A friend of mine became a media celebrity as a child and I’m so glad it happened then, and not now.
For the most part, my friend’s moment of fame was treated with kindness, and even the most unflattering image wasn’t that mean.
Today, that same video could have ruined her life. When I watched the video the first time, I grinned with utter glee. Then my heart sank.
Had that happened today, my friend would have been made into cruel memes, and trolled horrifically. Her image would have been mocked and used, and she would have become a punchline. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and protect her.
The internet is incredible. The friends I make are invaluable. Having a voice is empowering.
The internet also eats people alive. Last month, the stress of constant trolls on Quora actually plunged me into bleak depression, and thankfully, a friend took me to look at goats. Getting offline was life-saving.
I spoke to a mentor today, and told him how bad it made me feel to constantly be insulted. “I know I shouldn’t let it bother me…”
He stopped me. “It gets into you,” he noted.
It does. One bad comment doesn’t hurt…usually. But so many comments, day after day after day? It seeps inside and poisons me, because I don’t understand, why do they hate me so much? It’s this deeply personal hatred from people I have never met.
I’ve had posts talking about how people would love to gas my family. I’ve been threatened with violence, including rape and murder. I’ve been dehumanized and attacked. I try not to let it matter, I try to quickly delete, but sometimes, on a day when I’m stressed, a comment will hold me off balance.
I remember once being pilloried online by a Quora Space, where everyone could say nasty things about me. Quora shut it down, but I still felt like I had been brought back to pilgrim times in the public square, exposed to the mob for abuse. I felt this terror, “Burn the witch.”
I was told not to let people know how much pain it caused me, but I refuse to cover up their abuse. I don’t have to keep a stiff upper lip. Maybe having the separation of keyboard and screen makes me seem like a concept, not a person, but the reality is, they are hurting me. They are attacking me. They should know and they should be ashamed of themselves for it.
And the upsides can be just as unnerving. Being praised and mobbed with comments and people acting like you are someone special can be emotionally overwhelming. It becomes a bit of an addiction in one sense, because I want the praise, and feel myself wanting compliments instead of achievement. It’s also a bit of a letdown, because you feel like an imposter, unworthy of such florid words.
It’s times like that where Krav Maga is my salvation. The unquestioning love and support of my community is my refuge. My friends there may choke me and take me to the floor and bruise me, but they never hurt me. They want me to be better.
Fame is addictive. Fame is empowering. Fame opens doors. Even in my tiny corner, being well read is an amazing feeling and I plan to use it as much as I can.
But I also know the price it costs, and I imagine the more famous I was, the steeper the price. I’m still a small fish, and I feel the pressure. I can’t imagine what someone with ten times my fame must feel.
Going forward, I have made the choice to interact less with people online and use it as a job, to be used to further my career goals. I’m no longer going to let myself engage very much online. I post, and I’m done. No more searching my name, no more reading the comments of anything that even smells hostile. Instead, I’m going to live offline, where I’m not famous at all, but I’m loved and supported, and where so many wrap their arms around me and protect me.
I’m happy my friend escaped that cruelty with time. I escaped it with the place.
We are both so fortunate.