"The Truth Is, Words Do Hurt"
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was a phrase that I frequently spouted when growing up, often in response to someone else’s nasty comments on the playground.
However, the truth is, words do hurt, and I have now come to understand this.
Last week, two accounts on Twitter decided to compose a thread about me which included some pretty horrific comments about my work and my sexuality. At first, I thought I would just ignore it, as I usually do with any online trolling, but as the day drew on, I found the negative comments clouding my brain making it harder to focus.
I was in two minds about sharing my feelings and reaction to the thread, but decided it was important to speak up about how it made me feel. I made a video and posted it on my stories and TikTok and planned to take a pause from creating content, writing and rugby in general.
I will be stepping back for a while on this platform and taking a break - be careful with what you say and how you say it, words hurt.♬ original sound - Stella Mills 🏉
When I turned my phone back on, I was overwhelmed by the amount of support I had received. I had voicemails from current players, leading editors, journalists and even the Six Nations team. Each one had a common theme: support.
So why am I writing about this, and sharing it with you? Because it’s important for you to understand that words and actions online have consequences. I was lucky enough to feel the full force of support from the women’s rugby community, but others won’t be so lucky.
The thing that gets to me the most, is that so many people push out the #BeKind narrative, but when it comes to leaving hurtful comments online, that is instantly forgotten about.
Did everyone overnight just suddenly forget about what happened to Caroline Flack?
As someone who puts her life online on platforms such as Tiktok, Twitter and Instagram, it's long been drilled into me that trolling is just part of that parcel, and something we must learn to live with.
However, I don’t agree, we shouldn’t be accepting this as the norm, but right now I don’t have the solution to this monumental issue.
When these things happen, there is usually a rally cry to social media companies to do more to protect its users online. For example, some have suggested nameless/faceless profiles should be banned by introducing verified identities to accounts – with users having to send in some form of ID to use the social network.
Whilst I think this is a good idea, it’s highly unlikely that it will be put into practice by social media companies, because it’ll massively cut the number of users on the platform, which is bad for the bottom line.
To be clear, I know my experiences are nothing new in the women’s rugby space, recently Sarah Beckett stood her ground on some online trolling she received and was well supported.
It’s the hypocrisy for me😂🤌🏻 pic.twitter.com/vUnm3syL2m— Sarah Beckett (@SEBeckett) February 14, 2022
Grassroots clubs themselves are also not exempt, as Scunthorpe Women’s team recently found out when they posted a video of the team after training and received vile comments regarding the appearance of players, and some even went as far as sending death threats to the young woman who runs the account, who by the way was only 18 years old!
@stellamills__ Hey @scunthorpewomens this is for you! #rugby #rugbytok #womensrugby #sixnationsrugby @rockyclark137 @shaunaghbrown @rachaelburf12 @sarahbern3 ♬ original sound - Stella Mills 🏉
As someone who has now been in this vulnerable position, I would like people to understand what is helpful to say and do, and what is not.
Just reaching out to check in with the individual is important, showing support to someone when they are vulnerable helps more than you know. Not only does it validate how the individual feels about the situation, but it makes the feelings of isolation feel less intense.
The thing I really appreciated, however, was when people distinctively said “don’t worry about responding right away” – it might just be a personal thing, but this eased a big weight from my shoulders. We do live in an immediate response society, which comes with expectations to be immediately available and responsive, which comes with its own issues.
What wasn’t helpful, in this case, was this almost weird toxic narrative that we have all brought into, which suggests I should just ignore the comments completely and move on with my day. When a big portion of your job role revolves around social media, it's almost impossible to ignore things you read about yourself. Plus, I don’t want to disengage with people in the women’s rugby community.
Social media is a two-way street, one of the best things about it is the ability to connect with and talk to a wide variety of people. So why should I cease those conversations based on a few comments?
I have now, after a short pause and reset, realised that the opinions of two blank accounts, which have since been deleted, don’t matter. But, in that moment, when negative comments are all you can think about, it is hard to see past that.
So, if you do anything today, be careful with what you say and how you say it because words hurt.