In light of the discussion this week about cyberbullying and Twitter abuse, which resulted in Rebecca Marino and Laura Robson deleting their Twitter accounts (Laura has since reinstated it) I figured I'd post this email exchange I had with Slate's Emily Bazelon a few years ago. Bazelon was working on a project about bullying at the time, the result of which will be released as a book this week. The book is called "Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy" and I'm looking forward to reading it. I've followed Bazelon's reporting about the issue over the years and the results of her research should be interesting. Here's a link to Bazelon's recent appearances on The Colbert Report and NPR's Fresh Air. Both worth a watch/listen.
When the project began she put a call out for stories about bullying and online abuse. I reached out to her to tell the story of the time I was targeted via this site. At the time I was publicly pretty quiet about it. I didn't fight back, I knew it was going on, and I tried to take the high road and ignore the hurtful things that were said about me and my friends. I told the story to my close friends in a "can you believe this hilarious story" tone but deep down, yeah, it bothered me.
The thing is, it's all well and good to tell the victims of online abuse to suck it up, grow thicker skin, and ignore the vitriol from complete and utter strangers. But the bottom line is that we're all fragile people and I'm thankful for the fact that at the time of this incident I was in a pretty good headspace. It was easy then to dismiss what was being said. But had I been in a different headspace, had I been in a depressive state or if it was a time of my life when I was genuinely questioning myself, my self worth, and my self-esteem, things could have turned out differently.
Because that's the thing. You never know where the target of your anger, meanness, or viscious comments is at the moment they read your shit. What can be, at least to you, a critical but mild comment, could be the thing that sets someone off. It could be, in that moment, the absolute worst thing that person could hear. We can say "oh, you're being oversensitive" and "toughen up", but isn't that basically victim-blaming? I can't think that's the solution here.
Despite my willingness to stay above the fray I would be lying if said I didn't spend many sleepless nights wondering what I had done to suffer the wrath of these strangers. People who I thought liked what I did, who I valued as members of a community and who I thought valued me as well. Much of this incident still lives with me. I think of it often because the whole thing was so confusing to me. To this day I simply do not understand it.
So here's my exchange with Bazelon. I'm now good friends with a number of the people who were involved in this gambit. I hold no grudges. It was the incident, not the people, that was hurtful. Because of that I've redacted names because I know a number of those who were a part of this feel absolutely horrible about it and have gone out of their way to let me know that. I've appreciated that more than they'll know.
But I thought I would share it because I hope people understand that even the most innocuous of things (from their perspective) can really fuck people up. And what you think might be a passing comment could burrow its way into a person's head for years. I've never been called a cunt to my face. But I have online. Funny how that happens.
Hey remember those FD Podcasts? Those were really fun and I genuinely miss them if for no other reason than having an excuse to talk to Lexi, Christina, Victoria, and Brodie on a weekly basis and drop F-bombs and play Marry, Boff, Kill and all that fun stuff.
So yes, I miss them. I understand other people miss them too. Maybe one day we'll get the band back together but the fact is most of us have kind of moved on with our lives and are either dodging shrapnel in undisclosed locations or work in tennis now and those conversations are probably not all that appropriate in a publicly disseminated podcast. Don't get me wrong, the conversations still happen. I just don't record them anymore. It's just called "The Way The World Works."
But my good friend Ben Rothenberg who writes for The New York Times and I do another podcast called "No Challenges Remaining" and we try to keep that same fun and off-the-cuff conversational vibe in a more structured format.
We have a new episode up, our 25th if you can believe it. You can listen to it here. I talk about how The Following scared the living shit out of me. So yeah, totally related to tennis all of it.
You can "like" our Facebook page to keep up to date with new episodes. Please do.
Has this unsolicited self-promotion made me horribly uncomfortable on the verge of tears and diarhea? Yes. I really haven't changed that much.