While many dream of fame and fortune, it’s no secret that there is a dark side to being in the spotlight. From fat-shaming to sexist bullying and racial abuse, even the most seasoned A-listers are not immune to the unwanted, negative attention that can come from both social and mainstream media.
So when Rebecca Black, then 13 years old, suddenly shot to internet stardom in 2011 after posting her amateur music video Friday on Youtube, she was not prepared for the flurry of abuse that came her way.
Now, six years later, Black has opened up about her experience of online bullying and the lessons that she learned in an essay published on nbcnews.com.
Having recorded the video during a school break “to have some fun”, Black explains how she went from an unknown to suddenly being recognised by millions around the world when the video went viral. But with that recognition also came an “onslaught of negative attention... so sudden and so intense” that Black wasn’t sure that she “would survive”.
“One minute, I was a normal girl and then, in the next, millions of people know who I was and they were ruthless in hurling the most vile words my way,” she opens.
“People were writing things all over the internet, on social media and they were laughing at me on TV shows, and making fun of me in YouTube videos. It was open season and I was the target.”
Addressing a common theme within online abuse, Black – about to release her debut EP, RE/BL – notes that those attacking her seemed to “forget” that there was a real person behind the screen. And not just a person, but a young teen who did not yet have the “emotions or experience” to deal with such trauma.
“An adolescent girl is, at best, pretty confused as to what life is all about and usually struggling to navigate this world around us as we’re beginning to be seen as adults but without the emotions or experience to handle adulthood,” she writes.
“It is so challenging to live up to all the requirements that a hugely demanding society places on us women; to perform, to look exquisite, to be fun, to be smart, to be popular. It is just too much; we are not created to be ‘perfect’ and it is not fair to demand so much from a young girl, let alone from any grown woman or any human.”
And so, Black explains that she coped the only way she knew how, by shutting down completely.
“Although I was hurt to my core by the intense nastiness, I had absolutely no way to deal with that, so I shut down,” she pens.
“Pretending that the bad things were not that bad and easy to shake off was the only way I knew to handle it.”
While she acknowledges that there were some highlights to her newfound fame – including red carpet appearances and working with Katy Perry – Black now wants to use her experience to help young people manage the particular type of bullying that occurs online by speaking in schools, recognising that is not just those in the limelight who are subjected to vitriolic hatred.
“I will never fully understand how I became one of the first people to experience online bullying in an extremely intense way. But I do know now that what happened to me is truly just a global extension of something that goes on in every school, on every computer screen and in every neighborhood,” Black writes.
“Social platforms can really dehumanize the targets of online abuse. For instance, I once met someone who had bullied me online, and she told me to my face that she hadn’t ever considered that I was actually a real, living, breathing human being.”
She adds: “I can almost understand that sometimes, when someone is in pain themselves, they are not able to comprehend the level of hurt they are causing others.
“But that doesn’t excuse their behavior, it merely explains where change needs to happen.”
Black acknowledges the need for people to have an outlet for negative issues, but says more need to stand up to those who express it by inflicting pain on others.
“In my own online community, I do see people standing up to the bullies [...] I’m seeing people bravely speaking up about how they have been bullied and hurt, to try to give other people hope that things can get better.
“That’s why I’ve chosen to add my voice to the chorus. Nobody needs to suffer in silence, like I did, for so many years.”