On April 22nd, Odyssey published the infamous article "Sorry Not Sorry, My Parents Paid For My Coachella Trip" and it received thousands of views rapidly. Celebrity, Chrissy Teigen even tweeted about the article. It was soon discovered that the article was not genuine and a note on the bottom was added to say "is intended to be a satire of an experience at Coachella." The article page is still up and collecting views but the following is posted instead, "Odyssey is a platform for real people to share authentic ideas. It has come to our attention that the creator of the article originally featured on this page may have joined Odyssey using false information, violating our terms of service."
It was soon revealed that the writer, Kaycie Allen, is a 28-year-old man. His real name is Chris Spies and is an alumni of Syracuse University. The Syracuse Odyssey president never asked for an article sample, a resume, or a Syracuse email account. Spies was easily allowed to start writing, which he explained in a Buzzfeed article. On his own blog, Discordant Years, he discussed his experience as an Odyssey writer. After reading this, I soon felt that Spies was not as "bad" as I thought he would be. I had sympathy for him and his experience on his team. I was able to have a phone interview with him and learned about why he was pretending to be Kaycie.
Chris Spies' blog is about his original characters writing about their everyday experiences. Each article is part of a giant story arch and overtime, the reader would see how the characters grow. Kaycie was going to have a story arch, where you watch her change overtime. Spies wanted to write as Kaycie for 6 months to a year. Due to her first article going viral, the character arch never happened. Spies thought Odyssey was the perfect platform because he wanted to see if anyone would help Kaycie. Each article was going to be made so that it was obvious that Kaycie needed help. Even after her first viral article, she received hundred of hate comments but no one asked if she was mentally well.
This made me realize that there are many REAL viral Odyssey writers who faced negative backlash this year. I decided to reach out to four infamous Odyssey writers and see if anyone has supported or checked to see if they were mentally well. To my surprise, all four of these writers responded to me and shared with me their experience to answer an important question: is it Odyssey's responsibility to check on the mental health of its writers?
You May Have Worn The Prom Dress With Him, But I Get To Wear The Wedding Dress
Victoria Higgins is one of the most famous Odyssey writers. She was a writer from Missouri State University, but ended up leaving Odyssey after her article went viral. Victoria has tried to get her article deleted because of the negative experience but she was advised from HQ to mute the notifications instead. The article is still on the homepage and is getting more views each day. Since March 28th, when her article was posted, it had received one million views, 233 comments, and many response articles. The majority of her feedback is negative, which has personally affected her mental health. Victoria said in my interview with her, that she feels "very isolated and as though my emotions were not validated." She now views the internet as a disgusting place, where very few people stood up for her.
Victoria felt "zero support from the community" and the media ended up making the situation worse by twisting her story. The media brought in people to attack her, even when they did not understand the meaning of her piece. Other writers told Victoria that she should be happy about the views because it helped the Missouri State University team. Victoria says that in her community "everyone acted as if I was annoying" when she complained about the hatred. When she reached out for help from her Editor in Chief, she was offered no assistance or consolidation. Victoria thinks "my experience may have been very different if I would have had a different support system."
The article title was changed without Victoria knowing until it was published. It was originally "Someone Else May Have Worn a Prom Dress With You, But I'm Happy To Wear The Wedding Dress". The person who changed the title wanted the title to sound more "click-worthy" and has apologized to Victoria. Victoria says that changing a title "without telling the creator can lead to negative backlash". Some writers are making a mockery of her article title and labeling her as a "jealous psychopath". One of the response articles includes a writer posing as the ex and claims to have taken Victoria's husband's virginity. A different writer wrote an article about how the ex "only fired back because… it was the right thing to do". Victoria tried explaining to writer that the ex was a poser, but the writer called Victoria a liar and ashamed of the ex.
When I asked Victoria if she believes that Odyssey is responsible for the mental health of their writers, she said yes. She believe that because they published the articles and control the content, they have the responsibilities to care for their creators.
University of Missouri Odyssey writer, Megan Crabb, never expected her February 20th article to go viral, with over 285 thousand views, 17 comments, and many response articles. Megan was threatened with a lawsuit from the two girls in the header of her article, but her New York editor told them that he was not going to remove the header because he was not legally required to. Megan's article is still public and thought about asking to have the article removed, but "was worried (she) was just being too sensitive."
Some people began attacking Megan about things unrelated to her article, such as her appearance. A common way for other writers to response to viral articles, is by writing their own response article. Megan says that some of the articles were extremely hurtful and nasty, "with the authors coming after me personally instead of just addressing the subject matter." Megan assumed that she would face backlash for her unpopular opinion about parents paying for college, but she never expected for her piece to go viral. Megan believes that Odyssey promotes articles without realizing the backlash that affect the original writer.
Megan thinks having more support from her team members and editors would have helped her with the hatred she received. She understands that it is not part of the job to check on the mental health of their writers, but support is important. Megan says that Odyssey "would not be a thriving company without their writers so they need to make sure we are all well taken care of."
Grace Wilkowski is a writer from Washington State University, who also faced negative backlash from her viral article. Her article was posted on May 20th and has received 73 thousand views, ten comments, and also had response articles written about her. Grace explains that she "also did feel upset with the negative backlash." None of her team's writers checked to see how she was doing. She never thought about rather or not Odyssey should check on their writers' mental health, but an email sent to her would have been nice. Grace is unsure if it is Odyssey's full responsibility to to check their writers' mental health, but believes that they can "make it better."
From Virginia Tech's Odyssey team is Rachel Kiser, who's article was posted on August 20th, 2017. Her most infamous article has 30 thousand views, 200 comments, and has the most response articles. Rachel felt that her page views mattered more to her team than her mental health. After her article about what girls wear to class became popular, she was bombarded by people from all platforms, had people messaging her mom on Facebook, and had a Twitter petition to remove her from Odyssey. Rachel tried to leave Odyssey but was encouraged to stay, which she believes was because of her popularity on the site.
Rachel felt that no one from her community ever stood up for her or asked about her mental health. She felt as though people did not approve of her and discredited her piece. Rachel says that "despite ideas and beliefs, we need to support fellow writers in their craft from people who will attempt to discourage them." There were many response articles written to attack her personally instead of her argument. Rachel believes that there can be a more effective way of regulating these articles.
Rachel also has been an Odyssey editor for her college but says she was never trained on how to deal with backlash. She tries to train other writers on how to deal with backlash since it has been something she faces constantly. Rachel believes that Odyssey should not pretend that journalism does not affect their writers' mental health. Rachel ended our interview by saying "it can be very stressful and they are in charge of teaching and supporting their writers health, criticism, and how to create a 'safe space' for their writers to support each other."
~After all of these interviews, I realized that it is truly not one person's job to check on a writer's mental health. Chris Spies inspired me to hold myself accountable for my writer's wellbeing. I can not truly say if Odyssey should start hiring people to do wellness checks on their viral writers. I can not speak for others, but as president of the Montclair State University team, I promise to frequency see if my writers are comfortable and feel safe on Odyssey. I also believe that these issues should not be ignored by Odyssey. Odyssey should encourage other Odyssey EICs and presidents to do wellness checks on their writers. I want every writer to enjoy their Odyssey experience like I have. I truly believe that Odyssey can be a positive experience with the right support system. ♥