After being relentlessly and horrendously bullied on Twitter, Charlotte Dawson is now in hospital.
I know Charlotte. I know what a good person she is and how much time and passion she dedicates to charities and causes she believes in. She champions the underdog and goes out of her way to stand up for people who need help and protection. That there are people out there who could be so cruel to someone like her breaks my heart.
She has been hospitalised, like so many other people have been, because of the pointless behaviour of others. This is what happens when you bully people. This is exactly what happens.
When you are cruel to another human being for a laugh, or to make yourself feel powerful, or to impress your friends, or simply because you enjoy it, you have absolutely no idea what effect you are having on that other person.
I get trolled. Some days I shrug it off and get on with my life.
Other days, the nastiness leaves me in tears. Why? Because some days I’m already having a rough time. Some days I’ve had a fight with a friend, or I’ve lost a job, or I’m sick or miserable or any number of things. On days like that, opening up my Twitter account to find people hating on me can be the final straw.
It’s a pretty rotten indictment on the so-called social media ‘revolution’ that we now consider a good day as being one where no-one rips into us on Facebook or Twitter. You know what that should be? A normal day. In a normal day, being personally attacked for your political beliefs, your chosen profession, your sexuality or your gender simply shouldn’t happen.
It didn’t happen to me before social media took over. Abuse was limited to people actually saying it to my face, yelling at me from an audience or writing me a letter.
No surprises for guessing that people are a lot less game to abuse me in public. I probably copped that kind of nasty crap a handful of times a year. It was so rare that it didn’t bother me and often I had friends or colleagues with me when it happened.
In other words, I had a support network. Thanks to social media, we don’t have those support networks any more. We are all vulnerable to attack by hundreds of people at once when we are completely alone.
And this is the world the next generation is growing up in.
This is the world they consider normal. Of course bullying has always existed. There are all kinds of awful stories of physical and verbal abuse in schoolyards and workplaces but now, unless you want to completely cut yourself off from the digital world, there is no escaping it.
Bullying now invades every moment of our lives.
If you get on Facebook or Twitter or the online comments section of an article and throw hate at another human being, you have no idea what harm you are causing. None.
Just because the person you abuse ignores you, it doesn’t mean you haven’t injured them. Just because they retweet your comment and claim it didn’t bother them, there’s no proof that’s actually true. And just because they joke about it doesn’t mean they are not covering up the fact that you and the hundreds of other people joining in the bullying aren’t hurting them incredibly.
Someone I admired and adored committed suicide a few years ago.
I still think about him almost every day. I think about the fact that I had no idea that he suffered from depression. He was always happy and always funny. He hid what was really going on from almost everyone else. If I’d known he was in trouble, I would have been there for him in a heartbeat. The fact that none of us knew he needed help will haunt me forever.
There are people like him on Twitter. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. The world is full of people who show the online world one face, while privately suffering with another. How do you know the person you’re telling to die isn’t one of them? Even if they write back and mock you in return, how do you know they’re not bawling their eyes out while they do it?
Not knowing the effect of your abuse does not absolve you of responsibility.
If the person you attack winds up in hospital you have to accept that your actions were most likely a contributing factor. Just because no-one hauls you before a judge doesn’t mean you aren’t guilty.
I don’t know how we handle this. Trolls and bullies will always exist. We can’t insist that everyone on Twitter disclose their identity because in countries where freedom of speech is severely curtailed, anonymity means the difference between life and death.
We can’t lock up everyone who writes something cruel either. Firstly, it’s impractical and secondly, for all the bullying campaigns and punitive measures already in place, none of it has made any real difference.
Ignoring the trolls is the most pointless argument of all.
The Jesus-like directive to turn the other cheek just means there’s another cheek to hit. Charlotte didn’t get trolled last night because she retweets and responds to bullies, she was trolled because there are people in the world who enjoy doing it and she stuck her head up on television to call them out. I doubt it would have made a lick of difference to the amount of abuse she received if she had chosen to just sit at home and cop it silently.
Ignoring something in the hope that it will go away doesn’t work. And expecting people to silently accept bullying, or to censor their personal beliefs in an effort to avoid abuse means the trolls get to set the agenda.
I have no solutions to offer. None. I do, however, have a plea.
If you’re a troll, ask yourself this: is it worth it? Putting all of the bullshit bravado and excuses aside, is contributing to the suffering of a fellow human being really what you want to be spending your time doing on this planet ?
The greatest change you make in the world should be for good. That should be the example you set for others. That should be your contribution. That should be your legacy. Your time here is so short.
Hurting another human being is a pointless waste of the life you have been given.
Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.
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*Corinne Grant is a stand-up comedian, MC, presenter, writer and broadcaster and has performed both nationally and internationally. In addition to her years on Rove Live and The Glasshouse, she has appeared on everything from Spicks and Specks to Dancing With The Stars to Good News Week. She has co-hosted successful national radio shows, performed countless solo live shows and appeared everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to the Kalgoorlie Arts Centre.