One year into her precious life, doctors diagnosed Sophia Weaver with Rett syndrome, a rare, severe neurological disorder that affects brain development, muscle coordination, language skills, and even breathing. Her hands, feet, and face were deformed from birth, and she has undergone 22 surgeries in her nine short years. To her family, and in the eyes of her Creator, Sophia is beautiful and strong, but Twitter trolls have made her a target for verbal abuse and misplaced anger.
Sophia’s mother, Natalie Weaver, advocates to preserve accessible, affordable healthcare solutions for those with disabilities and pre-existing conditions. Two years ago, lawmakers in her home state of North Carolina proposed a change to Medicaid law that would have hurt many medically fragile kids, and Weaver began to speak out about Sophia’s condition—putting a human face on a cold policy story.
That put Sophia in the public eye, and soon internet trolls began to post cruel and abusive messages, including telling Weaver she should kill Sophia. In November, one Twitter user posted a photo of Sophia along with a message arguing that parents should either be forced to abort children with similar conditions or take on all subsequent medical bills themselves, rather than asking taxpayers to foot the bill through Medicaid. With such a vile message publicly attached to her daughter’s photo, Weaver went to war.
Twitter initially told Weaver the post did not violate the company’s rules. So Weaver mobilized her supporters to highlight the online bullying, hoping to get the tweet removed and the troll’s account suspended. She even persuaded a local television station to take on the story. Twitter finally removed the post in January.
With healthcare issues more and more a part of the national conversation, Sophia’s story became political ammunition in a public forum where people are increasingly bold in their dehumanizing attacks on those with disabilities. But their effort backfired: The love for Sophia, shared by her family and friends in response to the online bullying, only served to showcase the value of every life. —A.S.