Today I did something I don’t often do: I looked at the trending topics on Twitter. Most of them were related to football and, oddly enough, Sally Webster, but there was one I didn’t recognise.
At the time I looked Sydney Dalton was the 6th highest trending topic. Heard of her? I’m guessing if you’re over sixteen you probably haven’t. I hadn’t until today, but out of curiosity I looked at some of the tweets.
These are genuine tweets:
Beliebers and Directioners Let’s get together & kill Sydney Dalton 🙂 can’t believe Liam took photos with that whore
@sydneydalton go die!!!!!!! Hate Bieber that means I HATE you Sydney Dalton FAKE Bitch!!!!!
Sydney Dalton. Fuck you. If you rip any one direction posters then you WILL die and i will personally do it myself
Let me fill you in. Sydney Dalton used to like Justin Bieber. She met him, apparently she had his phone number, she was part of the “Bieber Army” (which seems to be a group of fans on Twitter who call themselves a family). Then she outgrew him and posted a playful video on YouTube of her friends and her ripping down her Justin Bieber posters. Apparently this is a crime worthy of capital punishment.
You may have noticed in the tweets that “Directioners” are also upset with Sydney. This is because she posted a video of herself meeting One Direction on YouTube and now their fans are up in arms because she might go off them and rip their posters down too.
Pop bands. Posters.
This girl received so much abuse and so many death threats that she was trending worldwide for more than twenty four hours. Apparently she trended for longer over the original poster-ripping scandal.
This is a teenage girl who liked a singer, stopped liking him and started liking someone else. I think ALL teenage girls are guilty of that. I was adamant I would never love anyone but Mark Owen, but Take That split up and I got over it. Then years later I discovered he couldn’t keep it in his pants and was glad I didn’t marry him after all.
Being fickle, discovering what you like and what you don’t, learning who you are – it’s all part of growing up. Having crushes on pop stars teaches you a lot, and one of the things you learn is that it’s okay to change your mind.
You might think “they’re only tweets, they don’t really mean anything” but to the people who receive them they mean a lot. It’s no different from having names thrown at you in the playground, except that there are thousands more people to join in.
Do you remember how frightening it was to be bullied? Or how lonely you felt if you were called names? How isolating it was to be talked about? On Twitter people you have never met, who you will never meet, can air their opinion of you and no one is there to stop them.
When I was at school I had a group of close friends who I worshipped. One weekend when we were fifteen they “decided” to fall out with me and for weeks after I got called “fridge” (because only having kissed one boy meant I was “frigid”, which was a huge crime). They would put other people’s stuff in my bag and accuse me of stealing. Things only really got better when one of them threatened me and I stood up to her and told her she didn’t scare me. I was lying, of course; I was shaking so badly she would have been able to knock me over in an instant, but it seemed as though I took some control back.
But how do you take control back when your bullies are thousands of faceless girls? How do you cope with a torrent of abuse from anonymous bullies? Occasionally I get a tweet from someone who disagrees with something I say and they’ll swear at me and use aggressive language, and even in my thirties it makes my heart beat faster.
Today, for posting tweets saying that what was happening to Sydney was bullying, I got tweets from “Beliebers” and “Directioners” calling me a c*nt, telling me it was none of my business and asking me to politely f*ck off and die. For defending a young woman from a mob of would-be executioners.
Recently a series of celebrities have come forward to discuss their experience of cyberbullying. Cher Lloyd spoke openly about how low the comments made her, and Jesy from Little Mix cried during her X Factor interviews because of tweets about her weight. I’m sure we all remember Rebecca Black, of ‘Friday’ fame, and her dream of making a pop video.
In 2003 Ryan Halligan committed suicide after being accused of being gay and having his personal emails and IMs shared online. In 2006 Megan Meier hanged herself after being bullied on MySpace.
Ryan and Megan were both thirteen years old.
Perhaps the girls sending death threats to Sydney, or to Rebecca Black, or Cher Lloyd, have never stopped to consider that they’re hurting anyone. Perhaps they forget, from behind a screen, that it’s a real person they’re talking about, and that the girl they’re telling to kill herself might actually do it.
But when I asked one of them how she would feel if she later heard that Sydney had taken her own life I was told “she deserves it! She’s a c*nt! Whore!”
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how we help people like Sydney or Rebecca. But I do know that I’ll be teaching Ted how disgusting bullying is. Maybe that’s all we can do.
Bullying used to be a symptom. Bullies needed extra support, perhaps emotional or educational, and the bullied could be supported too. But cyberbullying is so easy to miss until it’s too late. You can’t see the bruises and you don’t hear the taunts, but the words on Twitter or Facebook and the videos on YouTube have the same effect.
I’m glad the Internet wasn’t around when I was young. I sometimes find it difficult to press “block” on Twitter now, but fifteen years ago I would have been a wreck.
Please educate your children. Make sure they know how to stay safe, how to report abuse and who they should talk to if they’re being bullied.
But please also talk to them about what cyberbullying is and how much their words, perhaps thrown out without a thought, can hurt someone else.
Please tell them about Ryan and about Megan.
I was asked why Sydney’s welfare was any of my business when I’m not a “Directioner”. Bullying is everyone’s business and it will take us all to stamp it out.
Please start stamping.
I wrote a follow-up
to this piece when I received a comment that upset me even more.