First of all, I’m not here to profess that I’m an expert on bullying, or how to cope with it. Yes, I was haunted by ask.fm in middle school. Yes, I had my uncomfortable experiences growing up. You know, the classic snarky comments about my stinky ethnic food and exclusion from the “cool” groups during high school because let’s face it, I was pretty uncool.
I have, however, been doxxed online and repeatedly harassed. That was a different experience from the “mean” things people said and did when I was 12. Getting doxxed online was way worse.
For anyone confused about what I’m referring to, back in November I voted on behalf of a group decision made by all voting members of the Executive Board of DSG to veto the recognition of a student group, SSI, on the basis of inappropriate social media conduct. The group has since been officially recognized by DSG and much internal reform has taken place. But backlash from the original decision placed me, and others, as targets, and my name, photo, and personal information were disseminated online.
There were actually some funny moments. I had one particular harasser who told me no one would ever want to marry me?? among other incredible things. It was kind of flattering actually, that he took time out of his day once every other week or so to remind me that the only thing going for me was my common last name, and it’d probably stay that way. The amount of thought and effort he put into his emails was, wow. No one’s ever been that obsessed with me before.
There were the less funny moments of course. In the same breath, I was called racist and told to go back to China, to take my communist, coronavirus-bearing self back to where I belong. Email after email, DM after DM. Racist cow. Anti-semitic, Hitler-loving bitch. Dirty communist. Virus-spreading whore. The anxiety was worse than the name-calling, than the misogyny, than even the racism. Fear over whether my employer would respond to the emails demanding that my offer be rescinded. Fear over whether my home address had actually been found. Fear that for the rest of my life, this would be something that I would never escape from, that people would look at me differently. Fear that my university, even the whole world, hated me.
So dramatic, I know. But that’s the thing about online bullying. It is so detached and cowardly, yet so personal. You usually don’t know who your bullies are, and they almost certainly don’t know the real you. But they take pieces of you and blow them up for everyone to see anyway. Expose everything for the vultures to descend upon and tear at. It feels like every single person in the world, or at least everyone in your little social bubble, can see what is happening to you, and simultaneously no one can. And no one does anything. It is so relentless and all-consuming, but exists in a plane all on its own. Then you feel silly because at the end of the day, you can just shut off your phone, right? Go dark for a bit.
I’m not here to gripe about how much being bullied sucks. We all know it sucks, especially those of us who have actually experienced it. I’m not here to talk about how it’s important to acknowledge the cruelty we often show one another either (though I think we should.) I’m here to share what all this has taught me.
I’ve been plagued, like most people I know, by the creeping fear that everyone’s eyes are on me. Do they know? Are they talking about me? Does everyone at Duke think I’m a loser?
The greatest lesson I’ve learned in my entire life is that no one cares about me.
Obviously the people that care about me care about me. Being dragged through the mud taught me that a lot of people suck but a lot of people are wonderful. I was lucky to have friends and classmates to lean on, family members to cry to and a very loving and supportive Jewish (ha ha, everyone please know he is Jewish) boyfriend and his incredible family to laugh off the worst of it with. There are people here who will and really do care about you, even if you are still looking for them.
But no one else actually cares about what you did or who you’re seen with or what you look like. No one is thinking about what fraternity or sorority or SLG you got into or didn’t get into. No one is noticing how much weight you lost or gained, no one cares about your GPA and no one is thinking about any of those stupid embarrassing horrible little things you did. They just care about themselves. And it is freeing.
If you’ve ever been bullied, hopefully you know by now that what people say about you says far more about them than it does about you. Anyone who’s ever been mean knows this is true, try as they might to hide it. I would know, because I’m not a saint. None of us are.
But more than the thought of your bullies being people who clearly have their own issues to work through and ought to have way better things to be doing with their time, the most reassuring thing is that you have agency. You might not be able to defend yourself online from your anonymous attackers, though you may wish to. But you do know who you are, and they don’t.
You, in everything you are. You, in all your kindness and intelligence and humor and courage and curiosity and creativity and resilience and defiance. You, and all of the mistakes you will inevitably make that you will have to own, all the stupid things you will say and do, and all the times you will have to apologize. You, and all the times you will struggle, stumble, fall down, fail, and suffer. You, in your bare-bones humanity. There is nothing anyone can say about you that will take away who you are, and everything you are. So don’t let it.
If you’ve ever been bullied online, this is for you. And if you ever want to commiserate, my DMs are finally open again.
Christina Wang is a Trinity senior and Duke Student Government president.
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