When you’re working in the public eye, be it as a politician, an actress, or a media personality, it is always expected that you open yourself up to undue criticism from strangers.
Recently, British TV star Emily Atack spoke out about the abuse that she has received in her DMs and it struck a chord with Newstalk’s Lunchtime Live presenter Andrea Gilligan, who has also received her fair share of ‘really nasty messages’.
She opened up the conversation on her daily afternoon chat show and was quite honestly stunned by the reaction from her thousands of listeners, many of whom don’t have a media profile, who also shared their own stories of strangers reaching out to abuse them online.
Speaking to EVOKE, the Donegal woman said the reaction made her wonder if online harassment is so normalised these days is it almost expected?
Andrea said that with the nature of her talk show, she fully expects people to disagree with her opinions, and that’s what makes the show what it is. But most of the snide comments she receives these days are not related to the content of her show and more about her looks.
‘I’ve noticed in recent months that it’s taken the turn of being more about what you look like- how I style my hair, clothes that I’m wearing that people feel are inappropriate or don’t suit; constant remarks about your weight- that’s a fairly common topic that comes up.’ she said.
‘It’s more focused on me rather than what I’m saying,’ Andrea added. She continued that she has also noticed that the way in which women treat her in critical messages differs completely from how men communicate their upset with her for whatever reason.
‘A lot of the private messages that I get tend to come from women,’ she said. ‘The stuff that you see that’s on Twitter, that’s in response to a video that we might put up on the show, a piece from the program or something, that’ll be men.’
Andrea often wonders about the thought process that goes into sending her an abusive message, as many of these people aren’t direct contacts. They have to seek her out, write the message, and then send a message request so that she can see it.
‘I always click into their profile,’ she said. ‘You’re like “Oh my God, there’s a woman with her husband and two children, and here’s another woman with her child in a holy communion dress.” Can you imagine if I replied and said, “Sorry, would you like me to repeat what you’ve said to me to your seven or eight-year-old daughter there?”‘
She continued: ‘You’d never do that, but they’re genuine people and genuine accounts and you’re like, “wow”. And I think a lot of people were very surprised by that. You’d never stop somebody in the street and say, “Sorry, just to let you know. Do you know I think you’ve put on weight?”‘
Andrea is far from alone in receiving such messages and has often discussed them with her Newstalk colleagues to see how they cope with abusive contact from strangers.
‘With male colleagues, I get the sense that it’s more about what you’re saying as opposed to how you look when you’re saying it,’ Andrea said before continuing: ‘People were quite shocked by the nature of it in terms of (my abuse) being about my appearance, my body, my body shape, my weight.’
Andrea hopes that by speaking out about the abuse she receives, those who are considering sending mean messages will think twice. Indeed, she said that if she was to get this kind of abuse when she was starting out it would have had a massive negative impact on her mentally.
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‘Just because you’re somebody who works in the media or you’re a politician or you’re somebody in the public eye, it doesn’t mean you’re a fair game,’ she said.
‘I think people don’t even see the line anymore. A lot of people don’t. Some people do, but a lot of people don’t. [When] I went home [from the show] I was just exhausted, I was mentally emotionally exhausted,’ she said.