My platform has set me up to receive negativity, being a woman on all different standpoints.
Digital hate, harassment, and violence hurts so many women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans, and non-binary people. Content creators who address gender justice like Alicia Mccarvell have a lot to teach us about it.
I’m Andrea Gunraj from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Welcome to Alright, Now What? a podcast from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. We put an intersectional feminist lens on stories that make you wonder, “why is this still happening?” We explore systemic routes and strategies for change that will move us closer to the goal of gender justice.
The work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation and our partners takes place on traditional First Nations, Métis and Inuit territories. We are grateful for the opportunity to meet and work on this land. However, we recognize that land acknowledgements are not enough. We need to pursue truth, reconciliation, decolonization, and allyship in an ongoing effort to make right with all our relations.
Whether you’re on social media, streaming platforms, dating, messaging and meeting apps, or on game sites, if you’re a woman, girl, or Two Spirit, trans, or non-binary person, you’re at greater risk of hate, harassment, and violence.
There’s a lot of research on how social media can negatively impact regular users and expose them to harmful content. But those with a prominent online presence tend to experience more digital harassment themselves. That includes politicians, academics, journalists, and professional content creators and highly-followed influencers. These creators and influencers can be subject to repeated insults and derogatory and humiliating comments on a daily basis. Women influencers report more severe consequences to this harassment, such as going into a state of shock and facing economic and financial losses as a result of it.
Over coming months, we’re delving into gendered digital hate and harassment with leading experts and content creators, releasing in-depth episodes every single week. We talk about the problem and what we can do to change it. We offer practical tips to help you in your digital life, and we talk about what it means to “take back the tech” for all of us.
We’re joined by creator Alicia Mccarvell. Alicia uses humour to tackle conversations around body image, worth, and self-love. Sharing everything from workout routines and dance videos to updates on her relationship with her husband, Alicia hopes to relate, inspire laughter, and break down barriers.
A note about content: this episode addresses gender-based violence and suicide.
I am a self-love comedy content creator from the East Coast of Canada here in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I love to give a shout out to my East Coast roots because I think that does tell people a little bit about my heart.
I started creating on TikTok four years ago. My anniversary is actually November 27th. It’ll be 4 full years. I shared a humorous video about the difference between the level of hotness of me and my husband, and it went viral for multiple reasons, and it just opened up a really cool conversation with a lot of people who don’t view themselves as equals to their partners in some form or way in their relationship.
It has grown into a space that I get to talk about, you know, my high school sweetheart. It has grown into a space where I get to make people laugh. It has grown into a space where I get to have tough conversations around our body and diet culture and the way the world has made us believe we need to look.
I also get to have cool conversations about movement and about the world and about my everyday life. It has become a really safe space for me, but also people who identify with me. The coolest part about what I get to do is just getting to hear people tell me their stories about how they’re living a more fulfilled life because I’m living a more fulfilled life online and that’ll never, ever get old.
You have millions of followers as a person of influence on social media. Like other feminist creators we’ve interviewed, your experience getting targeted online must be just a constant challenge.
We can start with the top level, and that’s women being funny. I get that often—that women aren’t funny, they can’t be funny. They don’t have a place to be funny. And I disagree with that. I think my whole life has been based in humour. I think that if you’re not laughing in a world like today, you’re often crying, and I think that it’s so important.
While I’m having conversations about body diversity and equity and living a fulfilled life that we take a break every once in a while, to laugh a little because this is hard work that people are doing—learning to love themselves. So from a top level, I’ve gotten it from the comedy standpoint.
Being plus size as a woman, I get it from that angle. Having a husband who’s physically fit, I’m often faced with, you know, “I shouldn’t look this way, my husband shouldn’t love me if I look this way, I need to look a certain way in order to keep my husband or to deserve love”.
I get it from a standpoint of me saying I don’t want children as somebody who identifies as a woman. I don’t. I’ve chosen not to have children and I receive a lot, a lot of negative energy and comments in my space from often other women and some men in the space because of that choice. And I think that has a lot to do with how we’ve been made to believe that we fit into society and that’s, you know, raising children, bearing children, raising children and staying at home and doing these things. And I definitely work outside of that norm now. So, I think I experienced that also.
And then in general, I just think as a woman in an online space, I’m seen as not equal; an easy target when it comes to comments and hate. And the majority of the negativity that comes in my space when it comes to like genuine hate and attacks on my safety or who I am come from men in that online space. And we’re talking boys as young as 12 to men in their 70s who have children, and you know, so I feel like my platform has set me up to receive negativity, being a woman on all different standpoints, but we’ve just been kind of rolling with the punches. In in that humorous type of ‘take it as we can’.
And do with it what I think is going to empower others because I’m not the only person in this space that’s doing comedy. I’m not the only plus size body in this space. I’m not the only person married to a physically fit husband. You know, I’m not the only person who’s chosen not to have children. So, I like to shed light on it so that I can empower others to stick up for themselves or stick up for people who are like me.
Many of your followers also respond positively to your affirming and uplifting content – do any of those reactions really stand out to you?
Every single one of them, honestly. The majority of, you know… we talk about the negativity because I think that the impact of negativity is often felt a lot deeper than the impact of positivity. You hope that people are going to be positive.
You hope that people are going to receive your content in a positive, impactful way. But for me, I think what means the most when it comes to my content and what I put out there is that people are living better lives because of it.
And whether that’s, you’ve had a tough day and you’ve come to my space to laugh. Or you’ve been playing with this idea of choosing not to have children and I’ve empowered you to have that tough conversation with a loved one. Or if you were not the same size as your partner and watching me live my life not the same size of my partner makes you feel a little bit more empowered in your body, then that is what I am here to do.
But I don’t shy away from the negative and I think that that’s really important and I’m sure you probably heard it in some other conversations, but this online space has been viewed for years as a safe space, a mask for people to say what they want, whenever they want about whoever they want without repercussions. And from the day I started online, I was told, “well, you should expect this, you have an online platform, you should expect this—this just comes along with this”.
And I agree. I can expect that not everybody is going to like me or agree with what I do, but I do not have to accept any type of negative behavior that makes me feel unsafe or makes people in my space feel unsafe. And that’s why I’ve kind of been trying to challenge this idea that you are anonymous online. Nobody is anonymous online, and nobody deserves anonymity online, especially when you’re using that anonymity to make other people feel bad about themselves or inadequate or…
We’re talking 2023. There are people who are anonymously online making other people not want to live, and that is just the truth about the negativity in the space online. And I never want to be complacent with that. I never want to accept that for myself because I know that out there, there are people that look like me and if I accept it for myself, then they’ll view that as accepting it for themselves, whether that’s online or in their personal life.
I think, yeah, it’s important obviously to talk about the positive and yes, I received so much good out of it. However, the negative exists, and I think it’s so important to just kind of pull back those curtains every once in a while to be like: “Yeah, I love what I do. Yeah, people are changing their lives because of me. However, this exists still, and this is still worth a conversation.”
In these interviews about gendered digital harm, it just floors me again and again how platforms are set up to reward some of the worst comments and abusive behaviour, and this is something we have to wrestle with in digital spaces.
Yeah, I would be lying to you if I said that I don’t know that negative content performs. I know that when I perform or put out content that is going to get a reaction from people, I know what I’m doing. I know when people see the contrasting size between me and my husband that the negative comments that are going to come from that or the views that are going to come from that are going to boost my content.
And you’re right. It’s an unfortunate part of our algorithm. I jokingly say this all of the time, but Instagram has come up with a ‘hide’ feature where the algorithm on Instagram tries to hide negative comments. My Instagram hide feature has never hidden a single negative comment. It is only ever hidden good comments. It’s so funny. Me and my husband joke about it now. It actually makes the negative comments more viewable because it hides so many positive comments.
However, I do want to say this: that I’m saying this in a joking tone because this is a feature that’s not existed before. This is a feature that Instagram has put into place to start protecting creators and people online. So, I am forever thankful that they’ve also put in a feature to turn off comments from people who don’t follow you. They’ve also turned on features to not allow people to slide into your DMS who do not follow your content and aren’t part of your platform.
So, there are apps on these platforms like Instagram and I’m going to say that they’re at the forefront of that, that are working really hard to try to find ways so that we can really customize our platforms so that we can feel safe. That being said, I know enough to know about my algorithm that if I turn off my comments from everybody, that my videos aren’t going to go as viral. They’re not going to get pushed as far. And that again goes along with what I was saying when people are like, “oh, this is what you do, you have to accept it, you have to expect it”.
Our apps are making us fall within that realm too. We have to expect that. I can go back to all of my viral videos, except for maybe a few and the majority of them are viral because of the way that society perceives me and my husband or perceives me as a fat woman or perceives me as a humorous person. And the comments in the comments section are, I’d say, 40% not good and they start out 100% not good and then eventually it hits the right audience and eventually it grows, and you get those more positive. But as you said, our algorithms are pushing.
And to be very fair, as a society, we live for trauma. We live for the negative. We’re interested in those types of things. We haven’t been brought up to really focus on the positive and that’s shown in our news, that’s shown in our magazines, that’s shown in the stories we consume.
Go through Snapchat—in order to watch a YouTube video, most people have to have a clickbait-y title to pull you in, something that draws your attention. So as a society, we’ve been made to believe that the drama and the negative and the violence and those types of things are what has our views. And it really isn’t… unless it’s an over the top positive thing, we’re not really set to consume it.
So yeah, I understand that that’s how the algorithms work and I as a creator play to that because I know that that’s how I’m going to get my views. But you’re definitely right, it is an algorithm thing and there is a way to be shedding light and boosting better, more positive content.
There’s a button at all of these apps that someone can be pushing when they see these positive contents and be pushing them out to other people. But again, once you dig deep enough, there’s dollar values and there’s, you know bills to be paid. And it’s just, it’s one of those unfortunate things and that’s why I like to touch on society because I don’t choose the virality of my videos, society does.
I don’t choose which ones are going to go viral and if I were to choose which ones are going viral of the 20 that have gone viral, maybe only two of those 20 I would have chosen to have gone viral.
Can you share how you deal with digital hate, harassment, and abuse on your feeds? Can you share any tips?
I have a 3-E system that I follow within my Instagram and TikTok. So, I erase, I educate, I eradicate. Those are kind of my three steps that I take personally to separate myself as a content creator from my content because I think that that can be really hard, especially when you’re dealing with negative platforms and negative comments.
It’s that as a content creator, we are our business, we are the things that we put out, but I like to take a business approach to my content. So, I will erase the things that I think don’t have merit in my space and I could just decide what those are because this is my space.
You’re not entitled to opinion on my platform. You’re not entitled to say whatever you feel like in my space. You’re not. And I get that often, and that’s one of the things that I think people are confused about when it comes to opinion and where it’s necessary or where it’s asked for and where it’s valued.
If I post a picture or a video of me in a beautiful dress and I feel good, you’re not entitled to come into my space to tell me I would look better in that if I were thin. You’re not entitled to come into my space to make me feel less valuable than I felt when I posted the video. And I truly believe that.
So, I’ll erase comments that I think devalue me or people who look like me. I choose to erase and not delete people from my platform because I think representation matters. And I think that this is really important when it comes to what we’re talking about here.
Even if you don’t like me, even if you don’t like the content that I pursue, every time you see me, you’re tolerance for me builds and your tolerance for people who look like me and act like me and talk like me and are in relationships like me, builds. So that’s why I like the erase. Because I think that it’s valuable for people to see me even if they don’t necessarily enjoy me.
I’ll educate when I think that the information that’s being placed on my platform, said about me or said about others, is incorrect because I think that erasing it doesn’t allow people who look like me or identify like me, to truly feel empowered to defend themselves in situations like that. Do I think that every time I educate a negative comment that that person who wrote it, is like, “ohh, you’re right, shucks, I’ll never say this again”. No, I don’t.
But I do feel like people who look like me and people who are reading those comments, read those words and feel more empowered to stick up for themselves in other situations. And that is my goal. My job isn’t to educate bullies. That’s their job. My job in my space is to make people who look like me and feel like me more empowered to continue to be themselves in a world that continuously tells them not to be.
And then I eradicate, and I think that this is a valuable one. Nobody is entitled to my space, my time, my work, my effort just because it is online. You’re not entitled to speak to me a certain way just because you’re on a keyboard. You’re not entitled to try to make me feel less than, just because we’re on an Internet space. I will eradicate you just as quickly as you came into it, because I deserve to feel safe in my space.
This last year has been really me taking back that power. Before, I kept thinking “ohh, every time I block somebody, that’s one less person who could follow me” and that’s me suffering from my people-pleaser. Like, I need everybody to like me. There are billions of people in this world. Your follow, your comment, I don’t need it. There are other people out there who look like me, who want to be around me, who respect me, who will add value to my space. I don’t need you in it.
Those are kind of how I sit from a business standpoint with the negativity, but I choose to address it sometimes and I choose to address it in others. I used to shy away from posting people’s usernames on my videos or shedding light on their things because people would be like, “oh no, like now people are going to bully them or now…” And I’m like, “no, this isn’t an anonymous space”.
You don’t get to hide behind a username to say what you want, and then when you suffer the repercussions of being identified as somebody who is bullying me or others in this space, you don’t get to do that. Sometimes I have time, sometimes I’ve gone as far as messaging people’s family to say this is what your son is doing on the Internet. Because if they’re saying it to me, I’m not the only person they’re saying that to. I’m not the only person that they’re abusing in their life.
I’ve had instances where I’ve had employees that are in positions of power over women, over fat people, who are in my space saying hurtful and unkind things about me and about fat people in general. And then you go to their work profile and they’re an inclusive yoga instructor. Like hell you are, because inclusivity doesn’t count just in your classroom. Inclusivity counts in your life and when you’re saying hurtful and unkind things on the Internet space about people who look like me, there’s no possible way you’re creating an inclusive space in your classroom, even if you think you are.
So, I think that we’re coming to an era where people are starting to kind of put their foot down. Starting to kind of create safer spaces, but my 3-e system for me is how I try to separate myself from my business, but sometimes I have time. Sometimes I have time to sit and to ask questions and to shed light on what people are actually doing online because I think that that is also a valuable lesson for a lot of people too as well, so.
You’re making me think about the notion of cancel culture, so connected to digital life, and how Roxanne Gay reframes it — that it’s not really about cancelling, it’s about consequences and accountability. And that’s not a bad thing.
Cancel culture is a very nuanced topic, especially when it comes to dealing with human beings and platforms and living in a social media era.
I’m not a perfect human being. I don’t think anybody is perfect. I think that this idea that anybody in this world, no matter what their platform and what they do, is a perfect person is so incorrect. And I think that the more we choose to live in our imperfection, these are things that will be for all of us, to say I’m sorry, to say I didn’t know, that to accept responsibility for the things that we’re doing.
But when it comes to online space, the only way to seek justice for those who choose to use the Internet as a mask is to unmask them and I’m a firm believer of that. Especially when it comes to abuse and hate online is to not allow people to sit in that and continue in that because I’m a tough cookie, I’ve been bullied my whole entire life. I’m not shy to tough conversations. I’ve been told to end my life multiple times, I’ve been told that I’m not of value very many times. I can manage that.
I am at a point in my life where I can read those things and they roll off my back, or I just need to take a quick break. But there are people that are living in this world that those things don’t roll off their back. They become a weight that they have to carry every single day and every comment and every one of those things just becomes a weight, a weight, a weight, a weight, a weight, until so long down the road that weight is just too heavy and they can’t carry it anymore.
So yes, I will accept that. I will accept those weights because I know there are people that can’t carry them, but me accepting it doesn’t change it from them being able to pass that on to someone else down the road.
Me giving them consequences for their actions is what holds them accountable to the things that they’re saying, and hopefully they won’t say it down the road. That’s why I like the educate portion and that’s why I like the eradicate and erase portion in my E’s. Because sometimes you do educate people and sometimes they do say ‘I’m sorry’ and that does happen. It has happened to me and it happens to me pretty regularly now.
It’s a very nuanced topic, obviously, talking about cancel culture etcetera. But I think in this space the only way to really stop people from doing the things that they’re doing is to unmask them online and they’re going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person and someone’s going to get hurt. And if I allow people to exist like that online I’m contributing to that. I’m saying that it’s OK and I’m not OK with being someone that condones that type of behaviour in my space or online.
I don’t want people to have to say what I say, like, that’s the goal. That’s the goal for me. I don’t want people to experience the life that I’ve experienced with, like, online, with my body, with my grief, for not, you know, doing things.
The whole goal of me having that platform is so that people realize their value sooner than I did. So that they can live more happier, fulfilled lives sooner than I did. And that doesn’t just start with, you know, me sharing the happy-go-lucky, beautiful things that happen in my life. That starts with having tough conversations because I needed to have had them a long time ago.
I think that the beauty of my platform, and what I’m most proud of when it comes to my platform, is you’re gonna get me on good days and you’re gonna get me on bad days and you’re gonna get me on every day in between. And I think that that is the human experience, that is the human experience of what we’re all going through.
There’s all different things that impact us. And yeah, I could come out with just all positive content. Yeah, I could come out with all these “life is glorious and wonderful”. But that’s not the reality. And the reality is that there are tough days and there are tough spaces and mean things are still being said and it doesn’t really matter how positive I am that that negativity and that harassment and that abuse is still going to exist.
So, my job is to show you it and then teach you how to have the tools moving forward to protect yourself, protect people you love, and how to empower you to feel comfortable doing so.
What do you think needs to change to end gendered digital hate, harassment, and abuse?
Content creation in general, I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about the algorithm. Our apps that have the power in what goes viral. Our apps have the power in how those algorithms work. They choose them, just like our magazines had the power when we were kids to choose what they put on the front of them. And they still chose to not show us real bodies.
I understand that there’s money out there. However, the one thing that I have learned, and I love so much about my platform is–that my platform has taught me–is that I’ve made myself a minority in a world where I’m the majority. I made my fat body and the things that I have wrong with it or the way I felt about it, as if I was an outlier to all of these thin, beautiful, picturesque people, when realistically those thin, beautiful, picturesque people are the minority in our world.
The majority of people do not look like them and it is the one instance in society where we are really trying really hard to be the minority of a group of people and then realistically, we have the power and somehow we’ve allowed all of these things to kind of take it away from us or make us believe that we don’t have the power.
I don’t know what that means, and I think it is going to take an app and apps to kind of make that shift. And, unfortunately, that does mean losing numbers and seeing a change. But I think that there are more people out there not using these apps because of the damage that they do than there are people using them.
And I truly do believe that. I think that if things were to change and more positivity were to be seen and more people with authentic, true, real-life platforms were to be viewed that more people would choose to come.
So, I think it’s that, yes, when I posted my first video, there were a lot of negative people, but from that there were so many more positive people because they saw themselves in me. And I think that there’s tons of creators that are doing a good job that deserve to have bigger platforms than they do and that’s just genuinely the truth.
I think that platforms like TikTok do a really good job of trying to showcase every group of people and trying to make it, whether we’re talking like Black History Month or Pride Month, they do a good job. But I think we just need to just do it all of the time. I don’t think that, you know, I think that we just need to do a better job of showcasing all people all of the time, for everything.
Those months are valuable, always. However, often most businesses and most platforms get stuck in this “OK, well we’re celebrating it this month”. How about we just start using our algorithm to push everybody all of the time, too, and we can get a little bit more out of it.
When it comes to protecting yourselves as a creator, because at the end of the day, we could sit and wait for the apps to do those things, but you don’t know how long you’re going to be waiting, and that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to have a platform or a space or create. And I think that that’s super important.
So, for protection, I think it’s really important for you to know your privacy, protection, and safety settings on all of your apps.
First and foremost, as a content creator, there is a, on both TikTok and Instagram, and I believe also Facebook, there is a section where you can go and write in words that cannot be posted on your platform. This is the most powerful thing I ever did.
So, if a specific gendered word, or slur, or your address, or whatever it might be, you can type it right into this box and then nobody will ever be able to type it on your platform. And anytime it does pop up, it automatically gets pulled and blocked off of there.
That was the first thing that I really did for my safety and that took me two years to do. And with that, it filtered out so many people, which I think is really important.
Two, you need to know what you’re capable of handling. Alicia from 10 years ago couldn’t do this. Alicia 10 years ago wouldn’t have had the confidence to be able to say the things that I say and accept the abuse that I do and going along with the “you need to expect it”.
You do not have to accept it, but you need to be confident enough to not accept it. There’s nothing wrong with not being able to do that, yet, but you need to know where your boundaries lie, and that is so important to your mental health.
This is for content creators and people in the online space. If this is your job, it’s like any other job, you wouldn’t accept it in a workplace. Do not accept it in an online space. And that’s just genuinely the truth.
The difference between online as a content creator and real life is that we don’t have an HR. You are your HR. You are the person who’s responsible for protecting yourself and the others in it. So, it is a big responsibility and you do need to be prepared for it.
And then last but not least, this is your space online, and nobody’s entitled to it. Nobody. Not the most rich people in the world—nobody is entitled to it.
And when you believe that nobody is entitled to it, it makes you feel a little bit more empowered to keep your space safe for yourself and for others. Because it’s online, it’s like, “oh well, anybody can say what they want”. Well, no, they can’t. They’re not entitled to it. And I think the more you own that, the easier it is to use that block button a lot sooner than I did, the easier it is for you to create a safer space for yourself.
To kind of recap that is to expect it, but not accept it, to be very aware of your boundaries, and to understand that nobody is entitled to your space, your time, your work, your effort. Nobody’s entitled to that. And when you feel empowered to kind of take that stance on your platform, it will be a lot safer space for you and for others who see themselves in you.
That’s kind of how I get through through the day-to-day and then I throw in a few jokes in there because life’s hard and you’ve got to laugh a little.
Alright, now what?
Check out Alicia Mccarvell on Instagram and TikTok @AliciaMccarvell.
Get the facts on gendered digital hate, harassment, and abuse by visiting our fact page on canadianwomen.org.
While you’re there, read about our new Feminist Creator Prize to uplift feminist digital creators advocating for gender justice, safety, and freedom from harm.
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