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Chrissy Teigen and John Legend's cyberbullying saga reminds us none of us are innocent

Before we banish Chrissy Teigen from the social media universe, we need to take a good, hard look at ourselves.
Image: Chrissy Teigan
Chrissy Teigen at the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards on Jan. 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.Frazer Harrison / Getty Images; MSNBC

We’ve heard Chrissy Teigen’s tweets have the power to end careers, but now it looks like they could end hers.

Teigen’s hateful behavior is unsettling. But if we remove her from the headlines, what we’re really forced to look at is ourselves.

On Friday, Teigen posted a series of messages from her team denying that she had sent messages to former Project Runway contestant Michael Costello, who previously shared that he was still "traumatized, depressed" and has "thoughts of suicide" after he claimed Teigen publicly accused him of “being racist” and privately told him his career was over. (

This is just the latest development in a saga of celebrity backlash and online hate that has engulfed Teigen for the past few weeks. Teigen has admitted to sending cruel direct messages to other celebrities, most notably to Courtney Stodden, following their marriage to 51-year-old C-list actor Dough Hutchison when they were still a teenager.

While it’s absolutely true that social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram have become a magnifying glass for people’s mistakes, especially when a celebrity like Teigen is involved, we risk forgetting that we’re all characters in the story, too.

My sister, who is an emotional intelligence teacher for elementary school children, often reminds me of this simple fact: When we watch someone get bullied, all of us play an active role. And therefore we’re all a part of the problem.

Teigen’s hateful behavior is unsettling. But if we remove her from the headlines, what we’re really forced to look at is ourselves.

According to Stodden, Teigen publicly dragged them and also privately messaged them to kill themselves. “I experienced so much harassment and bullying from her when I was just 16 years old, just 17 years old, just 18 years old, at a time when I was being abused,” Stodden has said, referring to the time they were married to Hutchison.

“It’s so damaging when you have somebody like Chrissy Teigen bullying children.” Since then, more people have come out of the woodwork with stories of being bullied online by Teigen in the past. Teen Mom alum Farrah Abraham said Teigen’s messages to her were like a "‘Mean Girls’’ movie spin-off." Teigen’s bullying has now snowballed and led to more bullying, with one Fox News guest bullying Teigen — about her bullying.

Teigen wasn’t the only one going after her victims.

But Teigen wasn’t the only one going after her victims. We all watched as Stodden’s breasts were inspected on live television by Dr. Drew Pinsky to determine if they were real. We watched as Stodden got eviscerated by the media, including by feminist blogs. For a solid moment, they essentially became the internet’s favorite villain. And the truth is that we were all complicit in the harassment and retraumatization of a teenager who was already in the grip of what they now call an abusive relationship.

By keeping our attention trained on Teigen, we can conveniently erase ourselves from the narrative. We become absolved of any responsibility when we entertain the myth of the irreprochable spectator of bullying.

When we use the tunnel vision that social media so strongly encourages and only focus on the perpetrator, we don’t see our role — or the power we all have to change the situation.

Fighting cyberbullying could benefit from some teachings of another discipline. In his book “How To be an Anti-Racist,” scholar Ibram X. Kendi writes that we need to focus on the system rather than the individual — because that’s the most efficacious way to achieve progress.

“Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy,” he writes. “It's a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant.” Cancelling a racist person, whatever that means, doesn’t end racism. The same goes with any social problem, including online bullying and harassment.

Making Teigen disappear won’t eradicate bullying. It may actually worsen it, because it reinforces the idea that in order to be liked you need to be perfect, or that in order to be accepted you need to hide what makes you human. Banishing Teigen from the social media universe might give us something to do right now. But a much more effective solution would be to pressure social media companies to take online harassment seriously and create smarter technology to stamp it out.

Giving schools more resources to train teachers and students in positive conflict resolution would also help children develop healthier coping and conflict conflict resolution strategies. Bullying has become so completely normalized in the technology and media children consume. It continues to be the model for our political coverage as well.

It's so much easier to magnify the mistakes of others instead of looking at ourselves because most of the time, what we hate the most in other people is often what we most fear about ourselves.

When we convince ourselves that bullying is a Chrissy Teigen problem, instead of a societal problem, it robs us of noticing that we actually have the power to change it.