Monday, 19 September 2016

To Troll or Not To Troll

Something major happened this week.

Something that there have been whispers about in the body positive community for months... could it be true? How will it work? Is it possible that Instagram is actually acknowledging the troll problem?! It looks like they might be. This week Instagram introduced a new feature that allows you to moderate your comments, you can choose to ban key words or phrases ('obesity epidemic' and 'vote trump' spring to mind), or turn off comments altogether. Obviously we were all pretty excited about this, it was like we'd finally been given our very own can of dickhead repellent spray. Finally we could go on our phones without fear of being emotionally sucker punched by gangs of 13 year old boys with cars as their profile pictures. Hallelujah! But it didn't take too long for a couple of practical problems with the feature to pop up: 

  • First of all, if a troll writes a comment with a banned word, that comment is hidden, it won't show up on the post. Which is all fine and dandy until the troll realises that there are plenty of other words they can string together to deliver their hatred with. If they're really determined, a few banned words aren't gonna stop them.
  •  Secondly, their comments might be hidden, but the troll is still there, skulking around your page, lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on the next unsuspecting bikini picture that offends them so much. And if their comments are hidden, you won't even know they're there. I don't know about you, but I find that pretty creepy.
  • And lastly, if you ban the bad, you're gonna ban some of the good too. For example, let's say I ban the phrase 'you're fat' (a classic troll favourite), I'll also be banning the amazing comment someone took forever to write explaining how someone called them fat but they overcame, and wanted to share their body positive triumph on my page. On top of that I'd be banning all the brilliant comments from people who've successfully reclaimed the word fat (because fat is not a bad word) and are actually trying to send a compliment like 'you're fat and fabulous!' or 'people keep saying you're fat like there's something wrong with it lol'. And I love those comments!

So far the feature seems like a great thing if maybe you get really offended by swear words and just don't want to see them, but I don't think it's gonna be the ultimate troll slaying weapon Instagram wants it to be. But it did get me thinking... even if there was a foolproof way to stop the trolls commenting, would I do it? Some days - in a heartbeat. Those days when you're already feeling a bit delicate and the last thing you need is someone you don't even know on the internet trying to tear you down. There are days when a notification pops up on my phone and a little wave of dread sweeps over me thinking about what potential fuckery I'm about to face. But even on those days, I know that whatever it is hiding in the comment section, I can handle it. It might annoy me, irritate me, make me sad for a little while that people actually still think that way, but it doesn't have the power to truly hurt me. And there's no way I would be able to feel that way unless I'd faced my fair share of trolls.

In the words of Kelly Clarkson (Nietzsche totally stole it from her), what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And damn, have trolls made me stronger. I used to be someone who could crumble into a puddle of tears at the mere suggestion that my handwriting was messy or that my hairstyle didn't really suit me. I had to please everyone. And when I knew I hadn't, I fell apart. I still remember my first Instagram troll, they commented on my first ever #donthatetheshake video, that I posted about 6 weeks into my body positivity discovery, and that I was absolutely terrified about. They wrote that Taylor Swift never intended for her song to be abused like that... that's right, apparently Taylor Swift never intended for her dance song to be danced to. Still, I was mortified. I seriously considered shutting down my page then and there. But I didn't. Instead I let it hit me for as long as it took, and then I carried on. Since that first troll awakening I've had it all, some of my favourites include:

'Have you considered losing about 70 pounds? It would be really good for you' this one was from a woman, by the way, which I always find so much worse, like babe, internalised misogyny much?

'I'd get my dick out for you but it would never get hard. You'll have to lose a lot of weight before I'd have sex with you' I love the complete entitlement of thinking every woman wants to have sex with you, and that your penis has the power to dictate who gets to like themselves and who doesn't. Put it away, please.

'LOOK! A SAVAGE FAT WHALE APPEARS!' I got this one last week and it actually made me laugh, I really think women everywhere could benefit from being more savage on a daily basis.

And then there's this one, which is probably the most horrific thing anyone has ever said to me: 
'I would rather die than look like you.'

There's some pretty brutal stuff there. But the thing that those trolls don't realise, is that with every single comment my skin gets a little bit thicker. I get a little bit more powerful. Their hits get weaker every time. At this point, on a good day, I'm indestructible. And if those comments disappeared entirely, I think my armour would get depleted quite quickly. If I didn't have to channel that strength so often, I'm not sure it would stick around. And you know what? I'd rather be strong and face the hate, than let it go and be easily breakable again.

And there's another benefit to keeping the trolls around - they are living reminders of how much work we have to do. Sometimes you get a little bit caught up in a body positive bubble of smiles and rainbows and belly roll love, and then when you re-enter the real world it's always a shock to the system to remember that most people don't think that way. Most people still think it's okay to comment on people's bodies, bully, shame and harass people based on what they look like. And sure, some days that can be disheartening as hell, thinking about the sheer amount of hate there is out there. But other days, it is our driving force. It's the thing that keeps us going. It's what we're fighting against. When a troll comments on your post, their intentions are to wound you, make you doubt yourself, maybe even stop what you're doing altogether so that they can keep their worldview nice and narrow. Ironically, they're doing the opposite. They're showing just how badly we need to keep going, keep believing in this, and keep showing why they're so wrong. There is a body positive world takeover happening, and we need to keep kicking ass.

So I won't be using the comment moderating feature. I'll keep banishing trolls to the block dungeon when I see them, mainly because I never want their comments to hurt someone else who might see them, or set them back on their recovery/self love journey. My page will always remain a safe space for positive interaction. But I'll keep seeing those comments, on purpose. I'll keep letting my skin grow thicker and reminding myself of why we do this. But I also want to say that if someone else does choose to use the feature, I am 100% behind their decision.

You see, I can say these things about trolls and online hate because I benefit from a serious amount of privilege. I do not get anywhere NEAR the amount of hate that some of my fellow body posi babes get, and I know that. I also know that the reason I get off lightly is because of my size, my in between chubbiness that doesn't spark as much poisonous fat hatred as people with larger bodies than me get, despite the fact that we're spreading exactly the same message. To a lot of people, what I'm doing is fine because I haven't 'taken it too far', they can get on board with body positivity as long as it isn't full blown fat acceptance. The fact that I do believe in full blown fat acceptance goes unnoticed by them, the message is okay because of the body that's delivering it. And of course that makes a difference when it comes to the amount of trolling I get.

I once spent an hour helping my friend Dani (@chooselifewarrior) clean up just ONE of her posts that'd been taken over by trolls. I deleted over 700 comments. I am completely aware that I don't have to deal with that level of hatred, and that I would probably feel differently about all this if I did. No matter how strong you are, no amount of armour will leave you unscathed from dealing with that on a daily basis. And I fully support anyone's right to protect themselves from that the best they can.

And one last thing - even though I'm thankful to the trolls for helping me become the badass, thick skinned woman I am today, I am a million times more thankful for all of the people who take the time to show love and support for my page. You never go unnoticed, and I truly appreciate you being here more than I can say. Even when I just can't find the time to reply (if I did I would have to be on my phone for about 12 hours every day), I see you, and I'm sending you so much love. Thank you for what you allow me to do, and be. And I promise, I'll never stop. I'm too much of a savage fat whale to quit now.