As a Millennial living in the digital age (who also happens to be vegan), I spend quite a bit of time on YouTube. I follow a broad range of channels featuring everyone from beauty bloggers to fitness gurus to indie comedians. Recently, I noticed one of my favorite YouTubers, Pilates teacher Cassey Ho of Blogilates and POP Pilates, being bullied by another YouTuber, vegan blogger, Freelee the Banana Girl. Freelee's latest video criticizing Cassey was posted just last week, and this sh*t needs to stop.
Merriam-Webster defines the verb bullying "to frighten, hurt, or threaten" and "to cause (someone) to do something by making threats or insults or by using force." Not only is Freelee is a dictionary-defined bully, she also has a history of bullying non-vegans. In early 2015, she accused Australian Instagram trainer Kayla Itsines of promoting eating disorders which escalated into a court case that Freelee ended up losing.
After the court case, she agreed not to attack Itsines again. At the same time, she tormented YouTuber Boogie2988 for following the keto diet over the vegan diet and made ridiculous and hurtful claims about his weight loss. She's also chastised comedian Jenna Marbles for ditching the vegan lifestyle (which Jenna responded to gracefully). Freelee's destructive behavior has led to severe consequences for her personally, yet she continues to attack others.
It's possible that Freelee's controversial videos are a scheme to get more hits on her channel. She once described herself as someone who promotes tough love, but her attacks aren't "tough love." They're bullying plain and simple.
Her loyal audience, many of whom are also YouTubers (such as High Carb Hannah, Vegan Health Fitness, etc.) have also followed her example of bashing non-vegans (especially Cassey, from calling her a "ho" and "McShit") which only perpetuates the cycle of bullying and verbal abuse.
Eight months ago, Freelee started an online turf war with Cassey in a video titled "Youtubers who promote eating disorders." Since then, there has been an onslaught of online abuse from Freelee and her loyal fans towards the POP Pilates creator. Cassey tactfully responded once to Freelee; however, she doesn't mention her name. Still, it's obvious her messages — including "When someone spreads rumors about you, but you ain't in high school!" to "When someone accuses you of trying to delete their YouTube, but you can't find the proof." — are directed towards Freelee.
Freelee's attacks on others, and the cruel actions of all bullies, are a clear a sign of insecurity. It could be argued that her abusive behavior is encouraged by her boyfriend, YouTuber DurianRider, who is even more cruel. He's used demeaning language towards others and has even threatened those who've commented on his videos with violence before deleting the comments altogether.
As a vegan, I feel sick seeing so much hate being promoted in my community. For me, veganism is about living with harmony and compassion for animals, the Earth, and for other living beings. Freelee and her crew are the antithesis of what it means to be vegan. But my point here is not only about vegans bullying non-vegans — it's about online harassment that's sadly become the norm. Online harassment isn't any less serious than face-to-face harassment; it's a reflection of what women experience on a day-to-day basis. Although Freelee is upfront about her feelings, many victims of online harassment do not even know who is attacking them.
A study from the Pew Research Center in DC found that women experienced the most severe form of online harassment, revealing that, "among female internet users 18-24, 26% say they have been stalked online and 25% have been sexually harassed." The Pew Research Center also discovered 66% of online bullying occurs on social media, 22% in online comment sections and 15% through personal emails or online gaming. Another research study in Australia states that three in four women under 30 have experienced online harassment of some kind. Kayla Itsines, despite her success and cult-like following, is no exception.
If we engage with a hater, we can potentially make things worse. So how do we deal with online harassment? Unfortunately, for now, there's no clear answer.