What I Learned From a Viral Tweet

You don’t really want it to happen to you

Two years ago, I walked into my job at a local bookstore shaking with anxiety. I kept checking my phone, watching my notifications explode. Before I arrived at work, I had spent the morning locking down my Facebook account and scrounging my internet presence for any personal details that might jeopardize my safety.

Overnight, a controversial tweet I had written in response to legislature pushing back against abortion access completely blew up. As a young feminist writer, the attention to my work seemed like a dream come true. I was going viral. Who wouldn’t want that?

Instead of celebrating, I felt fear and disgust as the trolling and hateful responses scrolled across my screen. The time I usually spend eating breakfast and getting ready for work was wasted on protecting myself from the angry online mob. They called me things like slut, baby murderer, and worse because I was advocating for women’s rights.

It was horrifying. I feared for my safety. But the trolling was one thing — the response from my conservative family members who saw my viral tweet as it was shared all over the internet was a whole other issue. Relatives blocked and unfriended me, some even scolding me before disappearing from my life. I received angry texts from family and friends who said I would change my mind about abortion if only I were pregnant.

I’d spent the morning locking down my Facebook account and scrounging my internet presence for any personal details that might jeopardize my safety.

I stood by my values. But it was lonely, and I just wanted it to be over. For days I couldn’t even look at my private messages on Twitter. My Instagram comments were full of slander and hate. For every supportive yes girl, there was a casual you deserve to be killed just like you’re killing those babies. I got whiplash until I turned off my notifications.

My viral tweet did lead to a few opportunities. It made my name more recognizable as a feminist writer, and I had the opportunity to write a few stories for a couple of major outlets. I made about a grand on Medium that month, which felt good. But I also struggled with losing relationships with my family members who are anti-abortion. In the past, I had kept quiet about my pro-choice views. Now that I was speaking up with a prominent public platform, they were outraged and offended. Some asked me to stop writing. To give up my career.

For a while, I felt like I needed to keep writing viral tweets and churning out “hot takes” for Medium about feminist issues. It seemed like a good outlet for my anger and frustration. I did write a few more articles that made Medium’s home page, but they brought trolls and feminist haters along with them. Many days, I found myself worried that I would be at work and one of those trolls would figure out my location and come threaten me.

I often wonder if the money was fair compensation for what I went through. I don’t think it was. I stand by my views, but I wish I had been more prepared for the backlash I experienced.

At work that first day, I could hardly bear to check my phone. I couldn’t stop trembling from anxiety. I apologized to my boss for being unable to concentrate on my work and explained what was happening. I was emotionally exhausted. I wanted to be proud of myself, but I felt more like hiding.

Not many people can relate to going viral. But those who have been through it, especially when it’s something controversial, understand how awful it can be. But there are some benefits. As I mentioned, having a larger platform for my writing was amazing, to the experience. I gained many followers who share my values. I also received private messages from young women thanking me for standing up for their right to acquire an abortion. That was amazing.

I suppose, in the end, the positives may have made the experience worth it. But after several more experiences with semi-viral content, I decided tp completely change my approach to social media. I changed my username on all my platforms and set my profiles to private. Now, trolls can’t interact with me or easily acquire my information. It’s also harder for them to find me if they see my old tweet shared on another platform and decide to come abuse me, which still happens years after the tweet was first shared.

These days, I don’t spend my time online posting hot takes or trying to grow my following. I’m just being me, interacting with the mutual followers I’ve developed friendships with, only using social media in a way that is positive and affirming. It’s a much better experience not to worry about the trolls and haters. I’m losing followers, but I don’t mind. That doesn’t matter to me anymore.

I am glad that my name will be forever linked to a tweet that advocates for women’s autonomy. I am thankful for the opportunities that resulted from that viral tweet. I also learned a lot about what I want from my time on social media and how to protect myself. Don’t get me wrong, it was a valuable and unique experience. I’m just disappointed I wasn’t more prepared when it happened.

Science writer wrangling words and horses in the Pacific Northwest. | she/they

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