The Day I Met the Internet

By LISA KHOURY
On February 2, 2012

 

I woke up today and had 938 hate mails, 646 nasty Facebook comments, and dozens of mean-spirited tweets.

I'm a 19-year-old college sophomore, I help run my family's restaurant, I'm a writer and editor at my school's newspaper, and a woman from Australia says I'm "sexist." A professor from the University of Illinois wonders about my mental stability. A man double my age is calling me "ugly."

In the past 48 hours, authors, war veterans, mothers of small children have told me I'm ignorant, worthless, brainwashed, classless, disgusting, hypocritical, and judgmental.

A man from New Zealand called me bigoted, self-righteous, conservative rubbish. Twenty-one emails within the last 24 hours addressed me as a cunt. My inbox was flooded with dozens of men and women who called me a dumb bitch, and one man only sent me two words: "stupid cow."

These people I have never met attacked my family and how I was raised. They accused me of trying to play God, and one woman even told me I reminded her of Hitler during the Holocaust.

My crime?

I wrote an opinion piece about tattoos for Monday's Spectrum. As a female, I took the woman's stance and said I'm beautiful without a tattoo.

My piece served as a counterpoint to my colleague's column about why she loves tattoos.  My piece went viral online.

Blogs devoted to tattoos featured it, tweeted it, posted it and decried it as sexist and everything that is closed-minded about America today.

In 48 hours, my article got 25,000 hits, which is a new Spectrum record. It made it on over 200 Facebook statuses and was all over the Internet, including on tumblr, reddit.com and beawarriorqueen.com.

My journalist friends told me not to worry. All readers are good readers, they said. Bad news is good news.

I'm not so sure.

 "Lisa Khoury, you're what's wrong with the world," one site read. And "News editor says tattoos are classless and worthless."

All this hate has shaken me.

I never meant to be vindictive toward an entire subculture. That's why its response was so unexpected to me. Its words were different; it wanted to eviscerate me.

I am sorry to anyone who took my words as a personal attack. I am sorry to anyone who felt disrespected in any way. This column was meant to express my opinion and explain how I live, not to tell you that my way of life is in any way superior to yours.

I was misinterpreted. These strangers have slowly and in the most painful way possible ripped me to shreds within the past 48 hours.

Their hate will be tattooed in me for a long time, but only as a learning lesson.

I'm still learning about journalism, and this was my first-ever opinion column. I wrote the column, entitled, "Why Put a Bumper Sticker on a Ferrari?" because my colleague asked if I wanted to counter her column.

Our articles ran side by side. Some of the people who hate me so much attacked me for not showing the other side of the argument about tattoos. That wasn't my job.

Many points, especially about feminism, were taken out of context and turned into something demeaning. My point about my body having "the ability to turn heads" stemmed from the fact that I wasn't the healthiest teenager, so when I learned more about health and fitness after high school, I found meaning in that. Not because I was becoming skinnier (for the record, I in no way find myself slim), but I found that I was setting goals for myself, and, for once, achieving them. I felt happier because I felt healthier. Each day I felt like I would live a longer life, and my future kids wouldn't have to worry about their mom dying from smoking cigarettes or not exercising regularly, the way I worry about my parents.

The whole clothes thing? Well, when I lost weight, yeah, I was actually interested in dressing myself for once. Do I wear tight fitted clothes every day to school for the aesthetic, sexual pleasure of the men around me? Eww. I wore the same jeans for about 17 years and recently discovered there are other styles out there for me to try out, I guess what I was getting at was perceived as something much more shallow to my readers.

My tattoo column, along with its counter point, was supposed to generate a discussion about tattoos. That's what journalism does. It continues the conversation people are having among themselves – at least that is what my instructors say.

But no one was conversing about my points. Instead, they were taking certain lines out of context, and it was no longer a conversation, but an appalling backlash.

This horror of a week has taught me life-long lessons. First, I said hello to the power of the Internet. My column – ripped from its context next to my colleague's – became something entirely different online. And I – a reserved, thoughtful college student – became faceless. That made me an easy target for people's rage.

For the record, not a single mean comment came from readers of the paper. No one wrote hateful messages to The Spectrum. It all came from outside. And it all came directly at me.

That leads me to the second thing this week has taught me, a lesson about the power of words. If my words hurt people enough to generate an entire subculture to attack me personally, then how did I make them feel?

If I had the column to write over again, would I do it differently? Sure. I'd keep my argument, but I'd be more careful about phrasing. I'd try not to sound judgmental or sound as though I'm sitting on my high horse. I know now how effective words can be and how artfully they should be chosen.

I also know how much pain words can cause. People often say journalists are callous. Not me. Never me. Not after this.

It's a life lesson in what words can do, what the Internet can do, and – most of all – a lesson for me to never do what other people did to me. As a writer, I have jump-started my career with a valuable lesson: think about what you write before you write it – on paper, online, and in cyberspace. You never know what tattoo blog might pick it up one day…


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