Ever wondered what it’s like to be at the centre of a Zoella Twitterstorm? I can tell you

What happened when I dared to write critically of the YouTube star

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The Independent Online

I love writing my column. The kick in my gut when someone rips into a carefully constructed argument is a thrill like no other. It proves they’ve read and considered the reasoning and come up with their own opinion. Often, it’s the anticipation of an imminent mauling that powers me towards deadline. Needless to say, I've developed a thick skin.

But the reaction to my column on video blogger Zoella last week hit me like a tonne of bricks. With spikes on. Drenched in acid.

I expected a backlash. No one can write a column as strongly worded as that one was and not expect a fiery response. It’s like poking an angry bear with a stick. You will get bitten. In fact - before I started writing - one editor suggested I abandon the piece, for fear the response would be too overwhelming. I declined. As Will Gore wrote last week week, no one is off limits to a newspaper columnist. And besides, reaction is a writer’s life source.

But boy, the reaction. The outpouring of hate was so venomous it kept me awake at night and had me looking over my shoulder for days. I avoided the gaze of every teenager I passed in the street, convinced they were complicit in my online trashing. I even considered dyeing my hair back to blonde so as to be more inconspicuous.

I deleted Twitter from my phone and asked my cousin in PR to manage my account until the vitriol died down. Still, the spectre of my savaging hung heavily over me and soon it became impossible not to engage with the comments that had come flooding in.

Many responses I accepted as part of the fair and rational discussion that follows a good opinion piece. Some readers emailed or wrote to me to express their disgust, and I responded to the ones I felt were constructive, thanking them for taking the time to reach out to me.

But as the notifications piled up, each one more vile than the last ("bully", "bitch", "whore"), I started to realise we’d gone off topic. One Zoella fan threatened to defecate on my mum, while others told me to watch my back because they were coming for me. A few said I'd messed with the wrong group and some used the piece as an excuse to criticize my own flawed appearance. Others told me to stop writing, or demanded the paper fire me on the spot. A couple simply told me, in no uncertain terms, how much they despised me. When I made a quip about writing a piece on One Direction the following day, fans of the boy band waded in, telling me I’d be "dead" if I dared pen something negative about their idols. It wasn’t long before most of the comments were personal attacks on me, and nothing whatsoever to so with the column.

Twitter can be, and has been, a force for good. It links people and thoughts that might otherwise be disconnected, and provides a platform for writers to involve their readers; taking on board criticism and revelling in compliments when, if, they come. But it’s also the dark underbelly of social media, the website that allows the anonymous to abuse without fear of accountability. Hate mail made easy.

This isn’t a moan, by the way. I poked the angry bear, so I must take criticism on the chin. And I do. Some of the responses were genuine objections to the content of the article - people who disagreed with my stance and wanted me to know. That’s par for the course. Actually, that’s brilliant. But it is never acceptable to bombard a writer - or anyone else for that matter - with a torrent of threats simply because they spoke their mind. That’s social media at its very worst.

Finally, I want to thank everybody who shared the piece - 30,000 of you at last count. I’d also like to credit the people who took 20 seconds out of their day to post me abuse and, in doing so, provided me with enough material for another column. Seriously, thanks for that.