On March 9, I published a piece on Insider describing my study abroad experience in Florence. I spoke candidly about the hostility shown by locals and my disillusionment with the way many American students spend their semesters away from home — being wasteful on weekend trips, consistently getting drunk, and neglecting their academics.
What followed the publication was an onslaught of online hate from Twitter (retweets of my article got millions of views; a New York Times culture reporter meme-ifyied my work; Amanda Knox notably chimed in; and everyday users hurled insults like “no one will want her as a wife” or “this is why everyone hates Americans”). Also joining the chorus were newspapers all over the United States, as well as in Madrid, Berlin, Zurich, Florence, and other cities, deeming me “obnoxious,” “insufferable,” or simply “that poor NYU student.”
I published a response piece in The Independent that emphasized how empowered I felt thanks to recent events and said in my interview with Buzzfeed that going viral reaffirmed my belief in the power of being a contrarian. When my professors, friends, and people I haven’t spoken to in years reached out to check in on me, I reassured them I was taking all of it quite well. Surprisingly well, in fact.
What worries me, instead, is a phenomenon much larger than my negative review of a semester abroad: that of young journalists being flooded with hate, especially on Twitter. This is a recurring pattern. Writing on cancel culture for The Atlantic, staff writer Kaitlyn Tiffany said of Twitter: “Nowhere else is such a range of personalities encouraged to interact with strangers via posts that take a second to consume and less than that to share. Hashtags … [allow] users to easily quantify and follow along with a cancellation in progress.” It’s thus the platform most suited to “canceling” someone — viciously invalidating their credentials and self-worth.
The Twitter mob doesn’t discriminate, but I’d argue it’s especially attuned to those whose beliefs rest off-center. Deviate from the status quo ever so slightly and you might be fired from your newsroom and told by individuals worldwide that you will never get a job in the industry after this.
Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz experienced such online attacks. In April 2022, she exposed the identity of the woman behind the conservative Twitter account “Libs of TikTok” — and was promptly accused of journalistic sins like doxxing and smearing. Donald Trump Jr. called her a “psycho” and Ben Shapiro contributed the monikers “terrible journalist” and “worse human.” The names I’ve been called in the past weeks (“Ugly American,” “ignorant brat,” “terrible person”) must have hit close to home for her — she reached out to me offering words of encouragement as a fellow journalist who has been in my position. I was grateful.
Emma Camp — a University of Virginia graduate who wrote an op-ed in The New York Times last year — is another young, woman journalist placed in the crosshairs of public outrage. Camp called out her college for “strict ideological conformity” and restrictive speech codes in class discussions. Twitter users again moved quickly, calling her a “stupid senior,” an AI-generated writer, and a whiny girl with a tendency to complain whenever people disagreed with her. Camp responded to the drama with a resonant op-ed.
“Having your words read in the least charitable … way by an audience completely unwilling to consider your argument before attacking your character is maddening,” Camp wrote. “Attempting to defend yourself on the Internet is, as the aphorism goes, like wrestling with a pig. You both get dirty. And the pig likes it.”
Taylor Lorenz, Emma Camp, and I — as well as scores of reporters faced with similar circumstances — were able to accept the infamy as just a blip on the radar, going on to publish work with the same confidence as before. In that sense, we’re the lucky ones. But add up enough such public outcries and a different journalist could be pushed over the edge — permanently escaping the “public eye,” breaking down, or worse.
Online hate is intangible and dissipates fast; what remains is a permanent “paper” trail. When a potential employer googles my name, they will be able to read about my “entitlement” in five languages. I can live with this; I choose not to believe the masses who claim I have been barred from a career in journalism.
More alarming is the fact that Twitter hate can jeopardize peoples’ careers and threaten their lives — and such attacks aren’t going away. Too many are complicit in the frightening cycle of tearing down those who express controversial takes. After my own name became a hashtag and my work was deemed the “worst travel article ever,” I’m able to move on and distance myself from the ordeal. But before another journalist is made to be the notorious main character of Twitter, we have to reconsider our collective passion for sparking online feuds and the very real consequences such behavior can lead to.
Stacia Datskovska is a New York University student journalist.