Natalie Weaver has a daughter. Her name is Sophia, and she’s nine years old. In a lot of ways, Sophia is just like other nine year old girl. She loves and is loved by her family. She experiences joys and sorrows. She’s a happy little girl. But Sophia also deals with things on a daily basis that most of us cannot even imagine. She was born with deformities to her face, hands, and feet. When she was a year old, Sophia was diagnosed with Rett syndrome. The neurological disorder impairs brain development, affecting speech and motor function. Sophia can’t talk, and requires 24-hour care to handle the seizures and choking spells she suffers because of the deformities and the Rett syndrome. But to Natalie, she’s just Sophia, her beloved daughter who fills their lives with joy.
Sophia and her family rely on Medicaid to manage her care, and without it, Sophia would die. When North Carolina proposed a change to the program, Natalie Weaver became an outspoken advocate on behalf of Sophia and others like her. Putting herself out there made her an easy target for trolls, and she’s gotten used to dealing with them. But one person in particular was disgustingly vicious in their attacks. That tweet led Natalie on a crusade to have the vile messages and posts removed, and to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
Natalie Weaver has been told her daughter should die, that she doesn’t deserve the medical care she receives. She’s been told she should have terminated the pregnancy, and is blamed for bringing Sophia into the world. The tweet that sent Natalie on her mission used a picture of Sophia to advocate for coerced abortion and eugenics.
People w/ facial deformities experience a lot of cruelty.
The Hate & Stares I received when Sophia was a baby were painful & made me hide away for 7yrs.
I decided over a year ago to stand up & fight against this!
I will not be silenced by hate! Thank you for supporting us! pic.twitter.com/oJr2FgUGAL
— Natalie Weaver (@Nataliew1020) January 21, 2018
The user who sent the tweet wanted Natalie to see it, and even tagged her Twitter handle in the message. Natalie reported it, and urged her followers to do the same. She blocked the account, and hoped that was the end of it. But, while her followers said that they received messages from Twitter that the tweet was indeed in violation of standards, it wasn’t removed. The account wasn’t suspended or banned. And the person behind it continued their calculated attacks on Sophia and her family.
Natalie says that her response to the tweet unleashed a new barrage of hateful messages from people. More trolls telling her that Sophia should die, that any medical expenses she accrued shouldn’t be the responsibility of tax payers. Natalie’s situation soon turned into a argument for abortion rights. All stemming from one tweet.
Natalie says that it wasn’t necessarily the tweet itself that bothered her (although we can’t imagine reading such hateful words about your own child). The user tweeted out a photo of Sophia, and suddenly her face was being used in their awful crusade. It took almost a week for Twitter to finally act on the reports, and Natalie received a message that the offending tweet was removed and the account that sent it suspended.
Thank you @TwitterSupport & @jack for listening! The account that was using my daughter's image has been suspended! Thank you to the thousands of people who reported this & supported us! Thank you for taking a stand against hate! pic.twitter.com/77jPFljYPs
— Natalie Weaver (@Nataliew1020) January 22, 2018
The problem, Natalie believes, stems from Twitter not having a category in their reporting function that covers people with disabilities.
Twitter has been in the news a lot lately for their woefully inadequate response to trolls and the hate they spew. Accounts who are routinely attacked and bombarded with vile messages are often suspended for fighting back, but the troll accounts remain. Many users report getting messages that threaten violence or rape. When they report them, they are told by Twitter that the account “isn’t found to be in violation of standards”. Hopefully, stories like Sophia’s and Natalie’s still light a fire under the social media platform, and open their eyes to the fact that they have to do BETTER.
Mostly, Natalie Weaver just wants people to see Sophia for who she is: a loving, caring, happy nine year old girl. Natalie told CNN, “We have to deal with so many challenges, but because of her my life is better. I know what true happiness is.”