As you all know, the outbreak of COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. Quarantine is a word that will never look the same to me or anyone after 2020, and, after my experience, it isn't the only thing I view differently.
My quarantine experience watching the news and especially on social media has definitely helped me forge a new opinion on how to better society and ourselves within our community. Twitter became my new hiding place, and everything I witnessed led me to one conclusion. Conformity is more common than I thought, and the majority of society online can’t let their pride down or learn from each other.
Through this observation, I realised how hard it is to be your true self on social media when there are so many people against you. Being your true self on social media should be a piece of cake but having so many complex opinions out there can act as a hindrance to your originality.
Although holding people accountable is beneficial; excluding, badgering and name-calling others to think like you is far from the solution to getting abusive people out of power. In most of the instances I saw online, people being harmed by this form of “accountability” weren’t abusive or detrimental to society and were purely just victims of being “cancelled” and shamed for their individuality.
What happened to me in quarantine on social media?
During quarantine, I wanted to communicate with others more and hopefully find some online friends along the way. I stumbled across Killing Eve stan Twitter and I got to know people that loved the same show that I did. The bonding had officially begun, and I was able to discuss actors/characters I loved so much with others. However, I didn’t realise how toxic it was becoming.
There was practically a new conflict every day. People weren’t respectful of the cast. Photos of them were leaked, and people continued to invade their privacy. Jodie Comer, a lead actress on the show, deactivated her Twitter because people in the fandom continued to make sexual remarks about her, messaged her family and even found her private Instagram. Additionally, ordinary people were “cancelled” by grown adults because they said or did something that didn’t match their views of being a good person. For example, someone was cancelled and almost doxed for being pro-life, even though they weren’t labelling anyone for disagreeing. Those “cancelling” her were the only ones doing so.
Being a cisgender straight person was a criminal offence and being a man in the fandom was apparently even worse. I observed several men within the fandom get anonymous messages saying that the show, and I quote, “was not for them”. Not only that, but there was frequently an abundance of tweets bashing men and straight people for just existing. If I received a pound for whenever I saw the phrase, "the straights are at it again” on my timeline, I’d be a millionaire.
Now before I go on, I must say that I was going through a period of inner conflict at the time, and I began to wonder if I should go along with the crowd and do what they were doing, or be who I am and do what I thought was right, regardless of the backlash.
Seeing everyone agree on something that was the fundamental opposite of who I am, and shame anyone who disagreed, took a toll on me. Every time someone was ousted out, every time someone was shamed for their opinions and beliefs, I couldn’t help but want to step in and create some form of understanding. I wanted everyone to feel like they belonged in the fandom, no matter who they were. So, I decided to say something.
Have I ever been “cancelled”?
In regards to the fandom? I almost was. I finally got it off my chest and discussed how I (and others) had been feeling. Honestly, I expected people to know it was wrong to make people uncomfortable in the fandom strictly based on their sexual orientation and gender. You’d think that members of the fandom in the LGBTQ+ community would be more understanding, especially since they have been discriminated against because of their sexuality. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. People in the comments section were already seeing me differently because of what I said, and it varied from “heterophobia isn’t real” to “you are supporting our oppressors”.
Some people even assumed I was straight and that’s why I was saying it, and others retweeted my tweet so I could receive hate disguised as “feedback”. I was shocked that people were so quick to twist the meanings of what I was trying to say. I didn’t know that wanting cisgender straight men/women to feel comfortable was “standing with the oppressor”. I ended up deleting my post out of fear, but the story of observing online shaming didn’t end there.
Punishment or accountability?
In the following month, I witnessed people bully Luke Jennings, author of the Killing Eve trilogy, off of Twitter for his writing, and then start rumours about him being a predator. In one instance, a girl in her late teens was doxed for saying the n-word in the lyrics of a song, which, despite racial slurs being wrong, shouldn’t have resulted in her number, school address and work address being leaked. Following that, other people were being cancelled for several misunderstandings, due to assumption.
I couldn’t stand to see people harass others who had nothing but good intentions, yet again. I spoke out, and this time I kept my post up. I decided to spend less time on my fandom account and check in every now and then.
Months later, I felt happier because I didn’t see so much conflict and drama. I felt ready to do my first check-in and see what was going on. And what did I see? Jodie Comer. The actress for Villanelle, CANCELLED. And the reasoning? She was allegedly dating a republican who voted for Donald Trump. A fan found her private Instagram account again and saw pictures of her with her new boyfriend. It didn’t end there; they researched him and found out his name and his supposed voting records. The next thing you know, it was posted in a thread talking about Jodie’s “hypocrisy” on Twitter. People began insulting her, sent her negative messages, and called her out for “lying” to her fans. #JodieComerIsOverParty was trending.
This was the last straw, and it really showed me that people didn’t care about making the world better, or about being a good person. If someone did something or chose to do something with their lives that didn’t fit their definition of moral, it would be slated. I was appalled that people were so horrible because of her choice in who to love, especially since it was mainly based on assumption and not on facts/personal experience.
What did this teach me about being your true self online?
This social media experience taught me that people cared more about following one set of morals, rather than being authentic to your true self. There was no room for mistakes or personal choice online, even if you are an ordinary citizen who isn’t in the public eye. Whether you tweeted something the majority disagreed with, or dated someone with different views, or even listened to an artist deemed as problematic? You were punished. People were teaching you to be yourself and to never let go of your individuality, but as soon as you were your true self, you’d be penalised because it wasn’t what people saw as 100% ethical.
I kept asking myself:
How do you be your true self on social media anymore?
How can you be your true self when doing that could be dangerous to both your safety and your mental health? It is hard to find a balance and be yourself amongst fear and conflict. However, there are ways you can do this and be mostly fear-free.
Step 1: Post what aligns with your values
Do not be afraid to post something that is true to who you are. There’s nothing worse than a post that contains a popular opinion but is the complete opposite of who you are.
Not only will you feel inauthentic, but people that truly know you, whether you get the likes or not, will feel that inauthenticity too. It is so important to go with your gut feeling on content that you put on your page because essentially, social media is sharing a part of who you are with people.
If you have an unpopular opinion that you decide to share, I understand the fear that comes with that, especially seeing cancel culture emerge amongst celebrities and even ordinary people. This is why my next step is important.
Step 2: Have a conversation... or don't
Getting backlash on a post can be scary, especially since it’s common for people to come all guns blazing onto something that they disagree with. How do you combat this? Try to get your point across and respond to what they are saying with conversation and genuine feedback of their point of view.
Bring some kindness and open-minded thinking into their lives by fighting their animosity with a clear and calm tone. This helps you stay true to yourself and what you believe in, while also helping you open up your mind to accuracy in their statements.
The other option is to stop caring. Regardless of the backlash, be true to yourself and what you think is right. Keep your mind open but take criticisms of who you are as a person with a grain of salt. Remember the backlash is mostly going to be from people who barely know you. Only you know who you are.
Step 3: Mute, block or go private
This seems a bit intolerant, but trust me, it works wonders. If the worst comes to the worst, mute, block and unfollow those who have crossed the boundaries of assassinating your character. Seeing negative messages about you as a person is incredibly overwhelming, so setting those boundaries is key to being who you are in this social climate.
Another solution to this is to create a private account. Have people you trust and care about to talk to/follow you online and share your true self with them there. Making sure you are happy is more important than popularity.
Begin your journey towards your true self
Now that you have some insight into my quarantine experience and how to learn from negativity, make a difference and show people that being yourself and choosing how you live your life is still important. Being your true self is vital, especially when having your own social media account and creating your own online brand. Download the Fledglink App for more advice on how to gain confidence and build your own professional brand for employers.