I write about one of the most divisive subjects in the world-religion. Not only that, but I write with snark and am not afraid to share my opinions of working with some well-known ministers. They’re not always flattering opinions of these people, and that infuriates their followers. I do, however, write with intelligence, confidence and I have a strong sense of ethics. I don’t feel bad for what I do. Because of my unapologetic attitude, and like many bloggers I know, I get bullied and harrassed often. Opening up comments on this site and providing my email address often helps many people, but in many cases it opens myself up for a slew of harrassment. Morning. Noon. Night.
Recently a few blogger friends have opened up about bullying they’ve received and one has been driven from blogging completely. Some of their hate mail has come from trolls, anonymous (they think) readers who make up a fake name and email address thinking this covers their asses. It doesn’t. Not entirely. Although the standard troll may not know this, your IP address is visible to anyone who hosts a website. We know where you live, and sometimes we can pin point exactly who you are just with a general search and the evidence you’ve left. Even if you troll on Facebook, your information can be found. Facebook knows who you are and will release the info to authorities if needed. So, just because you hide behind firstname.lastname@example.org, doesn’t mean your identity is invisible to me. It just makes you look uninformed and inexperienced. Other hate mail my blogger friends receive is from friends who disagree with them so vehmenently, they make the argument entirely too personal.
Other bloggers, like myself, use their public identities, which puts us at greater risk for being physically harmed or harrassed, sometimes by people we know. It’s been over a year since I had to ban an old friend (and fellow blogger) from my website and all social media accounts. It’s hard to say why she snapped, but it was evident when: I was tipped off on some details of a major story within our community (we had a similar community of readers, with some overlap). My informant wanted to be anonymous, but I knew the person well, so I knew the source was reliable. In this case, I chose to leave the informant anonymous, and did some fact checking. When I confirmed the story, I published it, and then the old friend came unglued. I received texts and phone calls as early as 6 am demanding I share with her the name of my informant.
The harrassment escalated until she threatened to share “fat” pictures of me on the internet. The irony in her threat is that we were the same size and I wasn’t fat. I was deeply insecure about my weight gain, though, and it really stung to have a ‘friend’ threaten to expose your weakness.
Christmas came around and I was sitting around the Christmas tree with my family. I heard my phone beep-the sound of an email. I was getting recurring messages from the ‘old friend’ on Christmas day. This person wasn’t alone for the holidays-she had a family and a child. In addition, she was a well respected member of her local church. She was a leader there, too.
When I returned back to work, I spoke with my boss who had practiced law before going into consulting work. He sent me next door to a large firm we worked with and I sat down with one of the partners. I’d printed out all the emails for him to read. When he got to the emails blackmailing me for information threatening to expose my ‘weight gain’, he looked up. “You’re dealing with a potentially dangerous person here. I would be very careful.”
He explained to me what my options were-if it escalated. He then suggested I start with the basics-sending a cease and desist letter (email) to the person to see if it put a stop to it. In the letter, I should mention that I was consulted by legal counsel and would pursue action if necessary. My boss had also given me the name of the District Attorney in our area, saying he was a close, personal friend and would be more than happy to help. It turns out my boss was very concerned, and it helped that he was very well-connected.
Were I to blog all over again (about religion and cults), I would chose a pen name and web identity. The topics I cover induce vitriol from a group of very vocal extremists. I’m thankful that (so far) they’ve only been verbally abusive, but I take precautions to protect my safety none-the-less.
On the other hand, the benefits of meeting people who I’ve met by proxy of blogging have far outweighed the hate. I’ve met two people in particular who I consider very close friends-people I’d have never known without blogging. I’ve also gotten reality TV show interest in my blog, publishers and agents interested in my story, and other professional benefits.
I’ve come across some interesting cases of trolling and harrassment lately. One such story was a very heartbreaking even where a gentlemen was getting anti-Semetic death threats from a friend of the family’s teenage son. Leo Traynor writes “The day I confronted my troll“,
When I left Twitter numerous people thought it was as a result of an overreaction on my behalf. That my departure was a kneejerk reaction to a couple of “trolling” or “flaming” incidents or that I was attention seeking. The reality of the situation is that my wife and I were targeted for over three years.
Traynor writes about meeting and confronting his troll in person:
We had a chat. I told them about my wife and son. I told them about my recent illnesses and bereavements and about the builders having been in. I asked after their business and asked The Troll how college is going. All bright and breezy and a trip down memory lane. Then The Troll’s dad tipped me the wink and I opened my bag and took out my manila folder.
I showed The Troll’s mother and father screengrabs and printouts of his handiwork.
I showed them pictures of ashes and dead flowers.
I pointed out that one of the messages my wife received wishing me dead had arrived when I actually was gravely ill.
I told them of how I’d become so paranoid that I genuinely didn’t know who to trust anymore.
I told them of nights when I’d walked the rooms, jumping at shadows and crying over the sleeping forms of my family for fear that they would suffer because of me.
In Traynor’s case, his Troll broke down crying and apologized. Traynor didn’t press charges, but left the Troll with a weighty list of items to complete in order to stay out of trouble with the law.
Another recent story caught my eye: a news anchor being told to get off the air because she was overweight. Her critic wrote:
“I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years,” wrote the viewer, who said Livingston was not a “suitable example” for young girls. “I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
The anchor, Jennifer Livingston, shares:
“The truth is, I am overweight,” she said. “But to the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don’t see? You don’t know me… so you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside and I am much more than a number on a scale.”
Livingston continued, “That man’s words mean nothing to me, but really angers me about this is is there are children who don’t know better — who get emails as critical as the one I received or in many cases, even worse, each and every day.”
Livingston’s case resonates with me, as I shared above. Trolls and harrassing readers will find whatever they can, typically to make the insult more personal knowing it will hurt worse than a general insult would. They often research and calculate what they’re going to use against you–othertimes it’s just a random hit.
But what Livingston shares with her audience, is what’s important to remember:
“I leave you with this: To all of the children out there who feel lost, who are struggling with your weight, with the color of your skin, your sexual preference, your disability, even the acne on your face, listen to me right now. do not let your self-worth be defined by bullies. Learn from my experience — that the cruel words of one are nothing compared to the shouts of many.”
I’d like to add to that: To all the adults taking a stand, personally or privately, to be who you are, to share your beauty, your voice, your opinions with the world, remember that you are not alone. Reach out to someone when you feel the personal attacks cutting you deeply before the bullying drives you into a dark place. Look to other bloggers for support, or other individuals from the communities you find peace in. Do your best to ignore what they say, discard their emails, take a break from moderating when you need it, and remember that what they say is insignificant and a sign of the hate filled within their own hearts.
If you are a blogger, or just a member of an online community, you’ll likely face harassment.
Here are Eight Tips to Silence Internet Bullies:
- Many trolls or emails may start out benign and escalate. If you find yourself engaging with someone who becomes harassing, end the conversation immediately. Don’t apologize. Don’t sign off with profanity. Just leave the conversation and ignore any future emails from that account, or any with similar patterns of speech or behavior.
- Use a plugin or widget for Banning IPs. You can ban a single IP or a range of IP addresses. Start with the single IP ban unless the issue progresses.
- Keep a log of bullies and trolls. Whether a complex record, or a file in your email, keep a written track of evidence, screen shots, location, etc.
- Keep your domain registration information set to your hosting site. Hide your personal contact information.
- Don’t use Facebook check-in or allow GPS tracking on your phone, Twitter, etc. Get in the habit of ensuring your personal privacy. If you do check-in, make sure those statuses are set to a close friends group only.
- Make lists on Facebook and other accounts. Create a list for people who are acquaintances or restricted individuals or strangers, and double check the privacy settings for those lists. Put all new friend requests there and weed through them later. Make sure your photos, location, place of work, etc. aren’t listed publicly or on those lists.
- If you allow comments on your site, or if your site is critical of religion, listen to David Gamble’s talk here. He got sued by some religious nutters for a comment on his blog.
If you’ve been bullied and would like to add to this list, please comment below or email me using the form on the top left.
And remember the motto you’ll hear often: Don’t feed the trolls! Ignore them. They will usually go away.
Afterthought (I always think of cool stuff after I hit “publish”):
Alternative ways to deal with bullies:
1. Beat every troll to the punch, like this guy, and troll them before they troll you:
2. Be more like The Oatmeal:
3. Monetize the Hate, like Heather Armstrong who posts the hate mail and monetizes it:
I’m just a little angry. I went to your website. I read from the archives. Something about wanting to tell your bishop something about “how many sex positions you were in before you got married, while drinking a coke and wiping your mouth with your bikini top”. Are you kidding me? Who are you? Satan’s mistress?
Where in “hell” and I use this word literally- do you get off trashing bishops and woops, sorry-the actual church of Jesus Christ?
Because let me let you in on a little secret little sister…it really is His church…I am not usually ashamed of anyone, but I am ashamed of you…
…And your day of judgement is coming. I hope He is more merciful than I would be. You are very fortunate that He still loves you. Ironically, He’s your best, and likely your only hope when the heyday is over.
Stop spitting on Him.
4. Turn it into a blog post, like Scary Mommy, who noticed on of her website pingbacks came from “Kidless Kim” who made fun of her entire post on Motherhood Badges. So Scary Mommy just wrote about it, and carried on with her badgemaking, granting herself this cute one: