You would have to be living under a rock not to notice the conversations happening on social media right now. After the Euro 2020 and all its ups and downs, a load of trolls and bullies took to social media in the most violent of ways with racist comments and tweets. Over the past few days, people, both online and offline have rallied together to stand up against this vitriol.

There was an empowering gathering of locals in Manchester around the portrait of Marcus Rashford, who, in turn, posted the positive and heart-felt comments from children who had sent in sweet letters of support. And others have started to sign petitions and highlight ways in which you can reveal and stop bullies on social media. Is this the only way to stop trolls in their tracks? To kill them with kindness?

It’s personal

As a person who rarely uses social media (ironic, I know, considering I write for an online magazine), I have not truly had an insight into how people use it for evil. My closest shave with this weird underworld, was probably after a very brief appearance on a daytime TV programme. When it went live, there were a few saddos tweeting from their living rooms: “what a waste of license money and another reason to defund the BBC”, “It’s a no from me”, “don’t give up the day job”, “it’s excruciating”… and so on. Obviously, these comments are hardly a dagger through the heart. But it did keep me scrolling and had me looking at more comments about the way I spoke and judgements about my home life (although, they were probably right about my overuse of the word ‘like’ now I come to think of it).

And while these puny tweets preoccupied my mind for about half a day, imagine how this would be ALL THE TIME. Imagine how these comments would slowly take you down.

Anyone on TV, on social media or simply in the public eye is open to criticism. Obviously, not all criticism is bad; some of it opens up discussion and it’s important to challenge different points of view. However, downright bullying is simply unacceptable. And those saddos, who are sitting in their unwashed beds, surrounded by half eaten Wotsits and using their anonymity to take people down, seem to be getting worse – or at least, it seems virtually impossible to stop them.

Bullies are those saddos, who sit in their unwashed beds, surrounded by half-eaten Wotsits and use their anonymity to take people down

Lessons we can learn from Love Island (…for real)

Take this year’s Love Island, for example. I’ve not been watching it, but it has transpired that one of the stars of this season, Chloe Burrows, has been sent death threats and vile abuse on Instagram. Her friends and family who are monitoring her account while she’s on the show, said they simply can’t take it anymore.

Over the course of different series, there have been three people who have been related to the show who have committed suicide, which shows that people are not getting enough support to stand up against these bullies.

Which is why I’m a huge fan of Dr Alex George, a contestant from Love Island in 2018. He has been spending the past few years using his social media accounts to spread good cheer and help people use social media in a positive way. In fact, he has now been appointed by Boris Johnson as Youth Mental Health Ambassador.

As part of a multitude of positive initiatives Alex is running, this week saw him launch a campaign to stamp out bullying, sexual harassment and online trolling against young people. It is being run in association with The Diana Award, a charitable initiative that honours young people who work to improve the lives of others (and which was named after the Princess Diana).

If you’re horrible to me, I’m going to write a song about it, and you won’t like it. That’s how I operate.

The campaign is called Don’t Face It Alone, and it encourages young people to speak out about bullying. The website provides a whole host of resources with guides on how to use social media and ways to find help.

There is also the government’s Online Safety Bill, which is the first step in bringing legal ramifications to those who misuse social media. It aims to make tech companies responsible in making social media a safer place and covers all types of abuse; racial, harassment, indecent images of children and violence against women. However, some have found it controversial, including Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts, who was asked to be an ambassador for the bill after suffering significant online abuse herself. She says it doesn’t stop bullies setting up new, anonymous accounts to torment people again once they’ve been reported.

What can you do to help?

Firstly, you can raise awareness of the anti-bullying programme by sharing the link and using the hashtag #SpeakOutAboutBullying.

You can also write to your local MP about the Online Safety Bill and demand more action.

And for an immediate change, you can adjust your settings on social media. For example, people can turn on settings that use artificial intelligence to automatically filter and hide bullying comments intended to harass or upset people. You can also use the ‘Restrict’ tool designed to empower you to discreetly protect your account while still keeping an eye on a bully. You can also delete posts, block people, and report abusive behaviour.

Or, if you’re Taylor Swift, you can write about bullies in your chart-topping songs and take them down publicly: “If you’re horrible to me, I’m going to write a song about it, and you won’t like it. That’s how I operate.”

Helpful resources: 

Bullying UK charity: www.bullying.co.uk

Dr Alex George’s Anti-Bullying Campaign:
www.antibullyingpro.com

Unicef guidance on online bullying: www.unicef.org


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