Imagine you’re a popular diver competing in the biggest event of your life: The Olympics. You’re doing it for your father, who you credit for giving you your Olympic drive. A man who died from a brain tumor just over a year ago. A man who is not there to watch you dive, but whom you have to believe is watching from somewhere and rooting for you. Imagine that after all of the hype, all of the stress, all of the build-up, you come in fourth and fail to win a medal.
Then imagine you check your Twitter account and see this.
“you let your dad down I hope you know that” (sic)
That’s what happened to the popular 18-year-old British diver, Tom Daley, after his “disappointing” medal-less performance in the Men’s Synchronized Diving Championships on Monday.
His response? Sending this tweet to his 715,400 followers:
Within just a few hours, the post had 20,000 retweets and countless others using the hashtag: #GetRileyy_69Banned.
@Rileyy_69 (a 17-year-old whose Twitter account is now private) apologized with a tweet about how he didn’t know Daley’s father had passed away, but when Tom Daley didn’t acknowledge it, @Rileyy_69 immediately backtracked:
He also then posted threats to Daley that read: "i'm going to find you and i'm going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick." In addition, he responded to people who criticized his earlier tweets with statements like “i’m gonna shoot you” and "do you want me to come to your fucking house now with a rope and strangle you with it."
He has since been arrested “on suspicion of malicious communications.”
I think we can all agree that what @Rileyy_69 said on Twitter was thoughtless, cruel and unrepentant. What is slightly murkier, however, is if Tom Daley did the “right” thing by retweeting him. Because while @Rileyy_69 certainly should never have said any of those things, if not for Daley’s retweet, the whole incident would never have escalated to the level that it did. I’m honestly not sure if the aftermath was a positive, teachable moment for all of us, including @Rileyy_69, or if the entire situation would have been better off left ignored.
Which raises the question: When should one acknowledge insensitive or hurtful tweets and when should we just let them go?
This is obviously not the same situation, but it’s similar enough that I feel I can draw parallels from it. A few weeks ago, in the midst of my 4th of July vacation, I received the following @message on Twitter:
Clearly, the woman who sent these messages wanted both Jane and me to see her thoughts about my role on xoJane. And so, rather than respond and get into an unnecessary war of words while on holiday, I did the easiest thing I could to (admittedly, smugly) acknowledge it: I favorited it. (That’s also the same thing I occasionally do when someone calls me a “cunt” or a “bitch” or tells me to “fuck off and die.”) And then, because I'd had a few cocktails (Friends Don't Let Friends Drink and Tweet!), I retweeted it.
There was a bit of back and forth for a couple of hours between the woman and my followers, during which time they defended my writing while she responded by calling me “a rape apologist,” “a racist” and “fat phobic.” And while she (and anyone) has the right to say those things about me, even if they are incendiary, defamatory and slanderous, I also have every right to defend myself.
So I retweeted her. Again.
At which point she made her Twitter account private (temporarily).
Listen, you can insult me all you want and cc: my boss on messages requesting my dismissal, but if you put something out into the universe, you have to realize that you may not get the reaction for which you were hoping.
Let me be clear: That woman can absolutely criticize my writing. But if she’s going to do so in a public forum, she needs to be accountable for what she says and accept the resulting reactions. If someone doesn’t want a public response to something, she should keep the conversation private.
That being said, there is the question of whether or not I should have retweeted her in the first place. One of her followers likened it to “The popular girl setting her flying monkeys on anyone not willing to kiss ass.” That’s not how I see it at all, especially since I’m not sure I’d use the word “popular” to describe myself; rather, I see it as standing up for myself and letting her know that I hear what she’s saying, but not everyone agrees.
I don’t believe that it’s healthy or productive to respond to every negative comment -- from trolls or otherwise. (To be clear, I am not referring to the insightful and thought-provoking tweets and comments I’ve received from many readers; rather, this is about the people who seem hell bent on tearing me down.) However, if I never respond -- if I just let strangers call me horrible names and call for my firing -- then aren’t I allowing them to remain unaccountable for their behavior? Aren’t I, to a small degree, allowing them to bully me? Or does the fact that I am a (somewhat) "public figure," mean that I am expected to just take it?
For all of my sarcasm, unpopular opinions and mistakes: I am a good person who wants to believe the same of others. Sometimes the Internet makes that incredibly difficult. I don’t necessarily want to create more drama by retweeting someone when they call me a racist or a cunt, but I also don’t want people to think they can (indirectly) confront me without repercussion or at least acknowledgement. In this case, being the bigger person implies not standing up for myself, and I’m not sure that is how I want to live my life. Of course, the flipside is that I don’t want to spend my time defending myself. Lord knows there aren’t enough hours in the day for that.
Mostly it comes down to the fact that the words all of us put out to the public are, in fact, just that. It can't hurt for every one of us to try to be careful and thoughtful and treat each other with dignity and compassion, even when we disagree.
Oh, and for the record? I may be a lot of things, but I am not a bad writer.
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