Yesterday, my blog went viral, taking in over 12,000 views and hundreds of comments on social media. Why? Because of this post.
I wrote a blog post intended as a light-hearted guide to things people should know about Hong Kong before they move here.
From jokes about the public transport to tips on how to move furniture, it was intended to be relatable, make people laugh, or just provide a distraction on their commute back from work. I even wacked some memes in there for good measure. Fortunately, the majority of people did respond positively to the post and enjoyed it. As for the others, we will get to that in a minute…
When I write listicles, I’m fully aware of the nonsensical nature of them. They’re not designed to say anything profound or change the world. If anything, it’s satire – I was poking fun at the bad behaviours of some expats and making light of it.
I made a mistake by titling it “Things I Wish I Knew About Hong Kong Before I Moved” when of course, I was aware of the polarities between HK / Mainland China and the cultural sensitivities long before I moved to Hong Kong. That’s why I included it in the post in the first place. As someone who came over here on a graduate scheme, believe me, the distinction between Cantonese and Mandarin is something that is often misunderstood. I will accept responsibility for the naivety of inditing myself into the article. People took this blog post as things I literally didn’t already know, which is the problem when thousands of strangers (and not your usual readership) suddenly flock in by the thousands to your blog.
But either way, I never could have anticipated the back-lash it received.
The post gained momentum quickly with a couple of hundred shares in the first few hours. This was totally normal – I’ve written viral content before and my HK posts are usually the most popular, especially when shared in certain Facebook groups.
It started with a girl leaving incendiary comments on a Facebook post. I don’t usually give trolls the time of day, but due to some of the things she was saying I felt it was necessary to call her out.
People too often can hide behind the sanctity of a computer screen and say things they would never dream of saying IRL.
I’m tired of hearing that just because you’re a blogger, or because you put yourself online, that you thereby offer yourself up as public property to be trolled and abused.
When things like that happen, I will always show up for myself and call people out. I wholeheartedly reserve my right to continue unfurling witty quips to the end of my days – it gives some validity to the myopic lives of key-board warriors, right?
But I digress…
It started off, for the most part, harmlessly. A group of friends clubbed together to begin tearing apart my writing. It was back and forth banter. Some of it was actually useful criticism. The majority of it, as you can imagine, was absolutely not. But pretty soon, things got out of control.
They then linked me to a post by a “well-known” HK blogger who they had shared the post with. It was pulling in hundreds of comments across multiple threads. If you’re reading this and wondering, “What the hell did this girl do that was so offensive?” Then don’t worry, you’re completely right to be confused. I have absolutely no idea why things like the fact I eat dim sum after work (it’s open all day long) would incense people to such an extreme, but ya know, the internet is a strange place. (There is absolutely no way I will be linking to the people in question, btw. The last thing I want to do is to bring them any traffic whatsoever or have my blog affiliated with the toxicity of theirs. They did bring in a lot of traffic for me, though. #winning).
Given this blogger’s brand firmly revolves around being a troll and tearing everything and everyone apart, you can imagine their audience. I have no idea whether this blogger is male or female. I have never seen a picture of them. They hide behind a meme as a profile picture and bash people through an anonymous identity. Clearly, this person has so much strength in their own convictions that they feel it is necessary to hide behind an alias.
As I scrolled through the threads, it felt like somebody had poured cold water down my back.
Suddenly I was faced with hundreds of strangers who were thriving off screenshots of my blog. Everything, from the fact that I’m a vegan to disparaging comments about the company I work for here in Hong Kong, were up for public ridicule.
My validity to write about my experience in Hong Kong was aggressively undercut by hoards of individuals who bypassed the things I had to say. I was firmly and dismissively relegated as a “basic bitch”. This term makes me cringe on so many levels. It is without a doubt the most culturally loaded sexist term used by millennials, and yet propagated by woman, to which there is no male equivalent. These gendered-terms are incredibly powerful and play a major role in perpetuating gender based violence and discrimination that I am extremely passionate about fighting. To be spoken to in this way, especially by other women, was beyond disappointing.
Some of these trolls even identified as feminists on their social media. I am confused how so-called feminists can so easily tear another woman down by using such misogynistic terms and patronising tones. Of course, it was men who primarily flocked to my defence. Can always count on the good old knights-in-shining-armour complex when you need it, eh?
Everything they were attempting to pin on me they were guilty of themselves. They abused me for being vegan. For being a white woman. For being “poor” in Hong Kong. For the company I worked for and my qualifications. Somebody went as far to quiz what type of employment visa on, conclude that I should be deported and to “go home”. My entire existence was being knocked – all because they didn’t like a few bullet points of my article.
What ultimately occurred to me was that I had written a blog post to an the expat community who, in reality, I do not know at all.
Should I have anticipated the comment of individuals (many of whom with immense economic privilege) have never been in a no toilet paper situation? Or for some dude to school me about the necessary geographical conditions of a typhoon? Probably. But honestly, I had no idea that there was such a thriving culture for trolling and tearing people down in Hong Kong. I had never heard of or encountered these people before and hope that I do not have to encounter them again, although I inevitably will.
I don’t stand with people who rush to brand someone a racist on no valid grounds and I certainly don’t stand with people whose careers boil down to what type of futile drama they can incite on social media.
I was never one of the popular kids and am all too familiar with what it’s like to be relentlessly bullied. People who, as grown men and women, devote their lives to engaging in this type of vitriol were those kids. Some of these people even have their children in their profile pictures; they are somebody’s parents who will be raising another generation of people to think this level of unsolicited, violent abuse is necessary. It’s frightening.
Bullying in any shape or form is absolutely not acceptable. We live in a generation where suicides in young people are extremely common. How many more stories do we have to read about people killing themselves from being unable to cope with the abuse they’re suffering online?
Funnily enough, now that the hate is fizzling out, I’ve been met by several apologies in my inbox. It’s a shame that people are so quick to publicly shame others but their apologies are always private. There is a pack-mentality online that needs to be changed. The lack of originality in the comments is stunning and the ease by which people form opinions and then regret them is scary.
My advice would be to think before you write. You have no idea what the potential ramifications could be when you attack a stranger online. People need to start taking responsibility. You absolutely cannot abuse someone and not expect repercussions. Fortunately, I am thick-skinned enough to laugh this off and won’t allow it to prevent me from doing what I enjoy, which is writing.