Did you see the Odd One Out, Jesy Nelson documentary last night? I have to admit I started to watch it, fully intending to watch it all as Jesy detailed being trolled online. I am ashamed to say that once Jesy started talking about trying to take her own life as a result of the online abuse in 2013 I couldn’t watch anymore. Listening to a young woman detailing how she took an overdose of pills because she was being bullied relentlessly was too much for us and we had to turn over. We saw enough of it though to question why people think it is acceptable to send messages that tell somebody they are fat and should be ashamed of themselves. That they are so ugly they should kill themselves.
Why do other people feel that IS in anyway acceptable though? How have we come to allow social media to be used in a way that destroys a young girl’s life? Where many of us turn a blind eye to hurtful and spiteful tweets at best, or at worst RT and share them with our own followers?
Some of the justifications from people penning such messages have been that they weren’t tagging Jesy in the messages so it was okay.
She had put herself “out there” and should, therefore, expect people to voice their opinions.
Jesy was at fault for reading them then, stay away from them and ignore them.
Gossip has been around forever, this is no different.
One of the messages that had been highlighted in the run up to the programme was this one from Katie Hopkins, which I hadn’t seen at the time as I have blocked the woman. I don’t want to see anything she posts on my timeline and, therefore, I saw this tweet for the first time this week.
Katie justifies it by using two of the above statements, and that if we take offence to it that is wholly our problem. But is it?
Is it okay to put these “opinions” out there just because we should be allowed to voice our opinion? Because we all believe in this thing called free speech?
I don’t believe we should.
Putting these thoughts out into the world feeds the notion that it is okay to say these things. That we are comfortable with our opinion and give zero thought for the person about whom we are speaking. They can’t see the message, we haven’t tagged them, nor named them. So that makes it okay, right?
By putting these sorts of messages out there the person typing it is condoning this behaviour. Telling their readers that it is okay to say these things out loud. That it is fine to bully. To belittle. To be hurtful. Spiteful. Vindictive. I don’t know what size Jesy was, it should be irrelevant, but she freely admitted that in 2013 she had lost weight after the abuse started as soon as Little Mix won X Factor in 2011. Literally as soon as they won it. The next morning after their big win she woke up to a DM on Facebook telling her she was fat and ugly.
In the run up to a performance on X Factor again two years later Jesy had starved herself for a week in order to be as thin as she could be. She looked amazing, like she was having the time of her life, up on stage with her best friends but inside she was bracing herself for the abuse she was sure was still going to follow. Here was a beautiful, talented woman, who should have been living her best life, not starving herself and in the weeks that followed swallowing handfuls of pills in order to try and end her life because of all the abuse. Some of it from the likes of Katie Hopkins above.
Jesy is far from alone either, this sort of bullying is not exclusively directed at “famous people”. I know people with a very small following online, fellow bloggers, who have been the subject of relentless targeted abuse about their appearance. I know stories of children bullied via DMs on instagram by their peers, excluded from Whatsapp groups set up specifically to rip them to shreds behind their backs.
By typing such messages Katie Hopkins et al were showing their readers and followers that picking on another human being for the way they look is acceptable behaviour. That because they are doing it they can do it too if they wish. That if they don’t like it (as I don’t) they can just unfollow and not read it. But that isn’t enough.
Let’s imagine for a second that Katie Hopkins’ own daughter, India comes home from school one day in tears. She has been bullied at school. On the bus. In the changing rooms after PE for being overweight, coming last, not being good enough for the school netball team. Picked last again for athletics. How would Katie Hopkins deal with that? How would she explain to her daughter that bullying is okay on one level but not on another? Or would she try and suggest that India suck it up and grow some balls?
How about a scenario where Mamma Hopkins gets a phone call from the Headmaster to say that her daughter is actually the perpetrator. That there are screen shots of Snapchat messages her daughter has sent to a fellow class mate ridiculing her for an outfit she wore out over the weekend that has resulted in the recipient going to her parents to say she is being bullied online. How would she handle that one?
As parents is it not our job to lead by example? To teach our children how to behave? Not just in terms of washing our hands after we have been to the loo and to say please and thank you, but when we are members of a wider society.
We need to start thinking beyond the words we say out loud. We need to start thinking about what they actually say about us, not the person to whom they are directed, but how they ultimately define who we are.
In the words of Roald Dahl: