Originally appeared in PosAbility Magazine October/November 2018
In a world where keyboard warriors are seemingly allowed to run amok on the internet with no regard for those on the end of vile and debilitating messages, one national broadcaster is taking a stand.
Writing an abusive or nasty comment online is one thing, but specifically seeking out one person and directly contacting them with horrible abuse for the world to see is a blatant level of bullying that is difficult to comprehend. Knowing that bullies strike out of insecurity isn’t enough in holding them to account.
Enter Channel 4.
The broadcaster is widely known and regarded for its work in ensuring, promoting and championing diversity, not just within the disabled community but across the board. From their coverage of the Paralympic Games since London 2012 to their flagship live Friday night offering The Last Leg, Channel 4 has led the way. As part of their Rio 2016 campaign, they partnered with Maltesers to run a series of adverts employing disabled actors telling tales of how their disability has landed them in awkward, but funny situations.
The plight of those targeted by online bullies, dubbed trolls, has been well documented by both victims and shocked onlookers. One activist who, sadly, is no stranger to the darker side of the internet is PosAbility columnist Sam Renke.
Sam was one of the stars of the highly publicised and exciting Maltesers campaign encouraging people to “look on the light side of disability” – a nod to the sweet’s “the lighter way to enjoy chocolate” slogan. But while it received high acclaim from activists, TV critics and the wider – more sensible – public, it also drew out the worst that the internet had to offer.
Sam herself publicly shamed those who took senseless and cowardly swipes from behind their screens at her in a 2016 Huffington Post blog. In her post, she recounts the experience of discovering trolls had mercilessly targeted her personal Twitter account and recalls how the needless abuse affected her.
But Channel 4’s latest offering takes back control by working with Maltesers, Nationwide and McCain’s to produce a powerful short film that uses the original adverts, hateful posts and upsetting statistics to shame those who tweet before they think. Alongside Sam is Sugar J Poet in the Nationwide advert, who was exposed to online racial abuse and a young gay couple, who came under fire from the internet’s homophobes who took umbridge to McCain’s decision to include a family setting with two men and a child.
Encouraging people to come together to shame and combat the issue using #TogetherAgainstHate, Channel 4 was widely praised for the ad break that tackles the ever-increasing issue, including Sam herself.
“Often when I mention that I was a victim of online trolls, I am met with complete disbelief,” the Malteser actor told PosAbility.
“Hate crime towards the disabled community is real. I applaud c4 for highlighting the severity of hate crime and the response I’ve received from the general public has been overwhelmingly supportive and sincere. Online bullying is real bullying and as social media plays such a prominent role in the lives of the disabled community, we need to tackle online hate head on. It’s a great first step and although it was a personal challenge to leave myself so open and vulnerable in the campaign, I certainly do not regret being part of it,” she added.
While trolls won’t return to under their bridges overnight, and with the rising significance of an online presence in the social lives of disabled people, it doesn’t hurt to remind each other to not engage with those seeking quick satisfaction, but support and raise each other up and create the safe and enjoyable space social media was intended to be.
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