Online abuse affected my mental health
One of our supporters shared their experience of online hate crime.
I also didn’t feel safe enough to report it to the police. I didn’t want to anger this person even more.
I have a few experiences with online hate crime. I am a wheelchair user and had appeared on television to talk about accessibility. Following my appearance, I was the subject of online abuse where people had taken the time to create offensive and terrifying memes using my image.
They would combine photos of me with disturbing materials like images depicting child abuse or people being stabbed. They were absolutely horrifying. They used my business profile and trolled me on there, as well as on my personal account. I’m generally a tough person so I was surprised at how badly these images shook me up.
The people had obviously disagreed with the things I had said on TV about equality and then made it their mission to upset me. The fact that they targeted my work and created multiple and specific images of me made it a very personal attack.
Unable to sleep
The online abuse affected my mental and emotional health. I was unable to sleep properly for months and was scared that they might be able to track down my home address through my business. I even improved my home security as a result but still felt vulnerable in my own home. I didn’t react, acknowledge or discuss it online at the time, there was to be no satisfaction for them.
I reported the memes to Twitter, but due to their reporting process I had to report each image individually, meaning I had to look at them all over again. They took the images down but did not suspend the accounts that had sent them. I would have hoped that if you reported one hateful image that Twitter would investigate the entire account that sent it, but this wasn’t the case.
I also didn’t feel safe enough to report it to the police. I didn’t want to anger this person even more, it’s likely they had moved on, and didn’t think the police would be able to trace an anonymous account and provide me with enough security. Disability hate crime is falling short compared to other hate crime being unacceptable and needs to carry the same weight.
More than once
This wasn’t the only time I have been a victim of online disability hate. A few years ago on Facebook, a public account used by a sportsperson had used outdated disability language as an insult to get likes on a post. I left a comment with a link to a video to help educate people on how such language has changed and as a result received a torrent of abuse from the person’s Facebook friends/followers.
The abuse was extremely personal, and they went so far as to make memes out of my profile picture. The account holder did not intervene, which was disappointing as they are a public figure with ties to a disability charity. Experiences like this make me worried for younger people with disabilities, as social media continues to be so widely used, I feel that they will be more susceptible to be the recipients of hateful comments and damage their confidence.
I particularly worry about people with learning disabilities who are more at risk of being manipulated online; there needs to be more safeguarding in place and more work done to encourage reporting of online hate crime and dealing seriously with the offenders.