I Have an Irrational Fear of Online Trolls

11.06.18

You know that scene in Girls when Hannah and Marnie are screaming at each other and Hannh says, “Any mean thing someone’s gonna think of to say about me, I’ve already said to me, about me, probably in the last half hour.”

Equal parts funny and depressing, it could have been said by any twenty-something having a bad day (or just a regular day?), but it’s still our greatest fear that someone else will say the ugly things we think about ourselves. Right?

I used to think that’s where my irrational fear of online trolls came from. A fear that means every time an unknown username pops up in my Instagram inbox – which is anywhere between ten and fifteen times a day – there’s this three second period where my stomach drops to my pelvis and I believe that it could be hate mail.

I’ve refrained from writing about it because, on the one hand, it’s a superfluous first-world problem that only affects people with a “platform”. But on the other hand, that’s complete crap. We now live in an age where our Instagram feeds are littered with self-proclaimed social activists, justice crusaders and #WokeGirls who feel the responsibility to call out bad behaviour wherever and whenever they can. As a result, no one is immune to being knocked down a few pegs.

Despite having never been trolled, criticised or bullied online (touch wood), there’s two logical explanations I’ve come up with for why I always feel like I’m one DM away from having my feelings hurt. The first is that – in case it wasn’t already obvious – I’d be an incredibly easy target. I’m an outspoken, straight, white, female who went to a private girls school and decided to launch a blog (lol). A troll could argue that I have the luxury of being able to comment on most social injustices from a place of privilege. I could then argue to them why that is only partially true, but then I’d be indulging a hypothetical situation that hasn’t actually occurred yet and that’s exactly the kind of self-indulgent behaviour my therapist repeatedly claims to “dislike”.

The other explanation is that I have a mild case of Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is that unshakable feeling that you’re about to be exposed for not being as talented or wonderful as everybody thinks you are. Like when we all found out that Drake had a ghost-writer (an unspeakable tragedy for me personally). In 2015, Emma Watson told British Vogue that she “often feels like an imposter” in Hollywood and is uncomfortable with receiving any kind of recognition for her acting. Emma, like a lot of us, feels like a fraud. For me, it’s the fear that one day you – the reader – will realise I’m not as good a writer as you think I am, or particularly woke, or articulate, or funny. That I’m not worthy of the audience I’m amassing. And because we now live in a “call-out culture”, it wouldn’t be surprising if someone decided to let me know all of this via a comment or direct message on Instagram.

But perhaps my focus shouldn’t be on why I’ve developed this irrational fear of trolls, and instead be on why I don’t think I’d be able to cope with the criticism? I have a relatively strong sense of self, a rock-solid support system of friends and family, an outrageously happy spirit and – despite what this article may imply – an optimistic outlook on life. Would a keyboard warrior commenting on the size of my nose or the content on The Twenties Club really have the power to impact any of that?

I guess time will tell.


Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club