There are two things that truly terrify me as a mother of two children approaching teenage years, and that is drugs and the thought of them falling under the influence of others who relish the act of tearing people down. I don’t know a thing about drugs, and I have always been a bit of a prude when it comes to them. Obviously apart from alcohol, tobacco and the occasional puff on a joint which never agreed with me anyway, I could never get the fuss. My problem is that I probably would not even know what modern drugs look like. We talk about it often though, and I would hope that they are equipped to deal with whatever life throws at them when it comes to drugs and that they can make the right decisions. Or at least have the confidence to talk to me about it when the time arises.
I always thought that drugs were my worst fear, but what I now fear most is not the drugs, but the negative voices. Voices of bullies, voices of trolls, voices of deceit, voices of manipulation. The world is such a different place to where I grew up. We didn’t even have internet, and mobile phones were unheard of. I think I had a boyfriend when I was 21 who had a car phone, and it was like a bloody brick attached to a cord. He still thought it was cool though. In the school ground, you could be called a stinking nerd or a stupid slut or whatever else the nameless bullies liked to throw at you, but you generally knew those voices simply moved in a different group to you, and they were just loud and generally brave arseholes who ultimately didn’t matter.
Everything has changed now. We have internet. We have phones. We have social media. We have trolls. We have apps that seemingly ask for no accountability, and we now have revolting arseholes whose sole purpose is bringing people down and making others feel as small as they must feel. I saw a video that went viral late last week that was posted by Constance Hall. It doesn’t really matter as to whether you are a fan of Constance Hall or if you have never heard of her or not. She is a rather outspoken blogger and writer with a huge fan base that is predominantly Australian. She also has a lot of detractors. Quite vile, nasty detractors. Her video was heartfelt, and I watched it as I am always curious as to what other people are fascinated with.
What some people say to her and write to her on her blog and via her social media accounts is nothing short of vile. I don’t care what you think about someone; it does not give you the right to encourage suicide or self-harm. One of the comments that she made, that struck me as being impossibly sad was talking about how why she should be vulnerable in front of a “nation that clearly despises me.” I thought of Charlotte Dawson, another Australian media celebrity who ended up taking her own life after an endless stream of online abuse. It made me think that perhaps we are dealing with this the wrong way and I wish we could all focus on the voices that matter rather than giving our sole focus to those evil voices that feed on the depths of despair and should not be given one iota of time or recognition.
Rather than asking the world to be kind, making pleas on social media and asking people to stop, perhaps we should just stop listening. Perhaps we need to teach our kids that the only voices we should listen to are those that matter. You see I don’t understand why someone like Constance Hall would say that clearly, the nation despises her when it doesn’t. She has a loyal and vocal fan base that buy her books, send her oodles of love, write endless comments, buy her clothes and hang on to her every word but because of the negative voices, they were forgotten. And that is so sad. So perhaps we should take a different tack. We now know that if you have any sort of online presence, whether you are a 16-year-old school girl with an Instagram following or a recognisable celebrity you are going to attract trolls. That is part and parcel of being online. So surely, we need to address it in different ways? Perhaps we need to tell kids that the only voices we should listen to are those that matter. Those that build us up, those that love us, those that admire us just the way we are. No-one else should matter. And rather than just telling our kids, we need to show our kids by only listening to the voices that matter.
I hold FB and Instagram and whatever other social media platforms that exist that allow people to have nameless profiles and do not have some sort of code of conduct to adhere to, responsible. In some states of Australia and in some countries, encouraging people to commit suicide is a legal offence. So why on earth these gargantuan social media applications don’t employ a team of people to address complaints and comments that do not adhere to a code of conduct and then ban these people and report them to the police I don’t know. As for our social media celebrities who regularly post on social media these very hard felt video posts I wish they would stop. Instead, I wish they would take control because the one place you truly do have control is on your own social media pages and websites. I wish they would stop reading the negative comments; I wish they would employ someone a few hours a day to delete anything negative or abusive and to report those people. One of the things that amazed me about the comments under Constance Hall’s video was there was one thread where a fellow had said that Constance was not his cup of tea, but that no-one deserved that sort of treatment. Some of the responses to his comment were awful and were no different to the awful comments that Constance experiences. So, under a video about bullying, was a thread that contained numerous messages of bullying. I say delete, delete, delete and block. Trolls and negative arseholes are like fire, they need oxygen to thrive, so don’t give them the time of day. Instead go on the internet with a video thanking your thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of supporters and read out some of the amazing messages of support you get every day. Show people it is the voices that matter that make the difference.
In some ways, the internet has changed the world we live in. And of course, there are a million different reasons why it has changed it for the better. But some ways are not so good, and I think we need to be upfront about that and address it head-on. We need to teach our kids that there are voices that matter and voices that don’t. The cowards that populate social media, those people who have not learnt the old-fashioned mantra that if you don’t have something nice to say, then you should say nothing at all. To the people who have taken what they have learnt online and started acting that way in real life. Tell those people that they will not be listened to anymore. That is what I think we should be teaching our kids. That even though the world is a beautiful place, sometimes it is not very kind and there are more important things we can be doing than asking the world to be kind to us. The only way the world will be kind is if we are kind and if we stop listening to those who aren’t. If we control our environments, then simply say no to abuse.
There are so many things that I want to teach my children. To explore, to live a simple life where you value what you have before craving what you don’t. To be grateful. To have itchy feet. To look for something beautiful before looking for anything else. To be brave, to be kind. That they are important and that they matter. But right now, for me, I also want to teach them to listen to the voices that build them up, not tear them down.
To be kind and to only listen to the voices that matter.