opinion

Constance Hall: "Like Clemmie Hooper, I set up a fake account to defend myself from trolls."

Last year, I set up a “fake” Facebook account. I named myself Annie.

I did this because there was this ball of fury and pain growing inside my chest and I didn’t know what to do with it.

Annie came along, with no profile picture and no friends, to simply defend me when nobody else would.

I used Annie twice. The first time I used her on a thread underneath a popular news outlet’s story that was dominated by commentary about how much my children appear to hate me, how desperate they look for a real mum and how poorly I’m raising them in general. The second time was when I was accused of not making the donations that I claim to make for Rafki Mwema – a charity that helps vulnerable children who are victims of sexual abuse in Kenya. It felt defamatory and it enraged me.

Now, Constance Hall couldn’t engage in this kind of crap. That would be lowering herself and she couldn’t be seen to do that.

So I created Annie and claimed that she knew Constance and none of these things were true. And nobody listened and I still felt like sh*t. It was a weird thing to do and this is the first time I’ve told anyone.

At first, the ball of anger inside my chest momentarily weakened. I felt like I had been defended even if it was by my imaginary mate Annie. But it wasn’t long before it returned, and that was enough for me. I could see this game getting addictive and let’s be honest, I have an army of kids to raise, an empire to build and a whole lot of trolls that rely on my content to keep their lives interesting.

Watch: Constance Hall’s viral Ted Talk. Post continues after video.

Last week, blogger Clemmie Hooper went viral for issuing an apology for creating a fake account and using it to originally defend herself on some of the most disgusting hate sites for bloggers that exist. She then admitted she got carried away and used the account to criticise other bloggers too, ultimately trolling her husband, himself a well-known Instagram personality. Perhaps most significantly, in her comments she accused a black woman – Candice Brathwaite – of being “aggressive,” and “always [bringing] it back to race, privilege and class because she knows no one will argue with that”.

“It feels like a weapon to silence people’s opinions,” Hooper wrote of the influencer and diversity advocate, after having invited Brathwaite to speak on her podcast about the unique risks black women face when giving birth.

The media and the trolls have gone to town on her, and she’s lost 30,000 followers.

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I’m not going to mention the names of these sites and I beg you not to look them up. They hurt people, they are obsessive, they are personal, they pick on your looks and your weight, your parenting, and your relationship.

Let’s take one of their attacks on me, for example.

I have always put makeup on my hand before I put it on my face, and after seeing shimmer in a photo, one thread spoke about how they had spotted cocaine on my hand.  Convinced, they ran wild with it. It gets a lot worse then that – cruel nicknames for mums on the internet, as well as obsessively watching every story and tearing shreds off them.

These sites are such a toxic environment that I wonder how the people who spend their days in them can sleep at night. I’d have nightmares. It is borderline sociopathic behaviour, laughing at the pain of other women, discrediting their success. They stop at nothing, and I’ve sometimes wondered if a blogger died, or lost a child, would they still find a way to justify their toxic behaviour?

I think it was brave of Clemmie to even venture into these dungeons. I don’t think she knew what she was getting herself into when she did it.

 

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So, some people in this corner of the internet may want to know my response to what’s happened over the last couple of days. Frankly, I’m in a crap position as I only really have 2 options – 1). to stay silent to protect my wife & knowing that if I do, the silence will be deafening or 2). to comment on something I had no knowledge of. It’s not a fun place to be. And yet fun is what I can to Instagram for. I don’t take myself or life too seriously, but when something like this happens I have to acknowledge it and in all honesty, I’m feeling both angry & a bit sad. I can’t condone or fully understand why Clemmie did what she did.  Make no mistake about it – she made some bad choices – I just wish she could have spoken to me about this before it all got too much. Actually, If we’re wishing for things, I wish it had never happened in the first place. I’ve seen first hand what 3 years of being attacked online can do to a person and the dark places it can drive you to – I guess whereas I can happily ignore it all, she couldn’t & ended up getting lost. To be clear, I’m not here to defend my wife’s actions or provide excuses because I have none. What I do know is that online actions have real world consequences – this has impacted our family & it will take some time to recover. That said, away from these squares, the world keeps spinning, the leaves are turning & we have 4 girls that need their parents. I’ll be here tomorrow doing what I do.

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As one of the most trolled women of our country I can tell you, the minute you read a thread like that the ball returns. The ball of fury and hurt inside your chest, raging, burning – and we aren’t equipped to deal with such emotions caused by personal attacks. We don’t know how to put that fire out inside us.

So Clemmie did what I did: she started a fake account to defend herself. She did it on a different platform, and got sucked into the vortex of evil, addicted to the relief every defence gave her. Eventually, she found herself on the other side, tearing down other bloggers in order to get some heat off herself.

It’s not great, it’s not ideal, it’s not progressive. But Clemmie has done what trolls don’t do, and said she’s sorry.

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Now, I get it. People love a pitchfork. They love ripping down someone who’s living a seemingly lucky life.

But there is so much more to this story. Until you and your children and husband have been repeatedly abused every day on the most personal level, it’s really hard to judge someone for their actions. People do crazy things. Just ask Annie.

She hasn’t logged in for over a year, and somehow thought she would be able to convince some of the country’s most hateful people to be kind.

One thing I’ve learnt blogging is that while you have a huge voice, you are also silenced to a degree. You have such a large audience that defending yourself automatically makes you the bully. So you just cop it, time and time again.

And as a result of this incredible platform hurting Clemmie, she in turn hurt someone else, and so it goes on.

Do I condone Clemmie’s actions? Of course not. The meanest thing Annie ever said was, “Yes she does make donations, I’ll send you the receipts!”

Listen to Mia Freedman’s interview with Constance Hall on No Filter. Post continues after audio.

But as someone who has been terrified and felt the aching burn as bullsh*t flies around the internet about me, I can perhaps understand her actions better than most. It can feel like you’re drowning, and I can see how pulling someone else under just to give yourself a breath could seem like a good option.

What I want to say to Clemmie Hooper is this: babe, if you are reading this, I know how it feels to read those threads on those foul sites. It feels humiliating and agonising and terrifying. And that burning pain you get in your chest when you read them, that will only ever temporarily go away when you play their game. To eradicate it, you need to become vulnerable. Talk to people, even your audience, about how you’re feeling. Talk about the harassment (and it is harassment), and be reminded that the love for you is so strong. The support you receive in return is enough to wash away all the dickheads with nothing better to do than rag people out.

The blogging world is full of vile people. Bizarrely, most of my trolls are bloggers. It’s just a very strange culture that I stay right out of. The best way to survive in this industry is to stay away from these hate sites. They don’t exist if you don’t visit them.

But who in their right mind thinks hating on Clemmie Hooper for hating on people who had hated on her is going to solve anything?

She said some awful things. But pitchforks down – we’re all better than this.

To any of the bloggers that she hurt – I’m sorry.

And to Clemmie, as my legendary therapist says, anything that anyone can own can be dealt with.

The internet is a weird place, and we are all still learning.

Even Annie, who I still think about from time to time.

For more from Constance Hall, you can follow her on FacebookInstagram, or her website. You can buy her book, Still A Queen, here.

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