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We All Lose If The Trolls Win

The prolonged and vicious social media response was more disturbing than Yassmin Abdel-Magied's initial act.

07/07/2017 2:13 PM AEST | Updated 07/07/2017 2:14 PM AEST
Matt Bedford
"The continuous abuse seems just a tad out of proportion."

So I guess the world's internet trolls would be feeling pretty satisfied with themselves right now. But I've got some fighting words for them, because I'm not 26 years old like Ed Sheeran and Yasmin Abdel-Magied -- the two notable people whom cyber bullies have, this week, hounded into taking drastic action.

I'm 40 years, 11 months and 14 days old. I'll give you a second to verify that by looking at my head shot, where you will also find that my expression says it all: "I'm too old for this sh*t."

On Wednesday, Sheeran announced that he's quitting Twitter because he can't abide being bombarded by the incessant vitriol, especially after he offended Lady Gaga's fanbase in some intangible way.

And on Thursday, former ABC presenter Yasmin Abdel-Magied announced her decision to leave Australia in the wake of the internet backlash to her ANZAC Day tweet. Abdel-Magied yesterday wrote she's now "the most publicly hated Muslim in Australia", thanks to the "90000 twisted words written about [her], largely laced with hate."

Whilst Sheeran was attacked for some innocuous action, the same can't be said for Abdel-Magied. I'm an Australian-born-and-bred Aussie chick who has seen 40 ANZAC Days and has attended dawn services, so I know that you quite simply do not mess with such a significant occasion unless you want to attract the nation's ire. I agree that Abdel-Magied's post was insensitive, disrespectful and poorly-timed -- and thus offensive.

But it was also a mistake, and she immediately apologised; which is why I found the prolonged and vicious social media response much more disturbing than her act. In the past three months, Abdel-Magied's character, background and body of work has been torn to shreds in thousands of tweets, posts, comments and articles. She has had to move house and suspend social media accounts in fear for her safety.

The continuous abuse seems just a tad out of proportion, when I think a simple "Oi, don't be a d**khead" or "Get your head out of your ass, love" would have sufficed.

But the trolls demanded blood! They incessantly harassed the young woman, and sent her death threats. The situation descended into a hateful free-for-all, because, you see, the entire point of trolling is to be gleefully, mercilessly, indifferent to/ignorant of the distinction between relevant debate, and nasty, personal attack.

I do know a little of how that feels on the receiving end, although nowhere near to the extent that Abdel-Magied has had to endure. As a woman of colour who's written a lot about race, and being a bleeding heart leftie (AKA empathetic to people other than just those who have my exact same experience), I've found that a lot of people want to put me in my place, to silence me, and they generally use my brownness to attempt to achieve that.

Yawn. How unoriginal.

They assume I'll be hurt by their comments, but they don't know that I've lived a thousand lives in four decades, and I'm really over dealing with other people's issues -- because that's what cyber bullying is --people unfairly projecting their prejudice on to their target.

But the bullies might just have to try a little harder with me, as I explained in my sincere thank you letter to my internet trolls that I posted last year. In the letter, I thanked them, because their attention made this middle-aged woman "feel relevant, just like one of the cool kids."

I also apologised for my instant dismissal of any personal attacks: "I am way too cool, busy and popular to take the time to acknowledge each post individually. I'm conscious that might seem ungracious and rude, so I wanted to explain that's why your constructive criticism is immediately deleted and you may have found yourself banned or blocked."

But I acknowledged that I could be misunderstanding helpful suggestions such as "Go back to your cave, Abo". I wrote: "If there is a small chance that your feedback is designed to be anything other than helpful and part of respectful debate...I should also warn you that if you actually read some of my work you would know that I've been through some sh*t in my life and there's not a lot you can say that would hurt or belittle me. Honestly, in the words of one of my idols from my formative years -- #YouCantTouchThis."

Pretty feisty, hey? They don't call me MC Nama for nothing.*

Let's just hope that at my end of the cyber bullying scale, it helps keep me in the country until at least next ANZAC Day.

*Literally no one ever calls me that.

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