had found around 100 comments of an abusive nature.
Most were directed at me, almost exclusively focussing on my physical appearance, specifically my weight. I am very comfortable with how I look, I do not consider my worth as a person to be based on the body I am in. I also do not consider a fat body to be a negative space to inhabit.
However for every woman like me who may have read those comments there will likely be many more who are not so confident. Who do not put on a swimsuit and go swimming, or shorts to go running, who do not leave the house for a job interview, a date, to get on with their day. Who feel they are worth less, should not seek support if they need it.
The consequences of abuse online, whether directly by private message or publicly on a forum or comments section, can be devastating. In a society where mental health issues such as anxiety and depression so often end in the tragedy of suicide it is so important that the advice to ‘be kind’ is more than just a social media hashtag.
When I took to social media myself to make this point I was again largely overwhelmed with positivity. With people telling me that I should rise above it, ignore it, shrug it off and reassuring me that it was not important what those people thought or said.
I disagree. I certainly see the benefits in spreading positivity and was very thankful for everyone who said nice things, but I also think we need to take a further step beyond that though and start actively stopping the people who say the bad things.
We need to call them out, report them, challenge them, make the people throwing those stones realise that just because they didn’t hang around long enough to see who they hit doesn’t mean that they didn’t hit anyone.
Perhaps the internet needs to pay heed to the wisdom of my granny’s generation who told us ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all’.