Bloggers Getting Bullied: You’re Not Alone

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 lisakerrsucks@yahoo.com, 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Keep your domain registration information set to your hosting site. Hide your personal contact information.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Place a Terms of Use on your site notifying the readers of your comment and harassment policy. Refer them to the terms if they have questions. If they are particularly harassing still, ignore the emails/comments. They will eventually go away.
  8. 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:

This Just In: Sex Sells & Why I’m Afraid of Love

I’ve been incredibly popular with men in the past decade, in part because I was following the prescription for fame and attention: be half naked and flirt a lot.

Halloween. Note the pearls I'm wearing. Gotta keep it classy.

And as any woman knows, it’s always good to show off your boobs.

My boobs

But let’s be honest, I was fresh out of a cult and wanted to give a big FUCK YOU to the purity movement I’d lived in for seven plus years.  So it was only right that I did what I did and trust me, I’m okay with all the attention I got. It doesn’t make me any less human.

People have said over and over they don’t know why Kim Kardashian is famous. Yes, you do. I believe her fame emerged after her sex tape. And Paris Hilton. And then let’s take Coco from Ice Loves Coco.

Screenshot of ass from Cocos World

The reason these women are famous is because sex, nudity, and ditsy behavior sells. It makes you famous.

I went through a dumb blonde phase (see photos above) where I insisted on pretending I was stupid, pretended to get bad grades, and really pretended to care about asshole dudes. But the problem was that I was just pretending. I am not stupid and I didn’t get bad grades. I may or may not have cared about some of those assholes.

I learned very quickly that the male attention I got during those days was for one reason and one alone: I was sexy. I was also thin. As the years went on and my depression compounded my issues, I gained weight. Sure, some people still think I’m sexy and some still hit on me, but there has been a huge decrease in male attention over the past few years. I believe my own mother said that if I lost some weight I’d find a good man.

The odd thing about my weight gain is that it’s directly related to wanting to be invisible. After being miserably hurt by those I loved, I didn’t want to go through it again. I didn’t realize I may have purposefully gained weight so I didn’t have to be around people, or trust them, or even get male attention. But this is one thing my therapist proposed to me a week or two ago. We just started talking about it and I’m not sure what all is truly behind that desire for invisibility but it’s very clearly present in my life. It also manifests in other ways, too, but the weight gain is most noticeable.

Back to fame. I know a girl who recently made herself semi-famous. She has no talent that I know of, but she’s taken very sexy, half naked pictures of herself. As a result, she’s everywhere and can get any media attention she wants. For awhile, that was my plan. Lose some weight, get famous. As a writer, fame would be very helpful. It’s a plan that certainly works, but as I started getting to know myself a bit more, I realized it’s not for me. I do love being half naked or whole naked, but I don’t like being inauthentic. I don’t want to live my life as an act and for me, acting stupid would be an act. Being naked would not be an act. I’m naked right now and I often write naked. But not to turn you on.

I’m not saying that girls who sell out for fame by being naked are wrong or stupid. Sometimes, I think they’re quite smart because they are marketing GURUS. I often wonder if it is an act, though. How much of them really wants to be famous for who they are? Or because of a talent they may be hiding because it’s not “what hot girls do”? I’ve noticed a lot of celebrities have very good hearts and sometimes even brilliant minds.

So when Katy Perry said today that she’s tired of fame, I get it (not the fame, of course). I’m sure she may even regret it sometimes. But because fame is this monster that can often turn against you, you have to play the game or the game will kill your career.

So, while I’m still pretty, I’m pretty fluffy. And I am not a huge fan of sharing my fat pictures with anyone but here’s one:

It’s easy to hide after becoming fat and as anyone who has ever gained weight knows it’s even more difficult to take it off after putting it on. I’m healthy and I’m secretly happy with my fluffiness, yet I know I’ve stacked to odds against me when it comes to finding love. But you know what? Sometimes I wonder if that’s why I did this to myself–to prevent myself from finding love again. If you don’t find love, then you don’t have to deal with someone not loving you, rejecting you, or abandoning you.

On the other hand, somehow through all of this, I’ve found myself. I wear my glasses with pride instead of thinking they make me look ugly. I read feminist books and don’t care if that makes me unappealing to the straight male. I am smart and I’m not afraid of being who I am, regardless of how others judge me. I don’t often wear makeup, I refuse to wear stilettos anymore and I may be more interested in reading or debating than what others tell me I should dress like or look like. Because of all that, I’m very happy.

What It Feels Like to Be Depressed

depression1600x1200

Years ago, I made an appointment with a doctor in Century City. Over the course of three or four years my body had grown disproportionate and my weight gain had spiraled out of control. I was fat and my weight kept rising. It was a scary confirmation that my depression was out of control, a fact that I knew all too well. My ability to eat, though, meant that I was alive. I wasn’t suicidal and I didn’t kill myself. I often felt I should be dead. The pain was unbearable.

The doctor greeted me in his office and we did a routine exam and blood work. He asked me a series of questions and I told him I suffered from horrible fatigue and could never get out of bed. I’d had this as long as I could remember.

***

My new doctor knew I suffered from depression and that I’d been diagnosed a few years prior by another doctor. I was in college at the time I was diagnosed, even though I’d certainly had a tendency most of my life. During my diagnosis, my doctor and I discussed the history my family had with depression and suicide. Just about everyone in my mother’s family had been depressed and one had a successful venture with suicide. I had reason to be worried about myself and I was proud of myself for seeking help.

The new doctor diagnosed me with anxiety, which surprised me. I’d always concluded that depression was the cause of all my problems but he’d handed me another issue–something that complicated my feelings about myself and my pain even more. I knew I suffered high-levels of anxiety but I’d never thought much about it. I stressed often and greatly. I often felt unloved, like I was detestable to people. Was this anxiety or depression or low self-esteem? It was hard to figure out; they all merged together.

Earlier, when I was religious, I’d learned to call myself a sinner often and my normal tendency to be introspective, which I now realized was probably something related to anxiety or depression, was tuned up to high-gear while I scanned my mind for sinful thoughts or patterns. I was compounded with guilt daily, because my ability to be introspective and critical was great. But I was guilty over things I couldn’t change about myself and now that I write this, I was guilty about things I wouldn’t change.

***

I’ve learned to cope with depression and anxiety. Not perfectly, but I’m too hard on myself or so my mom says. I have a new doctor who is regulating my weight and he says I’m too hard on myself, too.

My mother and I have conversations several times weekly. She assures me I’m normal and strong and in a way it’s like she’s telling herself this. At eighteen, she attempted suicide. When she calls me and tells me she’s concerned about me, I know there’s more than just motherly concern. She can feel the change in me. The dive into darkness. The feelings of being overwhelmed with loneliness.

The past two weeks been dark and lonely. Regardless of who surrounds me, how busy I am, or how active I am, I feel it. I feel the plunge and I can’t escape. Depression, some people argue, is something you CAN prevent. You can control your feelings and make your way out of it, they say. It’s a choice and you’re lazy or weak if you can’t fix yourself, they tell me.

They’re wrong.

 ***

Years ago my friend Jordan was frustrated with me. I often cried on the phone with him. I was deeply depressed some days and I was hoping he could help. He knew my pain all too well; his mother suffered from the same thing and according to him, had never accepted help for it.

“Lisa, you need to get help for this. No one, not even your mom, is going to be able to force you to live or try to get better. You have to pull yourself together and get help.”

I didn’t think I needed medication at the time and Jordan was trying to convince me otherwise. I followed his advice and I accepted the medication from my doctor. I decided to try to get help for myself so my dark days would seem a little brighter. For years it helped. Although it took months to see improvement, I started getting out of the emotional state I was in. Until about a month ago, I often thought, “This is what it feels like to be NORMAL.”

About a month ago, I took birth control pills and the suicidal thoughts started again. It’s normal for some patients to feel this way, the package said. So I stopped the pills. My emotions regulated. I was almost normal again.

But some things happened in my personal life that shook me up. I’m a crier and for two hours I lay in bed crying. I was having a breakdown and didn’t know how to make it through. The “normal” answers of how to fix it came to mind, including death. For hours I contemplated what to do and thought pills would be the most effective way to end it. What kind, though? How many? Couldn’t I just check myself in somewhere? Do I call my mom? No, it’s almost midnight.

Then I thought about a very minor thing: I had a work deadline tomorrow. I can’t breakdown. I had to pick myself up and figure out how to feel better. It was simple, but that’s what kept me hanging on that time. With depression you can’t just force yourself to feel better but sometimes, it seems with age the more dark times you go through the more you realize that just by the nature of depression the lows will go away for awhile and until they return you will get several days or weeks of relief. And you’ll do it all over again but you’ll be a little stronger next time. And eventually, maybe, you’ll realize that those who are depressed are often some of the most brilliant artists or the most caring individuals and you’ll see something wonderful in the parts of you you once were ashamed of.

This is what it feels like to be depressed.

For more on depression, read A Woman Of Compressed Power: The Redeeming Side Of Depression, a follow-up piece I wrote in 2013.