Social media influencer calls for action after online trolls brand her ‘scruffy and fake’
- Credit: Archant
A Norfolk blogger has spoken out for the first time about her battle with online trolls and says it's time to fight back.
Rebecca Fisher, 24, is from Burnham Market on the north Norfolk coast and writes under the name The Coastal Mummy .
In nearly four years she has racked up more than 15,000 followers over various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
But recently she experienced one of the hardest days she's faced as a social media influencer - branded as "scruffy" and "fake" despite receiving awards for promoting life in west Norfolk.
The lifestyle blogger by the sea first launched her website in September 2016. She found it "an effective and positive way to channel thoughts" dealing with life as a mum and a sibling to a brother with a genetic condition.
"I found writing a way of getting my thoughts and experiences out there," she said, "but the biggest challenge I have faced is overcoming my own fears of speaking out and not listening to criticism.
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"As someone who has experienced mental health problems, the biggest impact online trolls have on me is making me doubt myself and it makes me want to shy away."
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Currently pregnant with her third child, Mrs Fisher suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after the birth of her second.
She has previously revealed that her blog was a "lifesaver", launching it shortly after her brother Rory was born with Down's syndrome - 17 days after she had her first child in 2015.
Describing life in a rural village as "isolating", she said the impact of online trolls was huge.
"I am my own protection against the trolls but more needs to be done to stop the online hate.
"I don't know why people do it, maybe jealousy or just something to do, but the impact it has on the person they are trolling is huge."
Many have argued that it is a job hazard, as Mrs Fisher has herself acknowledged.
"I chose to put myself out there as a blogger but that doesn't stop the comments being hurtful and damaging to someone's mental health."
One expert, who shared his growing concerns about cyber bullying, is University of East Anglia lecturer in education, Harry Dyer.
Drawing parallels between bullying both in front of the screen and away, Dr Dyer explained that cyber bullying appeared different in that the social influencer is the person with "the power" to influence change and start debate but yet they are the ones being targeted by trolls. Whereas bullies are typically seen to pick out people who may seem weak or vulnerable.
"[Social influencers] are constantly facing a backlash despite being leaders and having a voice," he said. "The bullying has become reversed to the traditional sense.
"But the more people that speak out about this, the better. If we have open and frank discussions about bullying online, it should help tackle the issue."
Research suggests that negative comments usually get the most responses, Mr Dyer explained. This can lead to a cycle of amplified negativity.
"I'm sure there are lots of people who read and consume [Mrs Fisher's] work but what we hear from is a vocal minority - and I do believe it is a minority.
"There's been discussion from feminists and journalists who have anecdotally spoken with young people who say they do not want to vocalise their opinions online anymore because of the backlash.
"This has the potential to have a big impact on the younger generation."
One example Dr Dyer highlighted was the efforts of Norfolk's Nadia Sparkes - affectionately known as "Trash Girl". Her commitment to litter picking made headlines last year after she was bullied for it. The bullying eased off for a few months once the article went viral but escalated again. She has since moved schools.
Dr Dyer added: "As much as she might inspire other people, many have seen the negative response she's getting and that will have a knock on affect."
He admitted that virtual spaces were hard to regulate but said the problem should be in the hands of the online platform.
At this time, it is unclear what changes will take place to increase protection for online users but for now Mrs Fisher is continuing to urge others to think twice before they post. "Please don't [troll] someone because your words have a massive impact in someone's life."
So what is the White Paper Online Harms?
The government has produced the policy document Online Harms in order to set out its proposals for future legislation.
Presented to parliament last month, this document is the first attempt globally to address a wide spectrum of online harms in one place.
The idea is to put forward "ambitious plans for a new system of accountability and oversight for tech companies" in a move which would go beyond self-regulation.
The proposals would see a new regulatory framework for online safety to make clear companies' responsibilities to keep its users, particularly children, safer online in the United Kingdom.
It also proposes "most robust action" to counter illegal content and activity.
It would be overseen by an independent regulator to set clear safety standards, as well as being backed up by reporting requirements and enforcement powers.
Last month parliament received the White Paper Online Harms in an attempt to create a positive community online.
Simon Bailey, Norfolk's chief constable, said he believed the paper could be a "game changer" after claiming tech companies have abdicated their duty to safeguarding, especially that of children.
He said: "We have got to look at how we drive a conversation within our society that says 'do you know what, we are not going to use that any more, that system or that brand or that site' because of what they are permitting to be hosted or what they are allowing to take place."
There are ways of getting help if you have been affected by cyber bullying.
You can find more information at www.bullying.co.uk - a website which is part of the Family Lives charity. You can also call the charity on 0808 800 2222 for advice and support.