Sunday, October 17, 2021

Tom Daley: I’ve felt sick about the heinous homophobic abuse I get online, but I’m learning to deal with it

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After Pete Waterfield and I failed to get a medal in the 2012 synchro competition, I retweeted a message a troll had sent me that said, “You failed your father, I hope you know.”

As an athlete who represents my country in a number of competitions and as a gay man who leads a rather unconventional family life, of course I don’t just have to take into account the opinions of the media. I’ve always had a large following on my social media channels. I post the things I want other people to see and social media gives me control over them. I have an amazing following and a huge amount of support.

Sometimes my platforms can feel like a community, a band with uplifting and kind voices.

It’s not all positive, however, and there are massive downsides. There are always voices in the midst of support throwing homophobic comments or worse on the web.

I don’t see the vast majority of these, but occasionally trolls can cause real problems. After Pete Waterfield and I didn’t get a medal in the 2012 synchro competition, I retweeted a message a troll had sent me that said, “You failed your father, I hope you know.”

I added, “After I gave it my all. . . You get idiots sending this to me. . . ‘ Send it to my millions of followers with a simple click. I have become more resilient to such news, but then I still learned not to let it influence me.

After the guy in question tried to withdraw, he then pounced on someone defending me. He wrote, ‘I’ll find you and I’ll drown you in the pool, you cocky cunt, you’re a nobody, people like you make me sick.’

This time around, I wasn’t the recipient, but it has exacerbated cyberbullying. It’s hurtful and no one should have to deal with it. I felt terrible that I was entangled in something so hideous.

I’ve also been exposed to a lot of homophobic abuse online. After the 2016 Olympics, a Christian group tweeted me and told me that because that’s how I live my personal life, Rio didn’t go so well. Some days I had it on all sides.

Now, I try never to read too much into the responses to my social media posts. that it surrounds me like water in the pool and just slips off me without my really noticing it.

The premise of social media and the way people can say negative things is bizarre. It can feel pretty hollow at times, and it’s always true that the one negative comment will stay well over 100 positive ones.

I have 3 million followers on Instagram and every time I post a picture I feel like I’m on a stage giving everyone a chance to scream whether they like what I’m wearing / doing or not.

In these scenarios, some people often shout things like, “I hate your pants”, “Why the hell are you doing this?” or ‘you are going to hell’.

I know that most of the people who share such negative comments on social media would never dare speak them to my face and that they are probably just compensating for a lack of confidence in themselves. I understand that social media works almost like a barrier for people to hide behind when they express their darkest thoughts.

Now I’ll tweet or post on Instagram and walk away. I think social media has given people a platform to say terrible things to others and there is absolutely no legal recourse. I’ve learned not to care what some faceless chance or bot thinks on the internet.

I hope that by the time Robbie grew up, the world has moved on and social media just isn’t the “thing” it is now. Only by setting very firm limits to my use of social media could I use them positively and not let the negative things influence me too much.

I try to use it to inspire myself and follow accounts that make me feel good. I try to leave everything else alone. Over the years I’ve learned to deal with different pressures in different ways, some more successfully than others. I have learned to be very resilient in my sport, to reinterpret failures and bad competitions and to have positive self-talk. I have faced and overcome many adversities.

The subject of unwanted media and social media attention is the area I’ve struggled the most in developing a resilient and tough mindset, but I’ve definitely gotten better at it over time and as my priorities have changed .

Mean criticism can be harsh, especially if it misinterprets me or my intentions, but I don’t have the energy to focus on it so I try to get over it. I never allow the opinions of others who are not close to me to go too deep.

I seek opinions from those I trust and respect who always give constructive advice. Am I sitting at the same table with these people, do they really know me and take care of me, and is that why their opinion counts? If they do, I will listen. Otherwise I try to stay neutral.

I have regained this power and know that I can only control what is in my own power. When it comes to outside pressure, I know what I’m doing and what’s right for me and my family.

Excerpt from Tom Daley’s autobiography Gasp for air, now available in hardback, e-book, and audio download (HQ, £ 20)

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