You probably already know that my son, William, is severely disabled. He has cerebral palsy (brain damage) caused by a lack of oxygen at some point during the final day of my pregnancy. His condition is severe and he needs 24/7 care but he’s also the happiest kid you’ll ever see (keep an eye on my Instagram stories for regular proof of that!).
So it might surprise you to hear that sharing this cute, funny kid has left me wide open to trolling and I have been a victim of some of the most horrific online abuse you can imagine.
When he was small, I used Facebook to get support from other families in my situation. This was back in 2009/10 when Facebook was still relatively new (I didn’t have a smart phone and had to use a computer to access it!). It was a game changer, I no longer felt like the only one with a disabled kid, I was talking to people around the world and finding out about all sorts of therapies and treatments we could try (newsflash there is no cure for cerebral palsy).
At that time I was fundraising to pay for the adaptions to our house. We needed over £20k to make up the shortfall to make our house wheelchair accessible. So I started a Facebook page where I ran online auctions, sold cakes and was successful in raising the cash in a pretty short space of time.
It was fantastic. But also awful as it was my first taste of online bullying.
I received messages from people questioning if I was making up Williams disability, people shared my posts calling me a scammer and I was regularly getting comments from people calling my son the R word and questioning why he needed wheelchair access when he was just a kid.
But being the positive person that I am, I didn’t let it get to me. I mostly ignored it. Didn’t really mention it to anyone (my husband included) and just got on with it.
My next taste of cyber bullying came when I was doing a lot of campaigning for Changing Places Toilets as these are the only facilities that William can use when we dare leave the house.
If like me you’d never met a severely disabled person before then I’ll forgive you for not realising than disabled toilets aren’t in fact suitable for all disabled people! (Changing places toilets have a hoist and an adult sized changing table in them as well as a loo.)
My campaigning resulted in a lot of press coverage. I was in local and national press, including The Daily Mail. Let me warn you now, if you ever get press coverage shared on Facebook DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS.
People were outraged that I dared to expect my son to be able to go out in public and they weren’t afraid to show their disgust. We were called benefit scroungers (not sure why, we weren’t asking for any money and didn’t even get benefits!), told that William should just stay at home so he didn’t upset other people and even questioned as to why we felt so privileged that he should get special treatment just because he was disabled – sitting in a clean nappy rather than a dirty one isn’t special treatment in my opinion but what do I know.
Comments ranged from people saying I should stop expecting them to pay for “my mistakes’. I should just carry my “spaz kid” to “Put the “r***** in a home so no-one has to look at him”… and worse.
Again, I mostly ignored it. Although there were times when I bit back, only to get worse replies before realising I was fighting a losing battle. People are just gross.
If you want to read some of my press coverage click here.
One time I tended up going viral when I tweeted a photo of my friends daughter on the floor of a John Lewis toilet, shortly after they’d spent millions on a Christmas ad. People were more outraged that we’d dare slam John Lewis than the actual issue. This time not only was I on the receiving end of the online abuse, but so was the girls Mum.
But the worst came when I took on Marks & Spencers. My local store is great, it has a massive cafe and I often went there on a weekend with William because there was so much space to move around with his wheelchair. He loves people watching, I love shopping, we both love cake.. perfect. But we couldn’t stay there very long because if he needed the loo there was no where to go.
Long story short, it was a huge store, I asked them to make adjustments, they said no. I blogged about it.
Someone read it and got very upset.
So upset they decided to email me.
They told me that I shouldn’t be ‘picking on M&S’ because William was ‘a good case for euthanasia at birth’ and shouldn’t be here anyway. She emailed me several times from her own email account, abusive emails always calling for William to be euthanised. Literally telling me my kid should die.
I googled her. She was a retired GP.
A GP not only felt it was ok to send abusive messages but felt that my son, a human being who also happened to be disabled, should have been killed at birth.
By this time I thought I had heard everything. Turned out I hadn’t. And this was the straw that broke the camels back.
The reason this particular incident affected me was not so much because she thought that, although that was bad enough. It was that she thought it so much that she’d gone out of her way to find my email address, email me and tell me that was what she thought. And that she was a retired GP.
Had she always thought that? Had those thoughts impacted anyone else in the past? Had she given disabled people the proper medical treatment when they’d needed her help as a GP?
It was too much.
So I called the police.
They were amazing. The emails were classed as hate crime against a disabled person and the woman was given a caution.
It didn’t stop her. She did it again. This time I was told that she was mentally ill. Like that was an excuse for her behaviour.
She’s probably gone on to do it to other people, she can’t do it to me again because I no longer campaign, or blog as mum on a mission. I closed my email down, stopped blogging, shut my Facebook page and groups, it was too mentally draining dealing with her, or the other trolls who would inevitably come creeping out of the woodwork if I continued.
I am not mentally scarred. Maybe because the trauma of being told your baby has brain damage toughened me up and made me immune to anything else? I don’t know?
Being on the receiving end of comments like this about your child is horrendous, but being slightl removed allows you to have some perspective and rationality in your responses.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to get trolled personally. To have someone attack you, your looks, your personality, your very soul.
Just the thought of that makes me relieved that William will never have to endure it himself as he will never be able to access the internet independently.
But it terrifies me that my friends kids may endure this and worse when they are older. Or worse, might become a troll themselves.
My experiences of cyberbullying, trolls, keyboard warriors haven’t affected my own mental health. But they have made me determined to do something to help other people who have been affected by cyberbullying, trolling, online harassment etc.
Working in social media it seems really obvious that we should all be working together to try and do something about the effects of cyberbullying. For our own sakes, and for our children and our clients children who will be growing up with social media being the norm.
So I am really pleased that The Hub will be supporting Cybersmile from Jan 2020 and for every purchase made via The Hub, we will pay for 1:1 support for a victim of cyber bullying so that they can get the help they need to ensure they can move on from it.
If you, or anyone you know is affected by cyberbullying, online harrassment, trolling etc then please contact Cybersmile for support and advice.
Make a donation.
If you’d like to support Cybersmile, every little helps and we’ve set up a JustGiving page where you can donate directly.
By Laura Moore
Laura is co-founder of The Hub and also runs her own business as a Facebook ads strategist.
She is passionate about equality and change for disabled people.