If I’m being honest, I do not have a huge amount in common with Meghan and Harry. In fact, having written for Vogue is very possibly the only thing the Duchess and I have both done.
Still, reading in the The Sunday Times that the couple had decided to step away from social media as they could no longer stomach the “hate” they received on it felt familiar. Their platform of choice was Instagram; mine is Twitter.
I have spent nearly a decade on the app, which I use both professionally and for fun, and it is a huge part of my life. It has given me work, friends, lovers and, somewhat absurdly, more than 75,000 followers.
Sadly, it has also led to me receiving death threats, rape threats, attempts to dox me, and countless tweets seeking to humiliate me and make me miserable. Screengrabs of dating profiles were publicly posted by the far right and the far left; people openly discussed whether to try and catfish me on them; pictures of me were posted and people encouraged to one-up each other in making fun of my appearance.
I thought I could take it until I couldn’t; at some point last May, I posted something innocuous which once again led to days of abuse, and I realised I’d had enough. I stopped tweeting entirely for a while, then started coming back, very slowly.
While Twitter used to be my digital home, it now feels like a café near my house; I pop in every other day, speak to a few people, then run away again. It is a sad state of affairs; I truly loved the community I’d built—and heaven knows we all need time-consuming habits at the moment—but by the end I simply felt too exposed.
It is only a realisation I came to after leaving; like the proverbial frog in slowly boiling water, I’d found it normal sharing my life with 500 people, then 2,000, then 15,000, and so on. Coming back after a break was like being hit by an electric shock; had I really been using this platform like a personal diary, aware that my every thought was being read by tens of thousands of strangers? Once you become aware of your own vulnerability, it becomes hard to ignore it.
Of course, I am aware that there are two sides to this; I felt exposed because I shared too much to too many, but if I had shared less I wouldn’t have gained the following that I did, and without it Twitter wouldn’t have had such a positive impact on my work and personal life.
“I felt exposed because I shared too much to too many, but if I had shared less I wouldn’t have gained the following that I did”
As the New York Times quote-turned-meme reminds us, “If we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.” Replace “being loved” with “career progression”, “booming social life” and “the occasional date” and that is roughly the deal Twitter semi-fame offered me. Was it worth it?
I’m not sure I could tell you. What I do know—and I am sure you know as well—is that the Internet has warped people’s sense of proportion and made them forget how to behave. It has also pushed everyone into the same spaces; the young, the old, the comedians, the experts and the Nazis are all stuck in the same boat.
This is not how humans are meant to function; we shouldn’t all be together all the time, and we should not be expected to be all things to all people. It goes against our very nature. Instead, I believe we could gain more from returning to smaller, more hermetic bubbles, like the ones we had in the earlier days of the Internet.
From MySpace to fan forums, we could be ourselves in little enclaves, hidden in the relative safety of semi-private spaces. We would lose some of our ability to make contact with people we would never meet in real life, but perhaps that is a worthwhile price to pay. It would also be healthier for us to be divorced from platforms where silly jokes and dog pictures appear alongside constant breaking news.
The world is in a bad place and we do not need to be reminded of it every second of every day; there is a reason why people only used to watch the news once or twice a day. In the meantime, though, we have few options. People like Meghan and Harry can afford to step away from social media entirely, but they are not everyone.
Instead, I suppose the best way forward is to find a healthier balance, give a bit of ourselves so we can receive a bit back. Moderation in all things, and all that.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.