(Originally published on Huffington Post) When blind items like these hit the Internet, readers scramble to figure out all possible allusions. Paragraphs that are so murky can be hard to solve…unless a reader is entirely familiar with the situations – and in the cases above, the reality shows. It is one thing to see oblique references on the Internet, but what about when targeted information about an individual is blasted out on social media platforms?
In recent times, we’ve seen it is an effective strategy for shaming those who are in the wrong, and getting that “news” out to the masses. In this post Harvey Weinstein world, the Internet has been an asset to enforcing the message that a certain type of conduct is intolerable. But what about when the Internet is used by“the Harvey Weinsteins” to smear victims? Perpetrators of bad behavior are notorious for spreading lies and ensuring that they have a platform, spinning negative stories to feed the press in order to shift focus away from their own atrocities.
“The Internet is a void that everyone is screaming into,” my own father reasons, “Who in the world is listening?” It’s clear he doesn’t believe that many people are really taking lies they read as truths. The problem is that people very easily believe what they read in a blog established to malign someone without merit. We laugh at individuals who fall for National Enquirer headlines while on line at the grocery store, but we also easily witness how a false story takes off with alarming speed. And my father did not grow up with the Internet, nor does he rely on it for his work, unlike another man his age who sits in the oval office and has taken to Twitter in erratic fashion.
Covering reality television, I recently saw how fans escalate from discussing who their favorite characters are and trading barbs about what’s seen on TV…to hurling outlandish and abusive personalized attacks at one another.
“I said that I found Kenya Moore of Real Housewives of Atlanta to be frightening,” my friend David relates, “and suddenly I see tweets about me, including a poll, weighing in on how racist I am. I reiterate: The poll was about ME. Racist?!Because I happen to find a reality character frightening due to her intense behavior on a reality show?! How in the world did people make the stretch to ‘racist.’? I was trolled for months by these same multiple accounts. When I reported it to Twitter, an email came back saying that Twitter didn’t find the tweets abusive. I felt completely let down by the social media platform.”
A woman who chose to identify herself for this piece as “Carly” explained her similar vexations with Twitter: “I’m being taunted mercilessly by the same series of accounts because I dared to comment on a Real Housewives franchise. What ensued were below the belt tweets that included personal information about me. These sick individuals had apparently visited my other social media pages to check details. As a mom with a very young child, I was terrified and immediately set all my accounts to ‘private’. Everyone thought I was overreacting when I contacted a lawyer and asked family members to stay at my house for a few days. It’s insane that conversations via social media can lead to this much panic. I am still considering closing my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts for good.”
Family members have also advised me to “get off social media” when I share anecdotes of that nether world. I think that due to the type of work I’ve conducted over the years, predominantly in the area of marketing, I have to be on these platforms (or maybe that’s just an excuse that serves as justification). In a non-professional capacity, I love to promote the good work of my friends. Facebook and Twitter are ideal for sharing a podcast link or one to an article. It does frighten me to see how fans blur the lines between reality and reality TV on Twitter though. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever witness in my life. It’s also quite the phenomenon that Real Housewives franchises specifically are the ones to garner this much negative attention and breed such a level of hostility between fans who simply want to opine on a silly television show.
Why do you think the Real Housewives inspire such a reaction in the Twitterverse?
Would you steer clear of social media if you were personally attacked?
If not, what measures would you take to protect yourself?
I would love to hear from you readers and get your individual takes. For now, try to remember that television viewing is typically described as “leisure time.” It is an experience you are supposed to enjoy and do so while you’re relaxing. Perhaps it is best to limit yourself to one screen and screen out the rest.