As part of our #BREAKFREE campaign to live life without seeking others' approval, Ellabel Risbridger, 23, who started her first blog at nine years old, explores the impact of social media in the long term
I’ve done all my growing up online.
I wrote my first blog fourteen years ago entirely in hot pink Curlz MT, and it’s all gone downhill from there.
That first blog – ‘Ella And Laura’s Mega Fun Website’, since you ask – hooked me on a habit of splashing my life around the internet that I’ve never been quite able to shake. If you know where to look, there’s little ghosts of me all over the place: a Blogspot full of agonised fourteen-year-old bitching here, a Tumblr of inept adolescent erotica there. Half a novel of Harry Potter fan-fiction. Love-letters to ex-boyfriends I haven’t thought of in years. Love-letters to total strangers I followed on Twitter. (Sometimes I see these strangers now, and cringe internally.)
The thing about joining Twitter at sixteen, and the internet at nine, is that there’s an awful lot of me online. Things that when I wrote them, I couldn’t have imagined would stay with me this long.
One April Fool’s Day, I tweeted about a prank my dad played on me as a kid: he pretended I had got into the primary school of Hogwarts. I was a very gullible kid, and I believed him. The Mirror picked it up. The LadBible picked it up. Then a major Finnish news site picked it up. And overnight, my Twitter mentions were flooded – flooded – by people with an opinion about my dad’s parenting.
‘“How could he do this to young child,’ one extremely earnest Finn asked me.
‘Child abuse IMO,’ weighed in a reader of the LadBible.
‘You will never forgive him,’ a man from Australia told me, solemnly.
Worst of all, some bright spark decided to search my Twitter for any time I’d mentioned my dad – presumably to see if this ‘abuse’ was a pattern
Every adolescent complaint, every time I’d ever, unthinkingly, whinged that he wouldn’t let me go out in hot pants and baby-pink Doc Martens, every time I’d said anything at all – it was all still there. I deleted a few hundred tweets, but the feeling stayed with me: that fourteen years of my life was all out there, and that everyone – anyone – could have an opinion on it. Any of it. From my choice of breakfast (‘I don’t like how many eggs you eat’) to what kind of treatment my boyfriend chose for his cancer (‘Big Pharma shill’), everything I had ever done was up for debate. I’ll admit it: it threw me. I started to gain followers on Twitter; and my blog, Eating With My Fingers, took off in a way that Ella And Laura’s Mega Fun Website had never really managed. I think three people read that first blog – me, Laura, and Laura’s dad – and now thousands of people follow my every move.
And I do mean every move. It’s a real struggle not to tweet what I had for breakfast (save that for Instagram), or my latest fury at the local council. I know, I know. Thrilling stuff. And yet thousands of people listen to it, and I, in turn, listen to them. And that’s the thing, of course. It’s a thousand conversations. It’s a thousand stories. It’s a thousand friends. I have met my very best friends, my boyfriend, and my editors on Twitter. I have made a life from Twitter, and from blogging, and from the internet. I went to Rome with a stranger from Twitter: we met in person for the first time at the train station. I went to Paris with a stranger from Twitter, and accidentally stayed for a year. I came to London to meet a boy from Twitter, and four years later, I’m somehow still here, with him.
I think they call my generation ‘the digital natives’: the first generation to reach for WordPress instead of a diary, the first generation for whom making friends online isn’t some big scary unknown – it’s the norm. The first generation for whom anyone sufficiently dedicated (and strange) could track down pictures of our fifteenth birthday party, or long LiveJournal rants about our Year Eight biology teacher. The first generation for whom everything we’ve ever done will be accessible by someone, somewhere. And the first generation to realise that the internet isn’t something new, or radical – it’s just one big conversation. It’s a party, albeit one where you don’t get to decide the guest list. You can choose to avoid the racist grandmothers in the corner, and the creepy uncles at the buffet table – you can find those cousins from Australia you never knew you had, steal the punch bowl, and go and chat in the kitchen instead. You can’t stop those uncles from blundering in occasionally, and making awful, unasked for comments, but you can drown them out with good chat from good people.
And like at any party, there’ll be people who are better dressed than you, and people who are worse-dressed. There will be people who seem to side-eye you when you walk in, and people who you kind of want to side-eye yourself. People who seem to have effortless lives, all avocados and spiralisers, and people who seem to not really get it at all, and you’ll fall somewhere in the middle of the two. You’ll walk into one group of people, and feel like an outsider- and either you’ll stick around, and get drawn in to the conversation, or you’ll move on, and find the people who feel like home. There will be some, you know. It’s a bloody big party.
I should know: like I say, I’ve been here fourteen years. I got my first negative comment (‘Writing in pink is gay’) the day I wrote my first ever blog, and I’ve learned you’ve got to ride them out: that there’s no point trying to fight everyone who doesn’t like you. That not everybody likes you. That it’s okay that not everybody likes you. The lessons of the internet, it turns out, are really the lessons of the playground- so maybe it’s for the best I learned them aged nine.
Not everybody likes you, and that’s okay.
Some kids are the popular kids, and some kids aren’t, and so long as you’re nice to everyone, you’ll be okay too.
Listen to other people, and they will listen to you.
It won’t get better if you pick at it.
If you ignore it, it will probably go away.
Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all – or for God’s sake, lock your account.
Ellabel Risbridger is a freelance writer and journalist. Follow her on Twitter here.
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