To engage, or not engage: That is the question.
We all know how hard it is to not insert your expertise if someone's got it wrong, or to try to reason with the unreasonable, or to fight back if you feel attacked. And these days, all three of those scenarios could be occurring simultaneously at any given time.
Even if no one knows who you are, relatively speaking, social media has given everyone an opportunity to share thoughts as if someone had invited us specifically to weigh in and the world is just waiting for our input.
It does feel that way sometimes, doesn't it?
While it used to be the endless parade of magazine covers calling out (or making up) a celeb's breakup, pregnancy, weight gain, etc. that made us commoners feel lucky to be otherwise anonymous, now it's the internet headlines and, even more so, the constant chatter on social media that makes us so glad that millions of people we've never seen before do not care about who we're dating or what we look like.
A random post can go viral at any time, especially if it involves a cute animal or a toddler dropping an F-bomb, but celebrities are risking an avalanche every time they sneeze.
And though they risk what we all risk every time we go on Twitter—losing their cool, that is—more and more celebrities have been attempting to hold their own in what so far has proved to be a one-sided snowball fight.
Chrissy Teigen, for instance, has refused to be deterred from sharing her opinions on social media, despite an inordinate amount of criticism heaped on her for every move she makes, whether it's related to food, parenting or politics.
She made her Twitter private last year after coming to the conclusion that the circus had become too demoralizing (you were still privy to her tweets if you had been following her already), but she has come to expect the noise and has turned into an expert brusher-offer, one to emulate in times of utmost Twitter frustration.
All the while, her fans utterly adore her, so being herself has only helped her in that department.
However, you can't help but wonder if she's become such a reliable target for Haters Inc. because they know there's a good chance she'll engage. Because where's the fun in being all critical 'n' stuff if you don't leave a mark? If you tweet a nasty comment and no one responds to it...
Did it ever post at all?
Chrissy and John Legend's now 9-month-old daughter, Luna, was conceived through IVF—which the model has been entirely candid about—and she took all sorts of crap after revealing that they planned specifically to have a daughter.
After causing a little confusion on the red carpet at the PGA Awards when she talked about having a son, Tiegen took to Twitter afterward to clarify that she was not pregnant, but that the embryo they had remaining from the IVF process was male.
To which some woman replied, "'Did you give it a minute to try naturally or are you avoiding 'the act?' At least no political rants!"
Oooh, way to be a jerk twice for the price of once. But that's just our 2 cents. Here's how Chrissy responded:
"Hi lady, thanks for asking, you complete witch. I tried for about 9 years. Anything else, let me know!"
Well, with comebacks like that, who are we to question Chrissy's M.O.?
Zayn Malik, who as a member of One Direction had a phalanx of fans ready to wage 140-character war on his behalf at the drop of a hat, nobly tried to intervene when Gigi Hadidgot some grief for...let me get this straight...appearing to squint in a video while holding up an edible Buddha figure at a restaurant? That's what the report says.
"Trust me...she likes Asians," Zayn joked, seemingly referring to himself as he's of Pakistani descent.
Well. That did not go over with some people who took major offense to what they perceived as him being flippant about his girlfriend's very offensive (in their eyes) behavior.
Zayn, who's gotten heated on Twitter before, was understandably perturbed, so he went the route of trying to reason with people.
People's nerve to call me ignorant, when any chance they get I'm a terrorist!! to be a racist goes against my very existence..— zayn (@zaynmalik) February 7, 2017
So please don't try to educate me ??— zayn (@zaynmalik) February 7, 2017
That, of course, went over terribly, with even some who identified themselves as huge fans of his insisting he take the opportunity to let himself be educated.
"I love you so so so so much & we're trying to educate you so your career doesn't go to s--t due to your own ignorance," offered a concerned fan. "but you're pushing us away & making us feel bad for pointing out the mistakes you fail to acknowledge. Please apologize & move on."
Now this is the sort of overblown, point-missing reaction that lots of people are familiar with. Like when you object to the nonsense a person is spouting on TV and someone fires back, "What, so you're against free speech?"
Now, the annoyed folks swarming Zayn aren't exactly trolls—as in, people spouting nastiness for no reason other than to agitate and distress. Most of them were agitated themselves and surely some genuinely so, with their own personal reasons—although as Zayn himself pointed out, he should be really low on the list when it comes to people who need schooling from the Internet on how to behave in a multicultural world.
"Trolls" is the word we'll use, however, to describe whomever ventured to criticize Lady Gaga's body in the wake of her Super Bowl performance. For starters, she looked incredible. And second:
We weren't aware that such nonsense was out there this time, to be honest, until Gaga herself took to Instagram to respond to the unfortunates of the world, not with fire, but with her usual message of empowerment and inclusiveness.
I heard my body is a topic of conversation so I wanted to say, I'm proud of my body and you should be proud of yours too. No matter who you are or what you do. I could give you a million reasons why you don't need to cater to anyone or anything to succeed. Be you, and be relentlessly you. That's the stuff of champions. thank you so much everyone for supporting me. I love you guys. Xoxo, gaga
Aforementioned supermodel Gigi Hadid, who's on the new cover of Vogue flanked by fellow paragons of beauty, has tried multiple times to eloquently shut down the never-ending critiques of her body's so-called flaws—and we're guessing that, just as the response is to so many things in the media (social, mass, mainstream and beyond), those who would never body-shame a person online agreed and those who wrote the noxious comments in the first place entirely missed the point.
Demi Lovatohas become quite famous for her outspoken Twitter presence, prompted by her aversion to letting online bullies get away with their treachery. She has also done her best to deflect body-shamers, wielding wit & humor and wisdom & perspective like nunchucks.
Once again, we can't even be sure that @alekjandro felt properly ashamed of his remark, but Demi's sassy, savvy reply certainly had her fans prayer-handsing all day and all night.
Amy Schumer lowered the boom similarly last year, guessing that a picture of her in a bathing suit taken on vacation may not attract entirely nice comments on Instagram (because, losers). So she addressed the following to any lurking trolls:
I meant to write "good morning trolls!" I hope you find some joy in your lives today in a human interaction and not just in writing unkind things to a stranger you've never met who triggers something in you that makes you feel powerless and alone. This is how I look. I feel happy. I think I look strong and healthy and also like miss trunchbull from Matilda. Kisses!
Now that could also be the equivalent of throwing a freshly detached fingertip into the water and waiting for the sharks to start circling, but...
We get it.
When there's a seemingly simple concept that you grasp—whether it pertains to common decency or good old common sense—it is so hard to sit idly by and just let the wrongs happen.
Which doesn't mean that it might not be better if everyone on the receiving end of a crap comment could be the bigger person and ignore it. But when there are a few hundred comments? Or even a few thousand? It would be nice if one heartfelt, rational, sane open letter did the trick, or if a few smart remarks really could knock some sense into people.
Ironically, it often takes an initial glut of knee-jerk reactions to an otherwise innocuous Instagram post or tweet to bring out the support squad, those who are perfectly happy to spread some joy and empathy to cancel out the poison.
And there are thousands upon thousands of perfectly delightful people; in fact, there are probably more of them than the other kind. But it's the trolls who strike first and prompt the headlines.
As we said, not everyone is a troll. People who disagree with you or who accuse you of being racist, even if they're wrong, aren't necessarily trolls. Blogger Milo Yiannoppoulos is a troll, one who who was kicked off Twitter for orchestrating a campaign of disgusting, racist hate toward Leslie Jones, who spent hours calling out members of Milo's troll army and eventually got a reaction from Twitter execs—as well as prompted an important conversation about what, exactly, qualifies as protected speech in this digital age.
While prime under-the-bridge real estate remains packed with trolls, Twitter on any given day seems more packed with people who seem to be looking for a reason to get angry. And it's dangerous to turn everything on its head—it distracts from what really needs our energy.
Yet just try to explain that. Lord knows the likes of Lady Gaga and Gigi Hadid, Chrissy Teigen and Demi Lovato, Zayn Malik and Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez and Zendaya, and many, many more have tried.
A New York Times article last Sunday discussed Patriots fans who refused to accept that there was evidence pointing to at least some sort of team culpability in Deflategate. Apparently, that seeming obstinacy can be explained by science: being a devoted fan affects people psychologically, so that they just don't interpret certain information the way, say, someone who loathes the Patriots would see it.
That both makes sense and is horribly frustrating. And it doesn't excuse toxic behavior on Twitter. It does, however, help explain why people refuse to respond reasonably to reason.
Ultimately, the celebrities whom we could chastise for engaging, encouraging them to "be the bigger people" in these situations, are idealistically appealing to the humanity in their fellow humans. Even if a tweet sounds angry, like Zayn's, he's not sending it because he wants to fight. He's just hoping somebody, anybody gets where he's coming from.
It's our natural instinct to make people want to see what we see, which naturally in one's own perspective is the right way to see something.
In the most tiresome situations, an opponent is arguing against an indisputable fact, perhaps for one of the reasons touched on in the Patriots-fandom experiment.
Equally exhausting and even harder to combat is when people pull nonsense and vitriol out of nowhere, as when a celebrity is being body-shamed or otherwise picked on for no good reason.
Frankly, famous people are damned if they engage and damned if they don't. And not having a Twitter account certainly doesn't prevent you from becoming a trending topic. Plenty of stars steer clear of social media entirely for that reason.
The solution very well may be to cease all engagement with antagonizing comments, because as most of us learn at some point in our lives, it's useless to argue with the irrational. (Or, per the NYT, those who are psychologically predisposed to think a certain way because of a sense of loyalty and ownership.)
You may feel like you're letting the dark side win by not fighting back, but you'll probably save yourself a lot of frustration and feel better in the long run.
But even if it's not helping their cause or aiding the fruitless quest to nice-ify social media, we completely understand the urge to try to reason with people. Celebrities may want to pick their battles carefully, if for no other reason than to preserve their own sanity, but it's their right to stick up for themselves.
Plenty of people will agree—and amid all the haters, you'll see them chiming in.