Ryan Crowley gets surprisingly candid about his relationship with social media and online hate.

Ryan Crowley, in part, discovered bodybuilding due to being bullied as a child. It’s a story we’ve heard countless times before in the sport. He sought to become physically strong to avoid being bullied in his future. Now Crowley is a promising bodybuilder (recovering from a major injury) and looking to make a big splash in the industry. Yet somehow he still faces the same kind of bullying he remembers from childhood. This time in the form of hateful online comments. Has his past experiences helped him develop thicker skin? In our latest GI Exclusive, Ryan Crowley opens up about how he interacts with social media online bullying – and how it still emotionally affects him.

Whether you like it or not, social media is here to stay. It’s also a big part of modern bodybuilding. No longer do pro competitors need magazines to display their stunning physiques. They can each amass followings on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. They can directly engage fans. They can share updates whenever they want. There is no longer a gatekeeper between the athlete and the audience.

In many ways this is fantastic. It opens the doors wide open for new kinds of success. But it also brings a very ugly side of the internet front and center into every bodybuilder’s inboxes. Bullying and hate from anonymous users can mount across comments and DMs. There’s a lot of positivity too, which must be acknowledged, but the hate comes through in a way that was otherwise impossible before the web. This is something Ryan Crowley is all too familiar with.

We’ve spoken with others about the vitriol that can come through online commenting. In the case of Chef Rush, for example, it took the form of hate speech. Joey Swoll also revealed to us the death threats he would receive. It can get very dark. Ryan Crowley is a bodybuilder who has experienced bullying far before the internet. As a chubby child, he was often the butt of many jokes. This certainly emotionally affected him. To combat the sadness – he sough to become strong and eventually discovered bodybuilding.

Now an adult, he strangely finds himself, in some ways, back where he started. While he is no longer overweight, he faces hateful comments online due to having a rather large social media following. During our video conversation, Crowley became extremely candid and open about how this affects him. In some ways, he becomes the same young boy that he was being bullied in his past. He admits to reading the hurtful comments and letting them deeply affect his mood.

He tells us this with a smile on his face in the moment. It’s as if he is completely aware how silly it is to let strangers have such a hold over him. But he’s also aware that he can’t help his gut emotional response to these kinds of comments. We’re all human after all. He knows he should simply not read the comments. Just ignore them. But he reads through them anyway.

He also admits that being so easily affected by the comments triggers more comments:

“I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m very sensitive. And they know this. This is why they say this stuff because they know it gets to me. It’s just something I get on with, you know? It gets to me and then I get on with it.”

This is classic bullying. The more the bully knows that they are triggering a response. The more they continue to push harder. Of course, Ryan Crowley is not disabled by these hateful comments. They do not freeze up his life into misery. As he states, he’s able to move on. But he also comes back for more. He pours over his comments, gets upset by certain hateful statements, uses his girlfriend for support, and then tries to shake it off and go one with his day.

There have been many reports in the bigger picture beyond bodybuilding of how social media affects anxiety and happiness. Recent whistleblowers at Facebook even stated that there are mounds of data showcasing the psychological damage it can cause – but they chose to bury those facts and move forward with their policies anyways. It’s a problem bigger than Ryan Crowley or bodybuilding. But it’s refreshing to see a public figure in the sport speak so honestly about it.

You can watch Ryan Crowley discuss his interaction with online hate – as well as his future plans for recovery and his bodybuilding career – in our latest GI Exclusive interview segment above.

Derek Dufour has been managing all digital operations on the Generation Iron Network for over six years. He currently manages a team of editors, writers, and designers to provide up-to-date content across the GI Network.