Story transcripts

Charlotte's Hell

Friday, August 31, 2012

Reporter: Tara Brown
Producers: Stephen Taylor, Hannah Boocock

On the internet, they're known as trolls. But let's name them for what they really are – bullies, plain and simple.

These cowards lurk in the shadows of the online world, using false names to spread their messages of hate.

Their attacks can be vicious, intensely personal and, with the growth of social media like Twitter and Facebook, dangerous as well.

Just days ago, television celebrity Charlotte Dawson was pushed to the very brink by these creeps.

She was still shaken when Tara Brown spoke to her but she somehow found the strength to share her story.

Her hope is that by speaking out, she can save someone else from the Hell that she only just survived.

Eheadspace – advice, healthcare and counselling for ages 12-25 1800 650 890 www.eheadspace.org.au

Kids Helpline – phone counselling for ages 5-25 1800 55 1800 or www.kidshelp.com.au

Lifeline – For support and advice in a personal crisis 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au

Full transcript:

TARA BROWN: It’s a side of Charlotte Dawson we never get to see - disheveled and distressed. Are you feeling up to looking at some of those tweets and reading them out? Some of the ones you received that led you to taking action?

CHARLOTTE: Yeah, look, absolutely, because the whole point is to show people what sort of scum are out there.

TARA BROWN: This is what pushed Charlotte to the edge - to attempt to take her own life.

CHARLOTTE: Please put your face into a toaster. #DieCharlotte.

TARA BROWN: That human beings can be this depraved is hard to believe, until you hear it and see it.

CHARLOTTE: Freedom of speech, you fucking bimbo? Go kill yourself.

TARA BROWN: There are hundreds of these tweets.

CHARLOTTE: Please do the world a favour and go hang yourself. Die Charlotte.

TARA BROWN: An outpouring of hatred by nameless thugs, all because Charlotte dared to confront and expose one of their own - a Twitter troll.

CHARLOTTE: I speak for everyone in the universe. Bitch, you need to kill yourself.

TARA BROWN: Why did you keep reading these?

CHARLOTTE: You putrid piece of shit. 9Gag never forgives. Go kill yourself you fucking whore. Die Charlotte - and that’s accompanied by a picture of a mutilated, bloodied child.

TARA BROWN: Charlotte, why did you keep reading it?

CHARLOTTE: It kept going and going and going and going and going. It was just directed at me. Have you ever gone up to someone in the street and said that to them? No one I know would do that to anybody. You’ve been Christened the Dapto Dogs, because that’s what we think of you.

TARA BROWN: 46-year-old New Zealand-born Charlotte Dawson has made a television career out of polarising her audience.

CHARLOTTE: Most of you are really bloody thick.

TARA BROWN: And she’s the master of it on ‘Australia’s Next Top Model’.

CHARLOTTE: She’s come here to see top models, and after this week, she’s seen top moles.

TARA BROWN: And ‘Celebrity Apprentice’.

CHARLOTTE: I snapped at you, Tanya, because you’re doing exactly what I told you not to do when Marion was appointed project manager.

TARA BROWN: She’s also a successful celebrity of the cyber-world, using Twitter to promote her shows and often blunt opinions. Less well known is her vulnerable side, and her decade-long battle with depression.

CHARLOTTE: When you work in a public environment like the media, you do have to have a thick skin, and you do understand that no matter what you do, even if you’re Mother Theresa, people are still going to hate you just because they think you’re ugly, or they don’t like the sound of your voice. But sometimes, especially if people are wanting you to kill yourself, and you’re somebody who has previously tried to end your life, it’s very, very easy to feel like that’s exactly what you want to do.

TARA BROWN: This online onslaught was triggered by Charlotte outing a troll who had attacked one of her Twitter supporters. Now, in the real world that’s a pretty admirable thing to do - sticking up for a mate - but in the troll world it was a call to arms, and these anonymous cowards unleashed their hatred and more. They threatened to come and get her. Do they really mean what they say, do you think?

CHARLOTTE: The ferocity of these tweets though, to me – yeah, I have to be very honest without trying to sound like a ‘boo hoo, poor me’, that I have felt that because I am quite public, and because people know where I am and what I do, that my safety could be in danger, because these tweets are very serious.

TARA BROWN: So even though you’re used to receiving them and you’ve had them for awhile, that they still shock you and they still scare you?

CHARLOTTE: I’ve never had death threats to this ferocity. I’ve never had a campaign to this ferocity. My tweets are usually about how old I am, or how ugly I am, or how I failed at my marriage and how I can’t have children and how I’m a spinster and how I’m plastic. It’s usually appearance stuff, you know.

TARA BROWN: It’s all charming.

CHARLOTTE: Yeah, it’s the usual woman-on-TV vitriol. It’s what I’m used to. I’m not used to an entire campaign of being told to kill myself.

TARA BROWN: This despicable campaign got the better of Charlotte at 2:00am Thursday, and she told them as much, tweeting “you win”. All she remembers next is police and ambulance officers by her side and being taken to hospital. But that too has the cynics sneering, especially as she’s about to launch her memoirs. So your actions were an attempt on your own life, they weren’t a publicity stunt, they weren’t an attempt to sell your book, they weren’t an attempt to seek sympathy?

CHARLOTTE: I understand why you’re asking that question but I think it’s a - I don’t find it an insulting question, but if I was doing some publicity stunt, I would choose probably a little bit of a different time, I would probably be sitting here in front of you with a full hair - full hair and make-up and looking all glamorous and go “oh, poor me, oh, poor me”. I’m not saying that at all. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that people need to be extremely responsible, if they can be, when they’re online - to encourage people to end their lives because big old tough Charlotte, even big old opinionated, tough Charlotte can sometimes be punched down too. And as I said, I was, and they won, and I’m happy to talk to you about that at my peril.

TARA BROWN: So the aim was to die?

CHARLOTTE: I believe so. I was very drunk, but I was extremely distraught. It just triggered that feeling of helplessness, and yeah, they got to me. They got the better of me and they won.

TARA BROWN: In terms of what Charlotte Dawson has endured, have you seen anything like it?

LEONIE: Not in Australia. I’ve never seen anything as bad as that in Australia.

TARA BROWN: Cyber security expert Leonie Smith says by confronting her cyber-bully Charlotte has unleashed a world-wide phenomenon here, that reveals the very worst of human nature.

LEONIE: It becomes like a bit of a bloodbath and a feeding frenzy. And depending on what happens now will depend on whether they would take it further, and find out more details about her private life. It’s amazing what you can find out about a person’s private life online.

TARA BROWN: Reading those tweets, I’d be worried, I’d be scared. These people are unhinged.

LEONIE: I think they are. And it’s a thrill and it’s a sickness, it really is a sickness, and it makes me very concerned about the state of human beings, and what’s going on.

TARA BROWN: So if their victim does attempt suicide, or does in fact kill themselves, have they won? Is that the ultimate thrill for them?

LEONIE: Yeah, in a lot of cases I’ve seen that happen. I don’t think they think it’s real. And they don’t seem to have any conscience. I can guarantee that probably about 90 per cent of the trolls that were doing the attacking the other night would have absolutely no conscience about it.

TARA BROWN: Alan Sinclair knows better than anyone the destructive power of words. His son Jacin was as tough as nails on the football field, but crippled on the inside by depression - an illness his abusers targeted by taunting him on social media.

ALAN: They used that tool because they’re cowards. It’s like a king hit. The people who hurt him, hurt him in a way that was the only way they could. They wouldn’t - they would never have confronted him in a face-to-face manner. They would never have dared say that to him in the street. They chose to do it behind the protection of a computer.

TARA BROWN: You clearly miss him a lot?

ALAN: Oh yeah. Sorry.

TARA BROWN: In December 2010, Jacin overdosed and died. What Alan lives with every day is that the Internet bullies won. He doesn’t want Charlotte to succumb in the same way.

ALAN: It opened up an old wound. I saw some similarities there, but I also saw a very brave young woman, who was prepared to do what it took to chase down and name and shame this person. I only hoped it worked, because they’re the baddy in all this. Not Charlotte Dawson.

TARA BROWN: But there are plenty who say, because she feeds the trolls, Charlotte should expect to get bitten by them. On her release from hospital yesterday, Charlotte was prepared to answer the critics. Is it fair to say you play in this world, you dish it out, and therefore you are a hypocrite for complaining about it?

CHARLOTTE: Oh look, and I expect there is always going to be banter, there’s going to be arguing, there’s going to be bitchiness, there’s going to be humour, there’s going to be sarcasm. I accept that sort of thing. There’s just - you know, I’ve just never seen it taken to the actual level that it was taken to.

TARA BROWN: So you’ve never been abusive, you’ve never bullied?

CHARLOTTE: I don’t think so. I don’t think - I mean, I think people diminish what bullying is, you know? Bullying is extremely threatening behaviour that is constant and that makes people feel threatened and terrified. And I can’t think of anyone that I’ve done that to.

TARA BROWN: Battered and bruised, Charlotte is taking some time to recover. And she promises Twitter won’t be part of the recuperation. But the best medicine, from Leonie Smith, is to ignore the trolls, not confront them.

LEONIE: If somebody attacks you online, don’t just take it on yourself. Reach out to someone who you know cares about you, and get them to come over and sit with you, because the worst thing is for a person on their own sitting at home dealing with this. Sometimes you just need someone to pull you away.

TARA BROWN: Somebody to say “stop reading it”?

LEONIE: Yeah.

TARA BROWN: But if you’re one of the trolls who attacked Charlotte, watch out. You might yet be exposed and worse.

CHARLOTTE: There are consequences. These people can be traced, because I have contacted the police and had a lengthy discussion with them today, and they are using devices, mobile devices iPads, computers, in order to vilify and intimidate and threaten, so yeah, there are consequences.

TARA BROWN: I guess you’d hope that they’d be charged?

CHARLOTTE: I’d like to see them charged. Yeah, I don’t think encouraging people to end their lives is funny or clever.

TARA BROWN: And I just wonder if this is going to silence you?

CHARLOTTE: I’m not giving up my career.

TARA BROWN: Does it frighten you? Does it make you think twice about what you say and what you think?

CHARLOTTE: I don’t think I’d back off out of fear of retribution. It’s just that the retribution for my actions have been so severe, they’ve hospitalised me. So they have had a win, they have had a win and I congratulate them for that, if that’s what they wanted, but I’m not dead yet.

Eheadspace – advice, healthcare and counselling for ages 12-25 1800 650 890 www.eheadspace.org.au

Kids Helpline – phone counselling for ages 5-25 1800 55 1800 or www.kidshelp.com.au

Lifeline – For support and advice in a personal crisis 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au

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