Op-Ed: How to confront bigots on social media

My journey to becoming an online presence is nothing short of accidental. After getting fired from my job at a well-known sports conglomerate, I felt more lost than ever. That’s when TikTok came into my life and my online persona was born. Today I have nearly 8 million followers on TikTok. My large following has allowed me to become a full-time content creator. However, my niche is not popular among influencers. And that’s because my niche is roasting misogynistic men on social media.

Within TikTok, there are influencers who have built entire communities around misogyny and sexism. These communities are centered on the degradation of women and minority groups. These videos cover many topics: women being unworthy if they’ve had multiple sexual partners, if they’re fat, if they don’t work to keep their man, if they don’t accept jokes about domestic abuse. Some straight up promote sexual assault against women.

Existing in the social media space can be exhausting, whether you’re a consumer or a creator. But when I realized how much vitriol existed on this platform, I was drawn to it. I could not believe that men like this not only existed in the same world I did, but felt so confident spewing their hatred of women. The audacity shocked me, but simultaneously lit something within me.

The fire that drove me to fight on TikTok was akin to what I felt defending my sister from being bullied in school. Or for my friends when they were sexually harassed in college. The rage I felt was all too familiar and I was determined to act on it. That’s what inspired my first video. It wasn’t just taking on these terrible bigoted men, but rather the reality that women are subjected to violence in many different forms, everywhere, every day.

The violence and abuse that misogyny and patriarchy have inflicted on so many different marginalized groups are what unite my community of followers. Conversely, the hatred projected onto me by these kinds of bigots — primarily cisgender heterosexual white men — is also what unites them.

I’m often asked in the TikTok comments, “Why don’t you try educating them?” Or “How are you going to respond to hate, with more hate?” Well, to that I say, because it works. Realistically, there’s nothing I could say to an outright bigot that would help them see the humanity in people who do not have the same life experiences as they do. But that isn’t my goal. My goal is to get them to be quiet and to delete their presence from social media. There is never an apology, a retraction or a change of heart — only silence. I aim to silence them, like they have silenced us for thousands of years.

Far too often, marginalized people are held to an impossibly high standard, in the real world and on social media. No matter how deep the offense, no matter how harmful the rhetoric, we are constantly expected to take the high road. These offenders are entitled to a mature and educational response to their abuse, but marginalized folks aren’t entitled to simply exist without critique.

Any power or strength we draw from standing up for ourselves is stripped of us the minute a bigot attacks, unprovoked — especially if it is all under the guise of a “joke.” Not surprisingly, these men are not fond of the treatment they feel so comfortable weaponizing against others. It’s funny to see how quickly they develop empathy for their fellow misogynists when they see them getting treated the way they treat others.

The only fear I have when it comes to my platform is that I may never be out of a job. It feels as though I’m standing in a boat with holes, and no matter how often I scoop water out, more pours in. Making this kind of content is arduous, emotionally taxing and downright terrifying at times.

But when it seems like it’s too much to bear, I think about the stories I’ve heard from people who follow me. I think about the woman in Mexico who told me she wore a bathing suit for the first time because my content gave her the courage to. I think about the trans woman who told me my battles against bigots have kept her on this Earth longer than she planned to be.

I desperately hold on to accounts like this, when I feel I can’t keep doing this. Because it’s not about me, it’s about them.

Drew Afualo is a TikTok content creator. @drewafualo

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