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Gwyneth Paltrow on Internet Trolls: "I See Myself as a Screen"

"Our culture is trying to wrestle with the idea that everybody has a voice, and how it's unimportant and really important at the same time," says the famous actress.

Vjeran Pavic

Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress and founder of online lifestyle brand Goop, thinks that nasty, anonymous online commenters should take a look at themselves first before they post.

“The Internet is an amazing opportunity, socially. We have this opportunity to mature and learn, which is the essence of being on earth — to being the closest person we can be to our actual, real, truest self,” she said ahead of her surprise appearance at the Code Conference today. “But the Internet also allows us the opportunity to project outward our hatred, our jealousy. It’s culturally acceptable to be an anonymous commenter. It’s culturally acceptable to say, ‘I’m just going to take all of my internal pain and externalize it anonymously.'”

Of all the celebrities out there, Paltrow receives a particularly curious reception online, and she’s well aware of it. She is beloved and obsessed-over (the success of her Goop project comes largely from people wanting to live like her, have lunch in Paris or moisturize their bodies like she would).

At the same time, there seems to be some frustration and even aggression aroused by her lanky-blonde-perfect-frittata persona. Consider a recent headline: “Gwyneth Paltrow Joins Instagram, Will Probably Do This Better Than the Rest of Us, Too.”

In February, the newly hired editor of anonymous image-sharing site Whisper promoted one of his company’s user-submitted posts that included a picture of Paltrow’s face overlaid with text alleging that she was having an affair, an image that then went viral.

“It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can see these things and not take it as a personal affront and a hurt. I see myself as a chalkboard or a whiteboard or a screen, and someone is just putting up their own projection on it,” she said.

“It has nothing to do with me. They have an internal object, and they’re putting it on me. I kind of look at it as, ‘Wow this is an interesting social experiment.’ You’re talking about a blind stranger having feelings about you. It can only be projection.”

The conversation about celebrity and the Internet, she said, is part of a larger one about “containment and self-regulation” online.

“Our culture is trying to wrestle with the idea that everybody has a voice, and how it’s unimportant and really important at the same time,” said Paltrow. “We’re in this very adolescent phase. It’s dangerous, [because] we lack the capacity to say, ‘Why does this matter to me, and who am I in this?’ ‘Why am I having opinions about Angelina Jolie’s operation?’ ‘What is unhealed in me?’ ‘Why am I using the Internet to do this?'”

She compared the experience of living through vitriolic Internet commenters to surviving a war.

“You come across [online comments] about yourself and about your friends, and it’s a very dehumanizing thing. It’s almost like how, in war, you go through this bloody, dehumanizing thing, and then something is defined out of it,” she said. “My hope is, as we get out of it, we’ll reach the next level of conscience.”

This year may be a tipping point for Internet trolls, she hopes: “It’s almost like we’re being given this test: Can you regulate yourself? Can you grow from this? Can you learn? You can make it as bloody as you want to, but is that the point?”

And yet, for Paltrow, the Internet can also be a source of great good. Though the Goop team won’t disclose specific details, Paltrow said her e-commerce business is profitable, and that the “open rate” (meaning subscribers that actually open Goop emails) for the Goop newsletter, which reaches people in 120 different countries, is more than double the industry average.

“I started it across all those categories kind of by accident. But it set me up really well to have a lifestyle brand,” she said. “I have big goals in mind for what I want it to be. I finally have been able to find the self-confidence that I really can do this, and I’m doing it.”

Paltrow said she was initially hesitant about speaking at the Code Conference, where she would be onstage among tech CEOs.

“At first, I thought, wow, I don’t belong in this group. But, you know, I’m really excited about my Web business and where we are with it,” she said. “I think we’re achieving a new or newish paradigm — and we’re actually achieving it — this mix of content and commerce.”

Her goal for Goop this year is to “do more of it, and do it better,” she said. So far, Paltrow has not yet taken venture capital for her site, where posts are signed “Love, gp.” Instead, she said she has used her own money, as well as “my blood, sweat and tears.”

“When I look at new companies, we’re kind of the opposite of, let’s just build it, build it quick and sell it,” said Paltrow. “Because my name is so attached to it — because it really is mine — it’s important that it be something real.”

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