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Hot Topic: Dealing with Twitter abuse and trolling

We asked two high-profile Twitter users to share their experiences of online harassment…

Holly Carpenter and Niall Harbison

MEN ARE TARGETED twice as much as women by trolls and abusive users on Twitter, according to a study released last week.

The research, carried out by think tank DEMOS for The Sunday Times, found that men are more often on the receiving end of abuse on Twitter (although males are also behind most of the trolling online). Both men and women more likely to be hostile towards members of their own gender.

We asked two high-profile Twitter users – a woman and a man – to share their experiences of online abuse and harassment, and tips for how they deal with it.

Holly Carpenter

Holly is a model and former Miss Ireland. She blogs at hollycarpenterblog.com and tweets at @Holly0910.

‘Targeting people to upset them is the lowest thing someone can do’

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with social media. A couple of months ago I decided to start a blog, and I’m always posting on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to attract people towards it. I get so much inspiration from Instagram for fashion and make-up looks and I love getting a sneak peek into the lives of the rich and famous. Twitter is great for work as I can keep clients and brands in my good books by retweeting shoots and shows I’ve worked on with them.

Like anything, there’s definitely a negative side of social media. I was a finalist on Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model last year. We would film over 50 hours of content for each episode over a period of three days, which would then be condensed down to a 47 minute show. The show was on every Thursday night and I remember my anxiety would kick in by Tuesday because I never knew how I would be edited and I worried about how things I said could be twisted. I’d sit and watch the show with my family and friends with my phone in my hand and read all of the comments people were making about me. There were some lovely comments from girls saying they thought I was pretty or funny which, naturally, I enjoyed reading. The negative comments were hard to take, though. I pride myself on being capable of speaking my mind and having thick skin, however speaking your mind can get you into trouble and having thick skin is great until someone targets your insecurity and you crumble.

I received tweets like ‘OMG that girl Holly is such a bitch’ or ‘Holly on BINTM isn’t even pretty! How did she get on this show?’ A lot of the time I would just laugh it off or reply saying ‘Thanks pet have a good day’. In one particular episode though, they showed me arguing with another girl who was playing the victim on camera. I came across like I was being nasty for no reason. I got so frustrated watching that episode because I knew I was just defending myself and I knew what had really happened. I got inundated with nasty comments. I remember searching my name on Twitter and reading horrible things about me that were untrue and very hard to take.

I lashed out at a few people and tried to defend myself but then my mum banned me from searching my name on Twitter. I got upset about a comment someone tweeted at me and my mum took my phone and looked at the person’s account. They were no oil painting themselves, had about 20 followers and lived in the middle of nowhere. My mum said ‘are you really going to let some loser sitting in an internet cafe trolling affect your day? Why do you care what they think of you?’ I paused for a few seconds while the penny dropped and then burst out laughing through the tears. That’s my attitude now towards negative trolls online. Instead of rising to it and giving them what I want, I just favourite their tweet or retweet it and let my followers do my dirty work for me.

I sometimes find myself tweeting while I watch shows like ‘Made in Chelsea’ (my number one guilty pleasure) and I’ll write something like ‘what the hell is she wearing’ but then I realise that these girls could be at home watching the show with their mum reading these comments feeling as low as I did. I think everyone should be able to express their opinion and I love a bit of banter but when trolls target people to try to upset them I think it’s the lowest thing someone can do. I just tell myself that these keyboard warriors feel brave sitting behind the safety net of a computer screen but if I ever met them in person they wouldn’t even look me in the eye – let alone attempt to insult me.

I was surprised to read that a study found that men were twice as likely to be the victims of Twitter trolling. I’m aware of cyber bullying but I assumed it stemmed from girls being bitchy and body shaming one and other. When I was in school we only had Bebo and I’m grateful that Facebook wasn’t in my life until I was 18. By then I was aware of the permanent damage you can do to your reputation by posting the wrong picture or writing the wrong status. I deleted my Bebo when I entered Miss Ireland (thank God). There are 12 year olds on Facebook and Instagram now that I used to babysit and I’m shocked by the articles they’re exposed to online and the pressure they must feel to look good in their photos at such a young age.

You can create a whole persona on social media. Online we only ever show the silver lining of our cloud. I constantly see photos of people’s holidays, pretty selfies, delicious food or tweets about how much fun last night was. You have to remember that you never know what goes on behind closed doors. It’s difficult enough when people are having a tough time at work, at home or in their relationships without the added stress of them looking at their phone in bed before they try to sleep and getting subjected to abuse online. My advice on how to deal with internet trolls is – ignore, delete, block and forget.

Niall Harbison

Niall is an entrepreneur focusing on trends and has just released a book

‘People ripping you apart publicly is something that will always be hard’

I get a ton of abuse on Twitter. I’ve been told to go and hang myself. Told that I am a bald, fat little so-and-so (insert your choice of swear word here) and generally been picked apart as a person by people I’ve never met in my life. What I’ve noticed is that when I only had a few thousand followers everybody was nice but with 20,000 now people are more willing to take a pop at you and try and knock you down. I’ve noticed this to be true in Ireland more than anywhere else because the trait of wanting people to fail is deeply engrained into our psyche. I guess when you do get a few more followers people think of you as the guy on the GAA pitch at Croke Park or the singer at a concert where you can shout abuse as part of a crowd and ‘sure isn’t it only harmless fun anyway?’

I’m lucky that I have fairly thick skin and just laugh it all off anyway, but I could see how it would bother certain people. Just because you have a ton of followers doesn’t mean that you are set up to deal with the abuse directed at you. We all still wake up in the morning, log in on our phone and read tweets just like anybody else and to see people ripping you apart publicly and talking about you as if they know you is something that will always be hard to get used to.

The thing with men on Twitter is that it is often ‘banter’. The social network mimics real life where guys often resort to slagging each other rather than opening up their emotions and actually being nice to their friends like woman do. Banter is fine with people you know and have had a laugh with in real life but banter can often descend into bullying or hurtful abuse very quickly online. Search for any of the nastiest words out there on Twitter and you’ll be appalled by what some people are saying. I know people working in Twitter safety here in Dublin and they do an outstanding job at policing the service and taking content down, but with billions of tweets they are never going to catch everything. They have their finger in the dam but the dam is getting much bigger by the day and, as a community, we need to police ourselves and out friends as much as anything.

I write articles online, am vocal on certain issues and through my book and other activities have gained a lot of publicity. That’s where my following comes from and I know that by doing that I have to trade off certain parts of my life. If I didn’t want any abuse on Twitter I’d keep a low profile, write less opinionated articles and not speak my mind all the time. By putting your life into the public sphere you have to accept that people will slag you, pass comment on what you do and a tiny minority will often overstep the mark. I get 99% good feedback and interactions with people and I’m not going to stop that incredible part of my life just because a couple of nutcases want to be cruel from behind their keyboards.

What I’d always say to people is read the tweet you are about to send out loud then ask yourself “would I say that to someone in the real world?”. If the answer is no then delete it. On the flip side if you are getting abuse online and don’t like it then delete your account like Ryan Tubridy did and just don’t use social media. You can have all the protections in place and be as nice as pie but the simple fact is, people being people, they’ll say nasty things. Twitter and social media in general is a wonderful way of communicating so let’s not ruin it by being nasty and just treat people with respect.

Have you been on the receiving end of online abuse or trolling? How do you deal with it? Let us know in the comments below…

Read: Men get twice as much abuse on Twitter as women

Column: Why internet trolls exist and why they’re unlikely to go away

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About the author:

Holly Carpenter and Niall Harbison

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