Gabby Douglas, the American gold medal-winning gymnast, seemed confused when a reporter at the Olympics started asking her questions about the internet just after her final routine at Rio. The reporter wanted Douglas to talk about a wave of petty criticism, much of it online, targeting Douglas’ hair, facial expressions and hand gestures during the Games. She started to tear up as she gave her response.
“I tried to stay off the internet,” she said. “It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It’s been kind of a lot to deal with,” she said.
Douglas is just one of many high-profile individuals who have avoided or quit social media - particularly Twitter - recently, often because of waves of abuse, prompted by the “wrong” hair, by appearing in the Ghostbusters reboot or by supporting the wrong romantic pairing of two characters in a fictional television show.
Here’s a round-up of some of these cases just from the past month:
The Ghostbusters actress temporarily left Twitter days after the release of her movie, following a particularly intense wave of racist abuse.
As Jones tweeted image after image of the hateful things people were sending her way, Twitter came under increasing pressure, as it has in the past, to do something about it. Although Twitter’s rules ban “harassment” and “hateful conduct,” the social media company has long been criticized for its slow, inconsistent enforcement of its own policies.
Eventually Twitter did respond, deleting several of the worst tweets Jones received and permanently banning some accounts. Among those banned was Milo Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart writer who often used his once-popular Twitter account to mock his ideological enemies.
As the harassment against Jones intensified, Yiannopoulos wrote several tweets making fun of Jones’ response to the abuse, calling her “barely literate” and sharing doctored images with his 300,000 followers that made it appear (falsely) as if Jones were making profane and offensive postings. Yiannopoulos later disputed his suspension, calling it “cowardly”.
Twitter took the unusual step of releasing a statement that addressed the abuse Jones faced, promising changes to Twitter’s hateful conduct policy and its abuse reporting system “in the coming weeks.” Those changes have not yet been announced, but Twitter said last week that it “will have updates to share soon.”
Meanwhile, Jones has returned to Twitter. And her tweets about the Olympics were so successful that TV network NBC (a company for which Jones also works) ended up flying her to Rio so that she could livetweet the Games in person.
The Fifth Harmony singer (second from right, below) announced that she was “taking a break” from Twitter early this month for depressing and familiar reasons: “Over the course of this last week and especially over the last 48 hours, I’ve not just been cyber bullied, I’ve been racially cyber bullied with tweets and pictures so horrific and racially charged that I can’t subject myself any longer to the hate.”
“I’m not the first black female celebrity to deal with this and I’m sure I won’t be the last,” she wrote, before thanking Twitter for “immediately jumping into action”.
Kordei’s Instagram and Twitter accounts are still active, but the singer hasn’t posted to them since announcing her social media break.
Lauren Zuke, a storyboard artist on Steven Universe, quit Twitter on August 12 after a subset of the children’s show’s online fandom attacked her over an apparent disagreement about a ship - or romantic pairing of two characters from the show. Zuke deleted her Twitter account over the weekend, right after writing “I don’t want to be accessible to thousands of people who think because I work on a TV show that I owe them myself all the time,” i09 reported.
Among the many things some webizens decided were wrong about Douglas: that she stood at attention instead of with her hand over her heart during the national anthem; that she didn’t look cheerful enough for them as two of her teammates competed in the individual all-around - an event for which she would have easily qualified had the Olympics’ two-per-country rule not mandated she sit it out; that her hair was not pleasant enough to look at for spectators. Douglas had a relatively disappointing trip to the 2016 Olympics as a gymnast, but it was the endless, petty criticism that drove her to tears during the news conference.
Meanwhile, many of Douglas’ supporters have rallied behind her to show love for the gymnast online, led somewhat fittingly by none other than Leslie Jones.
Justin Bieber deleted his Instagram account, which had nearly 80 million followers, after a public social media fight with his ex Selena Gomez and a bunch of his own fans. The fight was apparently about Sofia Richie, whom Bieber is rumored to be dating.
On Sunday night, Bieber told his fans he was going to “make my Instagram private if you guys don’t stop the hate this is getting out of hand”, addressing several nasty comments left on photos the singer posted of Richie and Bieber, entertainment site E! reported. And then Gomez left a comment of her own: “If you can’t handle the hate then stop posting pictures of your girlfriend lol - it should be special between you two only.”