30 April 2018

The Blog Boggart: Encountering Online Trolls and Valuing your Voice

Hello free elves. At least, I hope you can find some freedom in your day and sock it to the mind muggles. On my end, I suppose I am "socking it" to self-doubt by posting my latest youtube video, ft. my SPEW Crew (see above photo) and my first ever  giveaway

The last  time I shared the Magical Menagerie on Bumble and Be - Fantastic Beasts and Why to Free Them - I received my first anonymous comment in a very long time... and not the type you would screenshot for a rainy day! Let's just say that it was the blogging equivalent of a boggart, which I suppose makes it a bloggart?  Move over #spon #instagoals... we have a new submission for the blogosphere lexicon! 

Initially, their words tapped into my greatest fears; what people think of me as a person, what they think of my crafts and, perhaps greatest of all, that I am out of touch with reality. So, I had two options. I could listen. I could believe their words and, consequently, allow the mind muggles to control me. Or, I could listen to my own reflections in the same post, along with the magical musings of my beloved Luna:

"You’re just as sane as I am"

Three guesses who I listened to? Obviously, Luna won through. Well, I say 'obviously'... once upon a time this would not have been the case! I spent so many years trying to please others, believing that SOPHIE wasn't 'enough.' A year ago, this comment would have stupefied my crochet hook. I would have placed my copies of Harry Potter on the highest shelf of the tallest bookcase. I would have turned off the light on what I love, purely because someone condemns it.

What's more, I would have been suppressed by someone who can't even own their words. That's the thing about trolls - the real-world kind, that is; not the kind that invades Halloween and gets a wand stuck up their nose. Somewhat unfortunately, social media trolls are altogether more calculating than their wizard world counterparts. Like a boggart, they prey on your deepest insecurities and want to hurt you.

"I suppose that’s how 
They want you to feel" 

It's safe to say that, of all the characters in the wizarding world, Ms Lovegood just 'gets it'. Nevertheless, Luna is exactly the kind of person who social media trolls despise. If she was a blogger, vlogger or 'influencer' in the muggle world, I am certain there would be anonymous commentators saying she's "on another planet"; Daily Mail articles tearing apart her radish earrings, spectrespecs and copies of the quibbler. We see how Luna is bullied at Hogwarts - forced to miss the end-of-year feast, because all her possessions have been stolen.

People may think that a "children's story" has no relevance to the outside world, but Luna epitomises  the real-world challenges of being different. Social media trolls hate anyone who doesn't conform to their narrow lifeless, soulless, prejudiced way of thinking. Like the Dursleys, they are closed off to anything that doesn't stick to the status quo. They use attack as a form of defence, because they are frightened. That's the thing, trolls are frightened and that's why they hide. They are terrified of otherness and want to "stamp it out of you," to quote Uncle Vernon.
Well SOCK IT to those muggles - gone gone are the days when I would allow myself to be stomped on.  I am conscious of making a mountain out of a molehill - I would understand if people thought ' get over yourself snowflake - it was just one comment!' Except it isn't. Truth be told,  I have wanted to write this post for a long time; long before those anonymous words found my blog. I've never spoken publicly about this on my blog or other social media, but for several years I had a tumblr account, which I used to chart my mental health recovery (I emphasise 'recovery', because I consciously avoided any 'pro-ana' blogs and always sought to create a positive space).

In short, it gained more traction than I ever expected, both positive and negative. On the one hand, I know from comments that it helped a lot of people and, most importantly, it helped me. Without that account, I don't think I would have made the progress that I did; what's more, it was my first experience of genuine online friendships which have endured to this day. On the other hand, as my blog grew, so did the number of anonymous comments and some of them were... not repeatable, let's put it that way. Eventually, I disabled the anonymous button, but this couldn't dismantle the words that were already written. Where is Gilderoy when you need him?

Moreover, I saw many other people similarly targeted by trolls - including people I had grown to care a lot about - and it broke my heart. At first, I couldn't comprehend it; these were some of the kindest people I had ever 'met' and already had enough boggarts to to battle inside their own minds. Yet, on   reflection, I realised that this was the very reason they were targeted; it is far easier to project an existing narrative, then try to create one from scratch.
For what its's worth, I want to stress that I am not condemning the concept of criticism! In the world of celebrity and 'influencers', I  feel that the word 'haters' has become a bit of a 'get out of jail' card for handling criticism. For example, one of my longtime favourite vloggers recently collaborated with Rimmel, a couple of years after filming a video on non-cruelty-free brands and calling out "companies who care more about profits than bunnies". So when I saw her promote a brand who does "sell out" and test on animals, I took to twitter and called her out. In her eyes, this may make me a 'hater', but I stand by what I said.
In the same light, I was an unashamed fan of JackMaate's video on the Zoella advent calendar. He was called out as a 'hater' by blindly-devoted fans, but his videos don't go in blind: he has the evidence to back it up! He made this very point in his recent video on Casper Lee, which is really worth watching. Only yesterday, I was having a *healthy* debate with my dad over an article in the paper and retracted one of my comments. I openly acknowledged I 'didn't have all the facts' and moved on from there.

"If you’re holding out 
for universal popularity, 
I’m afraid you will be 
in this cabin for a long time."

No one is above criticism, especially when you put your views out there. I acknowledge that, by leaving a digital 'footprint', others are free to analyse my tracks. Nonetheless, There is a big difference between constructive criticism and the destructive world of trolling. On the other side of the fence, you have Daily Mail readers who would call out Meghan Markle for breathing. Within the blogosphere, we had the infamous case of Black Moose vs Elle Darbywhich saw hundreds of bloggers come to her defence. While I didn't entirely agree with her initial email, the subsequent hate she got was unwarranted.

From the faceless commentators on youtube and tumblr, to the targeted typing of anonymous tweeters, the words we put online are just as powerful as those offscreen. At its worst, social media trolls can have a devastating impact on mental health and, as our society becomes evermore digitised, I worry it will only get worse. Anonymous sites such as Ask.fm are a notorious platform for trolls and exploit vulnerability. As I said earlier, this goes far beyond my personal experience; trolls are an epidemic of the social media world and need to be called out. I realise my voice is only a drop in the ocean, but it's something.

To come back to the title of this post, my voice has value. Not everyone has to agree with it, but it has a right to be heard. For many people, my blog content may seem quite disparate, yet it all comes back to one thing my voice. Whether I'm writing about harry potter, crochet, cruelty-free living, mental health or online trolls, Bumble and Be is my place to talk, without censorship or shame.

Everyone has the right to a voice, which includes having an opinion and being free to share it. At the same time, everyone has a right to their values; a right to be respected; a right to BE.

Do you have any personal experience of online trolling? 

How do you think we can challenge it in the future?

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