Following is the full transcript of actor, writer and activist Dylan Marron’s TED Talk: How I Turn Negative Online Comments into Positive Offline Conversations.
Hi. I’ve received hate online. A lot of it. And it comes with the territory of my work.
I’m a digital creator, I make things specifically for the internet. Like, a few years ago, I made a video series called “Every Single Word” where I edited down popular films to only the words spoken by people of color, as a way to empirically and accessibly talk about the issue of representation in Hollywood.
Then, later, as transphobic bathroom bill started gaining media attention around the United States, I hosted and produced an interview series called “Sitting in Bathrooms with Trans People” where I did exactly that. And then —
Sure, I’ll take applause. Thank you
And then, are you familiar with those unboxing videos on YouTube where YouTubers open up the latest electronic gadgets? Great, so I satirized those in a weekly series, where instead I unboxed intangible ideologies like police brutality, masculinity and the mistreatment of Native Americans. My work — Thanks. One person applauding, God bless. Mom, hi!
So, my work became popular. Very popular. I got millions of views, a ton of great press and a slew of new followers. But the flip side of success on the internet is internet hate. I was called everything From “beta” to “snowflake” and, of course, the ever-popular “cuck.” Don’t worry, I will break these terms down for you. So, “beta,” for those of you unfamiliar, is shorthand online lingo for “beta male.” But let’s be real, I wear pearl earrings and my fashion aesthetic is rich-white-woman-running-errands, so I’m not angling to be an alpha. Doesn’t totally work.
Now, “snowflake” is a put-down for people who are sensitive and believe themselves to be unique, and I’m a millennial and an only child, so, duh! But my favorite, favorite, favorite is “cuck.” It’s a slur, short for “cuckold,” for men who have been cheated on by their wives. But friends, I am so gay, that if I had a wife, I would encourage her to cheat on me. Thank you.
Let’s take a look at some of this negativity in action. Sometimes it’s direct. Like Marcos, who wrote, “You’re everything I hate in a human being.” Thank you, Marcos. Others are more concise. Like Donovan, who wrote, “gaywad fagggggg.” Now, I do need to point out, Donovan is not wrong, OK? In fact, he’s right on both counts, so credit where credit is due. Thank you, Donovan.
Others write to me with questions, like Brian, who asked, “Were you born a bitch or did you just learn to be one over time?” But my favorite thing about this is that once Brian was done typing, his finger must have slipped because then he sent me the thumbs-up emoji. So, babe, thumbs up to you, too.
It’s fun to talk about these messages now. Right? And it’s cathartic to laugh at them. But I can tell you that it really does not feel good to receive them. At first, I would screenshot their comments and make fun of their typos, but this soon felt elitist and ultimately unhelpful. So over time, I developed an unexpected coping mechanism.
Because most of these messages I received were through social media, I could often click on the profile picture of the person who sent them and learn everything about them. I could see pictures they were tagged in, posts they’d written, memes they’d shared, and somehow, seeing that it was a human on the other side of the screen made me feel a little better. Not to justify what they wrote, right? But just to provide context. Still, that didn’t feel like enough.
So, I called some of them — only the ones I felt safe talking to — with a simple opening question: “Why did you write that?” The first person I spoke to was Josh. He had written to tell me that I was a moron, I was a reason this country was dividing itself, and he added at the end that being gay was a sin. I was so nervous for our first conversation. This wasn’t a comments section. So I couldn’t use tools like muting or blocking. Of course, I guess, I could have hung up on him. But I didn’t want to. Because I liked talking to him. Because I liked him. Here’s a clip of one of our conversations …
[(Audio)…. Dylan Marrion: Josh, you said you’re about to graduate high school, right?
Dylan Marrion: How is high school for you?
Josh: Am I allowed to use the H-E-double-hockey-stick word?
Dylan Marrion: Oh, yeah. You’re allowed to.
Josh: It was hell.
Dylan Marrion: Really?
Josh: And it’s still hell right now, even though it’s only two weeks left I’m a little bit bigger — I don’t like to use the word “fat,” but I am a little bit bigger than a lot of my classmates and they seem to judge me before they even got to know me.
Dylan Marrion: That’s awful. I mean, I also just want to let you know, Josh, I was bullied in high school, too. So did our common ground of being bullied in high school erase what he wrote me? No. And did our single phone conversation radically heal a politically divided country and cure systemic injustice? No, absolutely not, right? But did our conversation humanize us to each other more than profile pictures and posts ever could? Absolutely. I didn’t stop there. Because some of the hate I received was from “my side.”
So when Matthew, a queer liberal artist like me publicly wrote that I represented some of the worst aspects of liberalism, I wanted to ask him this.
Dylan Marrion: You tagged me in this post. Did you want me to see it?
Matthew: I honestly didn’t think that you would.
Dylan Marrion: Have you ever been publicly dragged?
Matthew: I have been. And I just said, “No, I don’t care.”
Dylan Marrion: And did you not care?
Matthew: But it was hard .
Dylan Marrion: Did you not care?
Matthew: Oh, I cared, yes.
Dylan Marrion: At the end of these conversations, there’s often a moment of reflection. A reconsideration. And that’s exactly what happened at the end of my call with a guy named Doug who had written that I was a talentless propaganda hack.
(Audio) Did the conversation we just had — does it, like, make you feel differently about how you write online?
Doug: Yeah! You know, when I said this to you, when I said you were a “talentless hack,” I had never conversed with you in my life, really I didn’t really know anything really about you. And I think that a lot of times, that’s what the comment sections really are, it’s really a way to get your anger at the world out on random profiles of strangers, pretty much.
Dylan Marrion: Yeah, right.
Doug: But it definitely has made me rethink the way that I interact with people online.
Dylan Marrion: So I’ve collected these conversations and many others for my podcast “Conversations with People Who Hate Me.” Before I started this project, I though that the real way to bring about change was to shut down opposing viewpoints through epically worded video essays and comments and posts, but I soon learned those were only cheered on by the people who already agreed with me. Sometimes — bless you. Sometimes, the most subversive thing you could do — yeah, clap for him.
Sometimes, the most subversive thing you could do was to actually speak with the people you disagreed with, and not simply at them. Now in every one of my calls, I always ask my guests to tell me about themselves. And it’s their answer to this question that allows me to empathize with them. And empathy, it turns out, is a key ingredient in getting these conversations off the ground, but it can feel very vulnerable to be empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with. So I established a helpful mantra for myself.
Empathy is not endorsement. Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not suddenly compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs. Empathizing with someone who, for example, believes that being gay is a sin doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly going to drop everything, pack my bags and grab my one-way ticket to hell, right? It just means that I’m acknowledging the humanity of someone who was raised to think very differently from me. I also want to be super clear about something. This is not a prescription for activism.
I understand that some people don’t feel safe talking to their detractors and others feel so marginalized that they justifiably don’t feel that they have any empathy to give. I totally get that. This is just what I feel well-suited to do. You know, I’ve reached out to a lot of people for this podcast. And some have politely declined, others have read my message and ignored it, some have blocked me automatically when I sent the invitation and one guy actually agreed to do it and then, five minutes into the call, hung up on me.
I’m also aware that this talk will appear on the internet. And with the internet comes comment sections, and with comment sections inevitably comes hate. So as you are watching this talk, you can feel free to call me whatever you’d like You can call me a “gaywad,” a “snowflake,” a “cuck,” a “beta,” or “everything wrong with liberalism.” But just know that if you do, I may ask you to talk.
And if you refuse or block me automatically or agree and hang up on me, then maybe, babe, the snowflake is you. Thank you so much.
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