One of the compounding aspects of public life is the inherent loss of privacy and the media scrutiny that one has to undergo in order to be publicly visible. If we examine the lives of politicians and other celebrities who share a public life, a key function is the sudden inundation of death threats and stalkers that can often intimidate people out of public life.
Evgenia Medvedeva, two-time World Champion and Olympic silver medalist in figure skating who has recently moved to Canada to train, has received continual harassment online from Russians in social media telling her to quit figure skating and to move back to Russia.
From the many stalkers of Taylor Swift, to the abuse of female politicians, in which Hillary Clinton says is all too commonplace and often “viral”, to the recent arrest made by UK authorities against the man who made death threats against Labour MP Yvette Cooper to the ubiquitous online harassment that celebrities and public figures often endure in social media, which became a subject of the late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s Mean Tweets, it seems that an active and necessary part of public life is to be able to survive the online verbal abuse and onslaught of unwanted attention which often comes with being a celebrity, public figure or politician.
Being a public figure today, whether a celebrity, politician, athlete or other well known person means that one will be subjected to continual harassment and verbal abuse on social media, something that didn't relatively exist in the generation before the year 2000. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel brings levity to the situation by asking public figures to read mean tweets about them.
Female athletes have also undergone this harassment on social media, as Olympic silver medalist in figure skating, Evgenia Medvedeva received vile, harassing comments from fans on her style of dress and appearance in an exhibition performance, in which derogatory messages were posted on her Instagram account asking the Olympic athlete, who recently became vegan, how much she “charged”, and she cheekily responded, “two vegan burgers”. Ms. Medvedeva currently has moved to train in Toronto, and she has also received harassing messages on social media telling her to quit figure skating and to move back to Russia.
The price of fame. During her time in office, former Prime Minister Theresa May received numerous death threats, was the focus of satirical videos and cartoons, called a “Maybot” and "traitor" by journalists, and was the target of numerous harassing messages and comments all over social media.
Although this type of abuse and harassment certainly should be monitored and curbed with the threat to life taken immediate action, the US has been taking proactive measures by increasing security for its politicians and making rapid arrests in those cases where death threats are recorded online, we have to remember that one of the tradeoffs of having a public life is the inherent loss of privacy that occurs as a result of being influential and visible in the media.
However, women aren’t the only ones to endure this type of harassment and abuse, as men are equal targets and if we examine the numerous death threats made against former President Barack Obama, in which it was recorded that he had received upwards of 30 death threats per day in 2009 to the blotched assassination attempt of Prince Charles in which shots were fired at him in 1994, to the 23 arrests made last year in connection to the death threats made against President Donald Trump, to the online aggression against male journalists on social media, such as Piers Morgan, men are also often at the receiving end of verbal abuse and online harassment.
What is important is that we do not allow these methods of intimidation to scare women away from holding public office nor becoming public in the media. Instead, our governments should ensure the safety of all of our citizens, to take immediate action against threats against life, and social media networks should automatically monitor all online death threats and report them to the proper authorities. What women should not do however, is quit. Quitting sends a message to online harassers and stalkers that they have been successful in their intimidation efforts, to effectively silence women. Instead of quitting, women in public office and UK MPs should legislate to put more safety procedures and practices in place to protect those who choose to lead a public life, so that subsequent women do not face similar threats against life.
The assassination of MP Jo Cox in 2016 sent a chilling ripple effect in the UK community. UK legislators should ensure the safety of all its members by proactively including protection at all times and increase security during town hall meetings (called surgeries) held weekly by MPs. This should be a standard in protection and not an option.
However, in regards to the general online harassment faced by both public figures and celebrities alike, this is something in which one must develop a thick skin and actively ignore the negative haters and instead focus one’s energies on positivity. It is very tempting to respond in a similar way to negative haters, but we have to remember that the tactic of haters is to get a reaction, and the best response is always no response, or else, if it is someone we know in person or close to in person, depending on how much respect we have for them, we can always respond with a funny quip, one liner or through humour to diffuse the situation.
We must remember that in the psychology of social media however, people automatically revert to negativity through perceived anonymity, and it becomes easy for people to take out their daily frustrations onto others via anonymity through their keyboards on the internet. For these situations, it is best to simply ignore the haters and not get pulled into their quicksand of negativity. Negative comments and negative media coverage, most of the time, will always blow over after time, and the majority of people often have short memories on social media. Spending time dedicated to reacting to negativity on social media ultimately takes time away from pursuing our goals and achieving success in everyday life, hence why it is important that we do not react to these negative comments but turn our energies towards the people who inspire us and help us to become better.
Certainly, it is disturbing and unsettling to receive harassing comments, and even death threats and rape threats, especially by those reported by female journalists, pop singers and politicians alike, but allowing authorities to do their job to investigate these hate crimes and continuing the journey in public life, especially for women is important, because it sends a clear message that this type of intimidation will not affect women, and it also sends a clear message to the generation of young girls that they should not fear speaking up and that women too, can be the Prime Minister of the UK or the President of the United States. We must not let intimidation against our female public figures and politicians win and UK MPs must act collectively to ensure women do not quit.