Maisie Williams: Cyberbullies Made Me Feel Completely Alone
The Game of Thrones star plays the lead role in an upcoming Channel 4 drama about online abuse. It's something she has experienced first-hand.
Cyberbully is a gripping one-off Channel 4 drama that examines the consequences of cyberbullying, trolling, and webcam hacking. It's charged, it's unnerving, and it stars Maisie Williams in the lead role of Casey Jacobs. Best known for playing Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, Williams is alone on screen in a single location for the drama's entirety.
"It is just a very current subject and something that I feel passionate about," Williams said, shortly after talking to a room full of journalists and members of anti-bullying charities about how she had been cyberbullied herself on Formspring. "I've been on a train, right next to my mum with my phone in my hand," she had told them, "scrolling through constant abuse right next to my mum and feeling completely on my own."
The drama is not based on a true story, but it was inspired by several extreme cases in America that were woven together to form a plot. Asked by BuzzFeed News if she felt a responsibility to do this drama, given that she's both relatable and respected and hugely popular among young people on Twitter and Instagram, and won the Radio One Teen Awards last October, she demurred: "I dunno if I am relatable. I am relatable to people who are just like me, [but] I don't think I am relatable to everyone."
She was very concerned about coming across to fans as entitled. "To ever think that you are superior, that you have done something..." she said. "That is just the first step in the wrong direction, really."
Williams was keen to point out that she wants her life to be as similar to a typical teenager as possible, even if that's not always a realistic proposition.
"I think that is why teenagers find it strange reading a Twitter feed or looking at Instagram and stuff," she said, "because I see myself as just like anybody else but other people see me as someone different. That's where there's sometimes issues, and I get it. Cos on the outside it looks like I've got a really crazy life and I get to go to these amazing events, but most of my life is spent watching TV like everybody else."
She was sympathetic to young people who find it difficult to cope with suddenly being launched into the public eye: "I think as a young person coming into this industry, nobody teaches you how to be a famous person, nobody ever teaches you how to be a role model. I think you are just expected to do that."
Williams' fame has come at the cost of her privacy, and her experience of cyberbullying has forever altered the way she uses the internet. "My mum sees most things," she said. "She follows me on Twitter, which makes me feel safe."
One of her fears is being misinterpreted for something she has said online: "I panic about all the things to do with the internet, but that's the wonderful thing. You can show a portion of your life, you don't have to put your whole life on the internet. You can show as much or as little as you like. It does not mean it is the real you. It's just, you know, the bits that are necessary."
The way the internet works doesn't help people's conduct, Williams said. "We get very cocky and we get very comfortable because it is not face-to-face, which is a bad thing to do, particularly if you are using the internet negatively." The main thing she said she'd learned, which she admitted sounded a bit cheesy at first, was to just treat every person the way you want to be treated. Laughing, she compared it to recycling: "If we all pick up this one bit of rubbish the world will be a better place!"
She said it was important for parents to understand that teenage moods may be a result of bullying, and that it was their responsibility to be there for them. "Everything that comes up has always stemmed from something – you never know what is really going on behind the door and teenagers don't always want to open up but that's your job, to be there for when they do."
She said that parents don't always understand the technology but can often suss when something is going wrong. "Sometimes I am not ready to speak to my mum about it and I'm just in a really fiery mood and I'm bitter, but deep inside I'm angry at myself. Why am I taking this out on Mum when she'd be the first person there to help me?"
Williams' involvement in the project goes beyond what is shown on screen – she provided feedback to the production crew to help ensure that the language you see Casey typing is typical of what teenagers write.
Overall, she seems genuinely thrilled that she's doing something based on a real issue that affects her generation. "It's the first time – this sounds bad – the first time I have something to say. I have something to add to this topic, and it is such a wonderful way to go about it."