For nearly 2 years I have watched a hateful group of cyber bullies grow in the dusty corners of the internet, a forum of people attacking and degrading those who were just reaching for support in the midst of living with a disability. The group’s main purpose? To find and expose people who they believe are “faking” their disability on the internet.
You don’t need to do anything particularly wrong to be accosted by this group. You just need to exist.
Their accusations are made with scant evidence. With little crux to their crusade, they are compelled to find the “proof” they need to justify their actions. They dissect social media feeds, pulling from posts written decades ago. They pressure people to share health information in an attempt to “prove” their story and thus get removed from their “blacklist” of “fakers,” but it’s never enough.
They publicly belittle people with disabilities who are active on social media. They destroy their reputation or attack endlessly until the subject is forced to walk away from the internet altogether. Then they move on to their next victim.
I became their next victim.
For disabled people, it can often take years of effort and persistence to fight society’s ableism and grow any sort of audience on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. We frequently share personal, sometimes deeply emotional, aspects of our lives to bridge the gap between disabled and non-disabled communities.
The thing is, just because you share your story in a public venue does not mean people are somehow privileged to extensive information about your health. In fact, for the sake of safety and mental health, most people who run larger disability social media accounts post very little about their health, though there are a few out there who frequently share updates. Those accusing people of “faking” claim these health updates “don’t make sense.”
I never expected to be accused of being a “faker,” and it happened so suddenly I felt as if I didn’t even have time to brace myself. I deleted accounts and changed some passwords. I made a rule for myself never to go and read what the cyber bullies said about me and told my friends not to share details with me. I tried to protect myself, but these measures were like paper walls against a hurricane.
Even though I avoided engaging, a lot of what was said came back to me eventually, in the form of various hateful comments and messages. People found ways around my security measures with throwaway accounts and direct message requests.. I woke up to comments telling me I was disgusting and demanding I delete my account. They attacked my weight, hobbies, writing, and anything else within reach.
Besides being appalled that a group of people focused on accusing others of faking their disabilities exists in the first place, it’s a special kind of blow to realize that most of society doesn’t care about the harm it causes to be accused. It can lead to unnecessary anxiety for some. And when the burden of these claims of faking are too much, most disabled accounts are forced to simply disappear.
Some of the most amazing accounts I follow and friends I’ve made have had to walk away from the online community as a result of the cyber bullying. Nobody is standing up for us, for our voices and our stories. No one should be afraid to post health updates on social media. We shouldn’t have to hide our stories from the public. This is blatant ableism.
Disability is an aspect of our lives that impacts us every day, and social media gives us the chance to connect with others in similar situations. So why wouldn’t we talk about it? And why shouldn’t we have the freedom to choose what we do or don’t share? Not only do these actions connect us with others, but they also introduce us to accommodations and help that we might otherwise have never known about. They are a vital aspect of thriving with a disability or chronic health problem.
Ultimately, cyber bullies accusing people of faking their disabilities are the manifestation of society’s inability to understand disability. For most, the choice to leave social media after being attacked was the only thing to bring them peace, but I have the opposite problem. While it may be easier to stop posting, I know that would simply be giving these people what they’ve wanted all along, and I’m done with that.
So I will continue to post and be as active as my health allows. Why? Because I will not live in a world where people insist on disbelieving disabled people. I refuse to let anyone silence my story.