The Dark Side Of The Blogosphere
There are times I feel we are all tiptoeing around on an online world made of eggshells. Our lack of openness and honesty may save us from judgement and vulnerability, but it keeps so many lessons and so much raw beauty from being shared. Today I’m deciding not to tiptoe, instead I am going to leap and dance and run. I think these stories are the best kind of all, even when they don’t end in a happily ever after.
It has taken me a long time to write about this. I thought that if I talked about it here I would be fuelling the negativity. Now I realise that by talking about it I have the power to turn it into something positive. Words can hurt but they can also heal. I know this will be rambling, but please hear me out. I may be known for my writing and my blog but at my core I am still just a sixteen, almost seventeen year old girl from a small town, no better than anyone else. No amount of exposure has made me any less sensitive or any less capable of making mistakes. I’ll never be good enough but that is what growing as a person is all about. I was a young teenager when I started my blog. It felt like a digital home that I could fill with all that I loved. The things I saw and felt that set sparks off inside me. Back then I didn’t know the ways in which it would shape me, the ways it would change my life. In so many extraordinary ways but in a few darker ways too.
My first taste of the dark side of blogging was a email late one night. It was an woman on the other end and she told me my friends hated me, people only liked my blog because I was young, I was ugly and I deserved to die. I couldn’t sleep that night, I could only cry. I couldn’t hate anyone, not even the boys who mocked me , or the girls who’d teased me cruelly at school. Yet here was a total stranger whose voice dripped with hatred for me, and I was caught wondering if I deserved it. I was twelve or thirteen, and the more I blogged the worse it became. I received hate-mail thousands of words long. Then websites filled with anonymous haters. In those first years I took it all to heart, labelling people’s issues with me as my ‘flaws’. I thought if I was good enough no one would hate me and so I needed to change. I even felt guilty that who I was had caused people to feel so negatively. So I wasn’t quite as cheery or loving, I toned down my writing and confidence and I didn’t share as openly. It didn’t matter if I had good intentions or genuinely wanted to make the world a better place. Every time I shared anything my head filled with countless judgemental voices, picking it all apart.
I knew reading all the hatred was making me upset but it was so littered with lies and assumptions I was afraid if I didn’t clear them up people would believe them. Words have influence, even when they aren’t true. It wasn't just online. At school there was a girl determined to make me out as a liar and a cheat, and if I ever did well she was there to make sure I didn't take pride in any of it. It seemed like people became my friends to try to get ‘gossip’ out of me and it became harder to trust people. I am embarrassed that I let it get to me, and I am embarrassed sharing this. It feels like I am looking for pity but I am not. I always felt like I was being weak. After all, didn’t I know deep down that all I had was the present and it only had to affect me as much as I let it? Didn’t I know that every single person could be torn to pieces, that not one of us is perfect? Didn’t I feel how much support and love surrounded me? It is a sad thing that if we don’t fight it, darkness can be heavier than light even when the light is so much greater.
Later that year I decided to stop reading the hate, and that meant deleting my very first blog. I also deleted social media ; so I wouldn't have to pretend to be friends with and completely connected to the people who seemed destined to hate me. I thought, let the lies and the gossip be. The people I want in my life will be able to see through it, and will give me a chance. I am not my past and I embrace my failures, they have taught me even more than my successes. If I am secure in who I am and the decisions I make, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks. I do my best and be my best and that is as much as I can do. Have trust in me.
One day I was out with my friend Ronnie, and I remember she said to me “You don’t need to post about your life. You’re a story-teller. You have a choice to not make it personal.” She was right and her words have stuck with me for years. It made me think about why I did blog the way I do. Why I choose vulnerability.
When I started Woebegone this year, I was determined to stop posting solely about writing and so started sharing my thoughts. It was a new name, a new blog, a new perspective, all coming from a slightly wiser writer. Not long later, an interesting thing happened. The emails I received were no longer short comments from people saying they loved my work before telling me to read their blog. I began getting intense, deep emails from people who told me my honesty and perspective have had a lasting impact on their lives. That my words had gifted them courage to follow their dreams or that I had showed them the beauty in the world they had overlooked. My life lessons became theirs too. They are my reason.
I don’t feel angry at anyone who has set out to bring me pain. I know it sounds very unlike me, because my friends will know just how annoyed some people can make me, but I feel like I do love everyone because I know we’re all the same. We’re all making decisions based on the experiences we’ve had, all wanting to be loved and understood. I like to think that the people who do and say cruel things anonymously online aren’t fully realising the hurt they are causing the people they attack. As though they think we’re not as real as they are. There are many ways to justify hate but at the end of the day it is still hate. I feel that if you wouldn’t say it in the real world, don’t say it online. Strangely sometimes I am grateful for it. It toughened my skin and helped me to let go of a lot of my ego. I remember reading the hate one day and thinking “if I didn’t know myself, I might not like myself after this” and that realisation made me question the way I felt about everyone. It made me think twice before I spoke badly about another person.
Though I have almost quit a few times, I have kept on. I don’t know what the future holds but I know I will always want to use the skills and time I have to do good for other people. I may not be solving world hunger or climate change, but it is something. I can give more and I will. This world (both real and online) is filled with too much darkness and it needs much more light. I have written this post as a call to action. Whenever you see unnecessary negativity or hate online or in real life, speak up against the hate with kind intentions. Let’s make the world a kinder place.
P.S. People will always find a way to invalidate how you feel; whether you are too young, too old, too inexperienced, too feminine, too masculine, too this or that. It’s up to you to validate your feelings for yourself. It always has been. And it always will be. Don't let the muggles get you down.