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Julia Roberts on dealing with online bullying: ‘I was amazed at how that made me feel’

Julia Roberts at the Critics Choice Awards 2024
Presley Ann / Stringer

Social media — and the ways it can potentially harm kids — is coming under more and more scrutiny lately. Tech CEOs were recently called to testify before Congress about why they haven’t taken more measures to protect kids online, and last year, the Surgeon General issued a groundbreaking warning about the effects social media could have on kids’ mental health. Now, another big voice has joined the fray: a 2018 interview with Julia Roberts reveals the star sharing her experience on social media and her concerns about how it may be a dangerous place for younger women and girls.

In a video, she described posting a photo of herself to Instagram that garnered a lot of criticism for how she looked.

“I posted a photo of my niece and I from one weekend morning. She had slept over and we got up and we were having tea and playing cards and having this beautiful morning,” Roberts says in the audio of the re-surfaced interview, now used in a viral video on Instagram. “It was great. I felt great about it.”

But things soon took a turn.

“The amount of people that felt absolutely required to talk about how terrible I looked in the picture — that I’m not aging well, people saying, ‘God I didn’t even recognize her, this is what she looks like?'” Roberts continued.

Any woman who has tried to live her life online knows what this is like. Trolls are everywhere, and they can be terrible and cruel. But that’s not all Roberts is calling out. She also pointed to the pointless fighting that took place within the comments section of the photo.

“The fights that break out within the comments where someone says, ‘You should be nice.’ ‘Why should I be nice, she looks terrible.’ And people start fighting within the comments,” she said. “I was amazed at what that made me feel, and I’m a 50-year-old woman, and I know who I am, and still, my feelings — I was so hurt that people couldn’t see the point of it, the sweetness of it, the absolute shining joy of that photo.”

Roberts realized that if she was so affected by the comments, younger women and girls likely had an even harder time.

“I thought, God, what if I was 15?” she said. “That’s just devastating. It really made me see all the things about hearts and clicks and likes, and you realize, there is something neurological about this whole system that was fascinating to me, and I think it taught me a lot about being a young person in today’s society.”

The video was posted with a caption that included some troubling statistics: 24.4% of teens are considered social media addicts. This is a complex and nuanced problem, and none of us have answers just yet. But it’s a positive step to see so many people raising the alarm about how social media is likely affecting young people and how we all have a responsibility to help.