The experiences I’ve had with social media have been complex and constant since I was about 10 years old. There was MSN, forums of various kinds which my horrible pre-teen self and friends would troll just to get banned, Bebo, Myspace, Facebook, Instagram, then Twitter, (and now WordPress, too).
I started my body positive journey after I left a really awful ex. It was a grossly messy breakup and I needed to remind myself I had some worth, so I started browsing fat positive tags on Tumblr. A lot of these were hypersexualised, but it was quite revolutionary to me to see the fat body represented in a positive (if problematic, pornified) way.
I moved to instagram where many of the same people operated, and started plugging into a community of plus size fashion bloggers – for a while I even enjoyed brief (if relatively minor) success as one of their number. And this was my direct introduction to the world of internet trolling.
Being a Fat Person in Public is hard enough, but being one with an instagram account is like a dog whistle to the dregs of human slime. They come crawling from every drain. I’m now a fat artist who’s subject matter is fat or otherwise atypical bodies, and because my work and life straddles the artistic and socio-political sphere in such a way as to make the trolls feel morally justified (‘we’re doing them a favour by showing them how unhealthy they are’ etc.) they love to share their thoughts with me and my followers as if I’ve begged them for it.
For anyone who’s confused: someone having a social media platform is not an open invitation for any passing traffic to vomit themselves into the comments. If it’s offensive for a recognisably justified reason (violence, unfiltered pornography, misogyny, racism, homophobia… the list goes on) please report the offending article and move on.
Don’t waste your time with this:
If you try this nonsense the likelihood is that I’ll troll you right back just to waste your time as much as you’re wasting mine. “If you can’t convince them, confuse them”.
I used to believe that not ‘feeding the trolls’ was the best way to handle it. But that does nothing but tell us that our strongest response is to do nothing. And if we do nothing, we lose – if we collectively draw a line in the sand past which we don’t allow this rubbish then we may gradually stop them from trying.
Because the trolls do hurt people. In an age where cyber bullying is very, very real and more invasive than any other kind, we can’t just choose to turn the other cheek. There’s no door to close on them, and if we want engagement with our peers or have to use social media for the purposes of promoting our art we don’t have the choice to quit these forums.
If we’re speaking for the oppressed, then we have to speak up when we encounter oppression – even on this scale (which people will dismiss as ‘jokes’ – as if your choice of humour doesn’t have an impact on those around you). In fact we especially have to be defensive on this scale, because it’s an uphill battle having any more social power than what’s afforded to us by our various internet accounts.
It’s not necessary to agree with my message (I mean if you don’t think all human beings deserve autonomy and to live an un-tortured life then you’re pretty awful and on the wrong side of history). It is necessary that your own message doesn’t dismiss or harm the existence of others. So if you’re going to be rude, in my house, under my photographs, then I’m going to show you up for the fool you are or I’m going to fight with you. And then I’ll block you. Because rather than taking away my voice, I’m going to take away yours, and see how you feel.