"I just want to say that you are not alone," Gabby Douglas heartens victims of cyberbulling.
“I just want to say that you are not alone,” Douglas, 20, said in an interview that aired today on “Good Morning America. “And even though it may seem the world’s against you — and I definitely felt like the world was definitely against me in Rio — I’m here today to tell you that’s not the case.”
“There are people out there who love you and your life is very valuable and it’s very important, so just stay strong,” she said.
— NewsOne (@newsone) December 16, 2016
Douglas was infamously bullied online while competing with the gold medal-winning “Final Five” USA women’s gymnastics team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Social media users slammed Douglas for her facial expressions, not placing her hand on her heart during the national anthem and even her hair. The scrutiny was so intense and publicized that the hashtag #Love4GabbyUSA was created to drown out the hate.
“I was caught off guard,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wait, what’s going on?'”
Douglas stayed off social media until after she and her teammates won the gold medal in the team competition but then allowed herself to go back online.
“I started Googling myself, which I probably shouldn’t have done,” she said.
Now, nearly four months after that experience, Douglas is putting herself in the social media spotlight again, but this time as a force for change.
Douglas is the first Change Ambassador for Hack Harassment, an initiative among media and tech companies and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to “take a stand against online harassment,” according to its website.
“I am encouraging everyone to take a pledge,” she said. “It’s called the hackharassment.com/pledge and you read it and you follow it.”
“It’s pretty simple,” Douglas explained. “You take the pledge and you don’t be mean online anymore.”
Gabby Douglas joins anti-cyberbullying campaign after facing online harassment https://t.co/9AhBg0gSfG
— CELEBUZZ (@CELEBUZZ) December 16, 2016
Gabby Douglas is also encouraging parents to play a role in trying to prevent online bullying.
“It starts at home,” she said. “If you’re a good example to your kid, your kid’s going to follow that example. If the kid sees you nasty, he/she’s going to take over that role.”
In 2012, Douglas was intensely criticized for her hairstyle, a sporty ponytail that other teammates also wore, the Los Angeles Times reports. Many believe she was targeted because of her race. And this year, Douglas couldn’t catch a break from continued online attacks. After she stood with teammates for the national anthem, but did not place her hand over her heart, she was called unpatriotic and criticized for not honoring the American flag.
Even after apologizing on social media for not saluting the American flag, the harassment did not stop for Douglas. She was also attacked for her perceived appearance and attitude, for not showing enough enthusiasm for fellow teammates in Rio.
The experience inspired Douglas to use her platform to spread awareness about online harassment, which affects 70% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24, according to the Pew Research Center.
— Geoffrey Michael (@Geoff_InBoston) December 16, 2016
Online harassment has been one of the tools used by some scrupulous people to abuse innocent ones. The ordeal of the Black athlete, Gabby Douglas, is just an example of many others who suffer silently from such unfortunate attacks. Therefore, it is good news she is at the forefront of this campaign; being a victim herself and a famous athlete, she can use her influence to create the awareness needed to kick against cyberbullying.