05 June 2012

Keyboard warriors - online bullying, Chrissie Swan and why I'm not afraid of the Internet.

On the internet it's all too easy to forget that we're not speaking with friends in our living room. We share intimacies about ourselves with our online friends, and strangers, freely. The internet engenders trust, facilitates meaningful discussion and information sharing. It creates opportunities and fosters friendship. But keyboard warriors make me a bit scared. I have read accounts by other bloggers who are often frightened to open up anonymous comments in case they are hateful. Is it any wonder that media identities and celebrities often limit their engagement with their fans for fear that they may encounter hurt?

I have received lots of exposure through my blog. I am very lucky, and appreciative of the opportunities it's given me. I've been given a voice - when for so long I felt isolated and so very different. My appearance has made me pretty resilient. I have thick skin despite my thin skin. I have a strong voice and am proud of my opinions and the blog I've created.

The wider we are exposed, the more open we are to about bullying.

Sometimes I think I'm nuts for volunteering to share my life on the internet. I receive enough criticism about my appearance when I step outside the house. Fortunately in my time blogging, I've been very very lucky. I can only recall one occasion where my appearance has been attacked. It was a comment left on my review of the Sia concert - someone asked whether I've thought about going on Red Faces. Original. Other than that, I've only received a small handful of comments on my blog making personal judgement of my character, which I admit, have stung. I have been so lucky.

When I wrote about the Typo retard card, I was called derogatory names by people on Twitter and told to get off my high horse on my blog. When I wrote about my love for Hamish Blake on The Punch, I received comments questioning my emotional wellbeing and assuming the type of men that I prefer. A lot of the criticism came about because of the headline - which I did not write. People read the headline and did not take note of the story.

People tell me that when you put your opinion out on the internet (or in the wider media) you have to expect differing opinions, bullying and harassment. I agree that we should expect differing opinions. That is what makes the conversation of blogging so rich. But no one should expect or accept bullying or harassment.

Why should we? We are far more courageous than any of the faceless and nameless trolls. We are smart, educated, compassionate and opened minded.The issues we discuss on our blogs are often very important and make a difference in the community. While I write a lot about chronic illness and appearance, there are bloggers writing about issues such gay rights, poverty, depression, motherhood, single parenting, disability, politics, suicide, love, domestic abuse and healthy eating, to name a few.

Sadly, our strong voices are torn down, and so many remarks are made about appearance and lifestyle rather than our opinions. And all too often it happens to women, not men.

In my study for my thesis, I came across the following quote:

"Weblogs bring the web - in theory a leveler, a democratic medium - to the people"
- Rebecca Blood, editor of We've Got Blog.
This is so true. The internet allows for a huge diverse opinion to be shared. It brings people together. But are the wrong people being given the tools to express their opinions?

Years ago we had to write to the editors of papers and mags to have our opinion published. When I was 16 I did work experience at the local country newspaper and it was my job to call the letter writers and verify their identity. I remember some of the writers questioning MY identity as I was a new person calling them, and they trusted the newspaper's authority. Now, there is no accountability. It seems the comments are as big a draw card to the story as the actual story.

Perhaps the media perpetuates this. Tracy Grimshaw, journalist and host of A Current Affair, stated that it should be the media's role to moderate the comments in their online material. Yet in an ad for 60 Minutes last Sunday, the reporter was urging the audience to "be the judge of Delta Goodrem" in an upcoming interview on the program.

My studies have also shown me that bloggers (and media identities and celebrities) have a one to the world relationship with the audience. That is, we put our opinions out there, and our audience is bigger than a on-on-one relationship. Our online (and wider media) exposure means that our audience expects something of us. They expect us to be role models, perfect and accountable. And when we falter, we are persecuted. It's the world versus one. A massive vitriolic attack on one person, or if you're lucky (I have been), a massive show of support for one person. An example was the hate campaign directed at Yumi Stynes - a Facebook group was created, calling for her sacking. The hateful comments were disproportionate to the original comments she made about Lance Corporal Armstrong. Every time I saw a friend join this group I was embarrassed.

With exposure comes bullying. In the past week, broadcaster, TV presenter and writer, Chrissie Swan has borne the brunt of online bullying. She appeared in the Australian Women's Weekly discussing her choice to give up TV work to concentrate on a radio career which has meant she can spend more time with her beautiful little boys Kit and Leo. There were gorgeous pictures of Chrissie (she radiates sunshine and beauty) with her boys. The online article had the headline "it's ok to be fat" - which were words that Chrissie did not say. There were hundreds of comments under that article about her weight, her little boys' weight, and questions about her parenting skills. Uncalled for. Understandably Chrissie has been upset about the bullying (she tweeted that she cried in the carwash, and she cried on radio), yet handled it in such a dignified and respectful way. She has spoken out on her radio show about the support she's received from the media and the public. She's also been extremely open about her life - including her struggles with her weight, her career journey and the realisation that her little boy is overweight and the changes she's making to his eating habits. I thoroughly admire her for being so honest and true to herself in her media work. She is a role model of mine because she is a strong woman in the media, not afraid to be herself, have a laugh and be kind to others.

This morning I spoke to Chrissie Swan on the radio about online bullying and anonymous trolls. We (bloggers, media identities) are not afraid to put our faces and names to our opinions but these trolls are unaccountable. I added that often people make assumptions and judgements about our lives based on one blog entry or news report or magazine spread, and do so without context. How can we expect future generations to stop bullying when adults set such a bad example? I told her that so many bloggers are writing about this awful online behaviour, and she is very loved.

Last week I was sad for a few blogging friends. Mrs Woog and Eden Riley were featured on Fairfax websites, talking about blogging and monetisation. The personal attacks thay received in the comments section were brutal - questioning their motives as bloggers, their parenting skills and appearance. Mrs Woog wrote a brilliant post in response to the online bullying she and Chrissie Swan received, and so did Bianca Wordley, and Beth MacDonald did a fabulous video about trolls a few months back. And this post by Eden in April nails it.

Sanda Reynolds, blogger and author of the $120 Food Challenge, posted about the abuse she'd been receiving in the past two years. Comments have been made about her appearance, her cooking, her employment status and her children. The post was heartbreaking.
"Here’s the thing about being in firing line of online vitriol. It strips you of any pretence to greatness or ability. You have nothing with which you can hide your inadequacies, your failings, your pared back pock-marked ego. Nor is there any place in poverty-land for conceit, for flights of fancy, for ego, vanities or illusions. You can’t afford to even think about an alternative. You are poor and maligned goddamnit and you are not wealthy enough to have the luxury of a vision of something better for you. How dare you even dream of a better life. Just get a fucking job – any job, no matter the cost – and stop laying about. You’re poor and it’s a dogeatdog world. There’s no place for generosity, for kindness, for sharing. What ever you do, don’t you dare be choosy."

- Sandra Reynolds - $120 Food Challenge
Essentially, Sandra's blog is her space. Her pride and joy that she's built up and created a profile and income from. She is helping others budget for their meals. But people are hating on her. And she's taking a stand - she's been open about the bullying she's encountered, and creating a sign-in for the comments system on her site. As she wrote, her blog is her home, and it hurts when people come in and destroy that.

I wonder what drives online bullies. Is it that they want to have a voice too? is it that criticism of people they don't know (or think they do) makes them feel good about themselves? Are they jealous of the people they're criticising? Do they have too much time on their hands? Do they get a thrill knowing it's the world against one?

One thing is for sure - the awful things these online bullies say are more about their own character than of those they're criticising. Their insecurities and self worth shows.

I think about the damage online bullying does to children. They may be bullied at school and then can't escape it at home. I am so thankful the Internet was not a prevalent part of my childhood. I started using the Internet in its early stages in Australia, age 15.

I am not afraid of the Internet - it's been an integral part of my life for so long. My study's been focused on it, I shop online, I blog, I communicate with my friends and strangers online and I consume media online. It's brought me love, helped my writing career, and helped shaped my identity. My online and offline worlds blur. But I am afraid of some of the people who use the internet. Their words can be damaging to self esteem and reputation. These comments from strangers can hurt more than someone saying hateful things to our faces. These strangers come into our homes and make us feel uncomfortable.

We talk about schoolyard bullying but this is just as bad. These are adults setting an example to their children that bullying is ok. It's not ok. And if it continues, I am scared that these powerful voices, writers and role models that I admire so much will stop being so honest and sharing their stories.


  1. People are so high and mighty when they are behind a computer screen with an anonymous name. Online bullying is just ridiculous and shouldn't happen. People don't have to agree with everything people say, but there is a difference between disagreeing respectfully and full on bullying.

    I would never say anything horrible in response to a blog post or something similar. Sure, I may think some things in my head, but never would I say anything as you have to remember that they are people with feelings.

    It makes it even harder for people to want to blog or share their lives for fear that people will be rude and attack them. My heart broke for Chrissie Swan this past week. She's amazing and even if she wasn't, she didn't deserve the vile comments from random rude people.

    Loved this post Carly :)

  2. Fabulous, well written and balanced, Carly. Bravo x

  3. I agree 100%. It upsets me so much that faceless, nameless people can be so rude. Chrissie Swan did not deserve to be attacked. Nobody does. There are ways to express an opinion without making personal attacks.

  4. This whole thing just blows my mind. I cannot get over how mean and horrible people can be. They must be desperately unhappy people and their futures look incredibly bleak. How could they even stand to look at themselves every day in the mirror.
    I find society depressing.
    Great post

  5. So well written.. did you see me nodding along in agreement?

  6. Thank you everyone - I am glad you can relate.

  7. Wonderful post my friend. Your writing is beautiful.

  8. I wholeheartedly agree, the reason I blog under a pseudonym is because of the nutters that crawl out of the woodwork to abuse me about Aussie history, especially Aboriginal history.
    They are gutless and cowards that hide behind a monitor, believing they are RIGHT all.the.TIME and how dare anyone have a differing opinion?!
    They'll get theirs, one day.

  9. Great post. Online bullying really needs to be addressed.

  10. Beautifully said Carly. I read loads of crafty blogs and it's sad to see even those blogs get the occasional hero having a jibe at the blogger.... why?
    Love your blog.

  11. I really hope people don't stop being honest and sharing. Beautifully said, Carly. Such a pleasant surprise to hear you on the radio this morning! You speak very well, great voice for radio (& tv, clearly). Was going to text you but then got to work & things went mad! Great work, lovely, as always.
    Heidi xo

  12. I have asked my online friends, is there something about the Internet that brings these bullies out (I'm talking about adults, not children, that's a whole different subject) especially having to do with race, or have these people been with us all along, and it's just that the birth of the Internet has given them this microphone. Could it be in 2012 that people are becoming more hateful, racist, ignorant and mean? Or just that we can hear them now? Certainly I've never been exposed to such types in my real life, and I find it shocking and sad. Some people don't want to learn or grow. Maybe you could appeal to their better nature. Maybe they just don't have "a better nature."

  13. Loved this Carly. I just see online bullying as becoming a bigger and bigger issue.
    When I was at uni I was part of a trial of online tutorials. We had just a couple of our regular tutorials done online, so we knew everyone in the chat, plus most of us were sitting in the library to do it. And yet it degenerated so fast I was amazed. And these were people who knew each other.
    All I can do is to behave as I would expect others to behave and to teach my future children to do so. I hope online ethics becomes part of the curriculum.

  14. Really great, thank you. I was just talking to a friend about school reunions, and how 20 years after leaving school, many people remember being bullied and it still affects them today. It's funny that the bullies always seem to forget, and when confronted say things like "oh, did I really do that? I don't remember." Some of them may well be lying, but many I think really do forget - they bully with careless abandon, not really thinking about how it might affect the person they are bullying, except for maybe enjoying what they think is the temporary sting their victims feel. Often they claim "it was just a joke" or "it wasn't that bad" and "don't take it so seriously". It is that bad, and people remember it for the rest of their lives. I have taught my kids about bullying from a very early age - not only should they never behave in a bullying way, but they should always stand up to bullies even if they are not the targets. There are too many silent witnesses. Thank you for not being one of them! It amazes me that people criticise bloggers like Eden and Mrs Woog for being successful and wanting to make money from their talent and hard work - makes me feel like feminism never happened when women are being bagged for wanting to be economically successful and recognised. The idea that they should still be doing everything purely for love and never expect any financial return or success. Ugh! Sorry about this super long reply!

  15. Thanks for bringing this out - united we stand and all of that. I try and remember that for every idiot who tries to knock me down, there are two that will help me back up xxx

  16. Beautiful Carly! How on earth can we expect our kids to behave online if we're not setting a good example!

  17. Finally got to this post! I mostly covered my feelings in our chat session earlier in the week, and we are in complete agreement. Good on you for encouraging a supportive, inclusive, safe community!


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