Twitter bullying: fame doesn’t make you immune

Celebrity status doesn’t always protect you from internet nastiness

http://www.wo-magazine.com/science-technology/2015/5/19/twitter-bullying-fame-doesnt-make-you-immune

Twitter Bullying: Fame doesn’t make you immune

Bullies of any type are awful. Moreover, the public nature of cyber bullying adds a new painful dimension to the humiliation. The cruel comments last in a physical sense online, almost as if they have been set in stone. And it does seem that celebrities are not immune to the modern phenomenon that is the internet troll. This week, children’s author JK Rowling was the latest celebrity to be picked on by twitter bullies, in a pretty nasty misogynist attack. She responded in an admirably witty and eloquent way but it was a little strange and disorientating to see such a high profile woman being attacked in such a manner. It was, well, humanising.   

Twitter is bloody marvelous as an instant, and incredibly revealing, means of communication. A decade ago, we would have been amazed at the regularity with which we can track the personal, and often startlingly ordinary, thoughts of the super famous which before could only be deciphered through reading between the lines of carefully structured interviews in Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. In the pre twitter age, we knew about their new age philosophy, their punishing yoga routine and their diet of green tea and lentils, all accompanied by photographs airbrushed to a ghostly sheen, computer perfected eyes shimmering like pools of silk staring out of the glossed pages. Now things are very different. We know what type of sandwich they had for lunch. We know about their two year old keeping them up all night. We catch glimpses of their hangovers, their heartbreaks, their racist outbursts. A misplaced, shocking or inappropriate tweet can make headlines. Well placed, witty and relevant tweets can create a personal brand.

Not only has Twitter changed the way in which we view celebrities, it has also altered the manner in which we interact with them, perhaps revealing a little something about us normals in the process. Could it be that we see celebrities as fair game? People often have less sympathy for celebrities, and are more able to separate their feelings from that of everyday human beings. As well as this, there is a common belief that criticism and victimisation comes with the territory, that it is a very slight price tag for an unfathomably glittering and enviable lifestyle. Of course, it is only right and democratic that we criticise the rich and powerful. I for one wouldn’t want to live in society of sycophants and superfans who hang on to the every word of their revered celebrity heroes. Moreover, I must admit, I enjoy a good eye roll at Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest clangers as much as the next person. British satirical humour traditionally draws upon the failings of those who should be seen as top of the social pile.

However, there is a huge difference between criticism and outright nastiness. Do we, after all, have the right to tell celebrities exactly what we think of them over twitter? Does that blue tick of verification act as a shield against meanness? I sincerely don’t think so. Stars such as Matt Lucas, Nicki Minaj and Sinead O’Connor, just to name a few, have been forced to delete their twitter due to relentless online bullying. Unsurprisingly, female celebrities are particularly vulnerable to online bullying which can come in the form of sexual harassment or misogynist abuse. Because of the volume of information that we receive about such celebrities in the media, it is easy for some people to believe that they have insight into a celebrity’s life to an extent to which they are entitled to make personal comments. However, just like all bullies, these types of celebrity twitter trolls are deeply insecure and see the undermining of another person as a means of hiding their own perceived inadequacies. What celebrity twitter bullying shows us that fame, success and good looks do not make you immune to bullying. Nor does this make you thick skinned. Using social media platforms such a Twitter can be fun and informative but does come with a responsibility to keep that a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, no matter who they are.                    

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