The cruelty experiment - results and advice

In this post I'm going to talk about my social media experiment #thecrueltyexperiment, and what happened from this week long look into the souls of trolls on my Instagram account. Here's a spoiler - the strongest reaction wasn't from a troll at all. If you want to read about my findings on keyboard warriors and my advice for how to deal with them, skip to the end, but if you're here for the drama, read on.

In case you missed it, about a week ago I set out to do a social media experiment into the behaviour of trolls, haters, keyboard warriors or whatever else you want to call them. While I was on holiday in Spain I gained a lot more social media followers on Instagram, and this being the world we live in I also got a lot more nasty comments than normal. I got several a day instead of the usual few, and a huge increase in people tagging their friends in my photos so they can laugh at the fat girl. *eyeroll* I was also on a few Tumblr fat hate sites while I was on holiday. Don't I feel special now?!

It got me thinking - do people who aren't fat know this kind of thing goes on? If they don't have any fat friends who are active on social media AND who also talk frankly about what it's like, how would they know being 'out' and fat online comes with a constant side-order of shit?! I decided to set up an experiment and share it on my social media channels to illustrate how many fat people are only visible on social media at great cost to their mental health. I wanted to do this even if it never made a ripple beyond my social media feed, even if it meant I'd be targeted by trolls more. I thought it was worth doing.

I called it #thecrueltyexperiment and decided I'd carry on posting those leftover swimwear shots from my holiday or taking new shots revealing my fat self to see if the trolls would still leave their crappy comments if forewarned. I wanted to see how 'brave' they'd be - I stated that I'd be screen-shotting all their crap. Firstly I wanted to see if most of them even bothered to read my captions (or could read at all!) as I was sure they see a fat body, have their knee-jerk reaction and move onto the next person to insult. I wanted to be able to better understand these people, perhaps even come to a place of compassion for them.

Here's the Instagram post where I outlined what I was going to do and why. I shared it to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr too so my friends could see what I was planning.

I've always been interested in what fuels the evil in people, be it reading true crime novels or watching documentaries about serial killers. The dark side intrigues me, but as a fat person on the internet I don't need to read about the Nightstalker or watch a documentary about Fred & Rose West. Little acts of evil find me every day. · · · · · · · Most times the people who tag their friends for shits and giggles in my posts cower on Instagram behind private profiles, but sometimes they don't. Similarly most people who insult me are only brave enough to do so hiding behind a private profile and anonymous avatar. I'm going to be screenshotting every act of online cruelty against me and documenting the results overall in a week's time. I may even put some of the perpetrators on blast, but none of them take the time to read my captions so they won't know that. 😂 Why am I doing this? Because this fuckery doesn't fly with me. No fat person should have to brace themselves for incoming bigotry every time they upload a photo. It's going to be hairy, but few people outside fat circles know this shit goes on. I want to change that. Don't worry I'll intersperse my time of dealing with fucknuggets watching cute animal videos so I'm not dragged down to the depths with the trolls. #psbloggers #plussize #radfat #effyourbeautystandards #antifatbullying #thecrueltyexperiment
A photo posted by Leah ✨🌙⭐ ( on

Another reason for doing this was because I wanted to help other fat people who may not be as far ahead in their confidence journeys as me to know that they can fight back against trolls, that there is support out there and they don't have to be afraid every time they put a photo of themselves online. I had such noble intentions, but someone took offense, and it wasn't a troll. The only negative feedback I got on my plans was from a friend who doesn't really understand social media as she doesn't use it much, and she's not fat so she has idea what it's like to be an 'out' fatty online. She has no idea of the myriad ways trolls get at you - the concern trolling, the insults, the inevitability of it daily, just for existing. She's the kind of person who thinks she knows what's best for everyone, so I didn't think too much of our interaction for a minute. We both have strong opinions, and she and I have had some minor issues in the past with me being unapologetically myself, as she's not a fan of fat people. She has a fat family member who's not in the best of health and in a roundabout way she uses her family member as a cautionary tale - do not become a fatty fat fatty or else this fate will await you. Of course her experiences shape her opinions - just as my experiences shape mine - but if her experience tells her that people like me should take what's coming from trolls or get off the internet then we were going to fall out. And we did.

This was on the first day of the experiment. It put my back up instantly that she dragged it down to 'You may not hear what you want to hear'. Her assumption that I was doing this for pats on the head really pissed me off, so I responded sharply. That victim-blaming mentality really gets my goat - no one ever MAKES someone say horrible things just by existing. (Not that I think of myself as a victim at all, but it's the best way I can describe her blaming the person minding their own business rather than the person doing a shitty act). It's like blaming someone who got stabbed for running into a knife. You don't blame the passive party unless you're a dick. Immediately after I replied she deleted me off Facebook - the girl I've known on and off since I was 5. This is the woman who stopped talking to me for almost 10 years as we had a misunderstanding about what night I was going round for a Chinese, so I knew to leave well alone.

I left it 6 days with no communication, then I sent her an apology for not agreeing with her. It was the right thing to do to keep the peace. She responded - I didn't realise she had it in her to be that nasty, to be honest. She had plenty to say - she called me a bully. She said people who support me are 'sheep who massage my ego' (BAAAAAAAAA!) and that my social media experiment is pointless. She said I'm promoting an unhealthy lifestyle and I'm not happy - I didn't realise she was both a medical doctor and a psychologist, but you learn something new every day! I'm not a saint. I didn't welcome her message with open arms - I gave her more than a few home truths to take away with her. What really pissed me off was the unsaid - her attitude can be summed up by 'lose weight/get off the internet or you've got no one to blame but yourself'. Charming. Me standing up to bullies made her go nuclear because how dare I actually like myself? How dare I try to help make other fat people feel less afraid to be visible? Of course it hurts. No loss of friendship is easy to get over, but the anger I feel for that woman is really helping. (Edit - in my response to her in the screenshot above I think she thought I meant her by 'entitled idiots' when in fact I was talking about trolls. It's very interesting that she assumed I meant her. Enlightening).

So, enough of my hurt feeeeeeeelings, let's get back to the experiment itself.

I already knew some things about trolls/haters/keyboard warriors. For instance for me it's mostly men who write really foul comments or do the sneakiest concern trolling. Women mostly tag their friends in my photos so they can laugh at me. I know, HAR DE HAR. I'm fucking hilarious, me. About 80% of the people who write nasty comments or tag their friends are hiding behind private profiles and only about 20% have the balls to do it from an open profile.

What new things I learned
  1. My 'friend' was not really my friend. (I'm being as polite as I can here!)
  2. I didn't get a SINGLE abusive comment the whole time I ran this experiment. WHAT DAFUQ? I was totally gobsmacked. I had nothing to screen shot! From this silence I gathered some very important things
    Trolls can actually read and do read captions. Oh my glob.
    Either the threat of being put on blast seemed to discourage them from commenting meaning they're cowards, orrrrr because I was expecting crappy comments the surprise attack was lost and spoiled their fun, in which case they're control freaks. Either way it's kinda pitiful.
  3. Most of the people who tag their friends in my photos for shits and giggles are teenagers, and it's predominantly teenage girls. I forgive them for being dicks - I was an unbearable teenager once, too.
  4. Most of the people of late who tagged their friends in my photos for laughs did it on photos I reposted last month from my wedding day. I've deleted sooooo many comments from my wedding photos on Instagram in the last few weeks. It seems most cruel of all to try to ruin a girl's happy memories of her wedding day. What a bunch of c*nts!
Here's my advice for how to deal with trolls
  1. If you want to answer trolls back, do so, but don't justify your right to exist. "I work out/I eat healthily". Nope, you do not have to justify your existence. Trolls love that. You don't have to play the good fatty to deserve respect. Every decent human deserves it, regardless of what we look like. 
  2. If you want to be polite in your response and take the high ground, good for you! If you want to tell them to get fucked, indulge yourself. How you deal with these people is entirely up to you. You do not have to be polite to people who want to eradicate you from existence.
  3. If you just want to block/report them and delete their shitty comment, do it! 
  4. If you want to leave their comment there unchallenged, that's fine too. Be aware your followers may step in on your behalf and tackle the trolls, which may bring heat to their accounts, so maybe keep an eye on things.
  5. If you want to put them on blast, screenshot their comment and/or their profile page and warn other fat peeps about the dickery of an individual, go for it.  
  6. If you start getting a LOT of crappy comments, you may be the victim of an orchestrated campaign of abuse organised by one of the many fat-hating forums that exist. This is a more scary entity and my advice would be to go private for a while until the sad sacks lose interest. 

What do we know about trolls?  

They're not happy people. Happy people are too busy being happy to find people to be shitheads to. I don't know about you, but I've never thought to myself on a beautiful sunny day 'Ah, what shall I do today? Sit in the sun, go to the park, maybe have a chilled beverage? Oh no, I know, I'll find some people to be horrible to on the internet!' It doesn't happen. Hurt people hurt other people.

Happy fat people really piss off unhappy thin people. If they're doing all the 'work' to make themselves happy - dieting, working out, living the typical media dream of an attractive, socially 'worthy' human being - and they aren't happy, that really eats away at them. How dare we have not 'done the work', but have found a way to accept ourselves anyway?! The outrage! ;)

But it's not just thin people. A lot of unhappy fat people really hate happy fat people too. Some of the meanest things I've seen online were on the Facebook pages of plus size fashion websites from other fat people. I was slut shamed on Instagram by another fat woman as well.

Trolls are mostly cowards. A lot of the most vile comments come from people hiding in the safety of their private Instagram accounts, often using anonymous profile photos as well. Oh, how brave of them to criticise other people's looks, make judgements on people's morality based on body size and generally act like they themselves are the most gorgeous beings alive, when they're too scared to put their own face out there. There's no need to be afraid of people like that.

In closing, sometimes the boogey man is a troll, and sometimes it's those closest to you that hurt you the most. Sometimes people see you as less than for who you are and everything you stand for. Sometimes it's not about your issues, but theirs. Sometimes your very existence niggles at someone who's supposed to be on your team, and then one day out of the blue, BOOM, they're gone. Sometimes love and respect comes with qualifiers, comes with conditions, thus I will only respect you if you live your life in a way I approve of. Apparently as I refuse to diet myself down to a tidy little package I deserve the hate of strangers. Apparently I deserve the hate of a friend, too.

I'm really angry now but it will fade. I will carry on being unapologetically me. This experiment was never supposed to be about me, and in closing I'd like to say to anyone who's currently going through crap because you are being true to yourself (and being yourself bravely, despite society's definition of what makes a worthy human being) - carry on being you. We grow as we go through life, and sometimes we grow away from people. It's OK. To my fat babes being all radical and running the gauntlet of fat hate every day - I see you. I value you.

Feel free to tell me your experiences with trolls, and if you have any advice to give about how to deal with them, please do so in the comments. 

Thanks for reading!
Leah xoxo

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