Do you or someone you care about suffer from online trolling or cyberstalking? No one deserves it, and I don’t want anyone to feel fearful – it’s time to speak up! I got my feature image above from Kali Holloway’s article here. According to Kali, women (especially women of colour) are disproportionately affected. I guess I fit into that category, but it can happen to anyone. I know a Caucasian male friend who fell victim to a female cyberstalker after just one Tinder date gone wrong.
Online trolling and cyberstalking are terms that are used interchangeably but are slightly different. Both describe repeated, abusive, online behaviour. Trolls get a rise from posting remarks online that are inflammatory, whilst a cyberstalker is more insidious and targets a specific person.
Social media has its benefits, but unfortunately it’s also a place where trolls and cyberstalkers like to misbehave. It is becoming more prevalent, and the number of complaints to the authorities is increasing. Social media should be a safe space for people to share their lives, hobbies, and passions. Any form of stalking or harassment is illegal under the Crimes Act. Cyberstalking is just as serious as ‘real life’ stalking according to the law, and the NSW legislation has changed recently such that trolls and cyberstalkers can face up to five years in jail.
The purpose of me writing about this topic is to share my experience of a cyberstalker, hopefully help others who may be experiencing similar situations, and how I’ve dealt with it. It may come as a surprise, but my way of dealing with it is with sympathy and a side of humour and sass. Herein I shall just use the word ‘troll’ to refer to both online trolls and cyberstalkers.
Firstly, think about the type of person who is a troll. Do you think he or she is happy? … exactly. A happy person does not feel the need to put others down. I met Colin, a sad 40-year-old
virgin Caucasian male at a coffee shop two years ago. I politely declined his invitation to meet again for dinner, and thought that that would be the end of it. Most people would move on, but poor Troll clearly does not know how to handle rejection and is still expressing his pain now – two years later. Can you see why I approach this with sympathy? Perhaps it’s more like pity.
I never gave Troll my number, but he stalked me hard and got hold of it. He decided to add me on Facebook, send me a WhatsApp message, and then a text message, and then started using fake profiles to try and interact with me on social media. He’s made about thirty accounts (who has that kind of time?). Troll has used a plethora of pseudonyms, and seems to favour Rosie Clozada at the moment. Look below at how many accounts he’s made! He has made twenty Rosie accounts, and has even used a photo of me in cycling shorts as a profile picture for his 19th and 20th Rosie accounts. Using someone’s photo without their consent is also illegal.
Over the two years, Troll has been looking at all of my Instagram posts and stories, is probably reading this blog post right now, and has tried to get as much information as possible to think of ways in which he could hurt my feelings, who my closest friends might be, and what activities I’m up to. As a marathoner, I have a race weight of 57kg. He became obsessed with this fact and mentioned it in many of his comments and messages. It has not had any effect on me (nice try, though!) because I don’t derive my sense of self from superficial things like my weight. Race weight is just a functional thing that optimises your performance on race day, and has nothing to do with how I feel about my body.
The nasty comments and messages started on September 1st 2018 with this one, choosing a username that is similar to one of my friend’s:
Each time I’d receive a nasty comment, I’d report and block – and then he’d create a new fake profile and write another comment. You go into auto-pilot after a while (I mean, it’s been four months of trolling I’ve put up with); you don’t even bother reading or thinking about what the comment says anymore: Report. Block. Thank u, next.
I go on digital detoxes quite often, as I think it’s unhealthy to be on social media all the time. It can consume a lot of time and some of the things you see are just a highlight reel rather than someone’s real life, and we all know the detrimental effects of social media on mental health. I usually have my Instagram on public because it allows other like-minded individuals to find and engage with me. For example, I have some really supportive yoga teachers and practitioners from around the world whom I interact with frequently (hello yogis!).
I did however put my profile on private for a bit of a break and deactivated my account so that I could enjoy Christmas with my family without too many distractions. When Troll realised that he could no longer post on my profile, he started involving my friends – this is classic trolling behaviour. He had read my blog post on how my girl gang hadn’t visited me when I was in hospital, so he started trolling them about how they were bad friends for not visiting me (umm… so you’re on my side now?). He got it wrong and unfortunately, he targeted one of my friends who did visit me. Do you feel bad now Colin? Probably not. Psychopaths enjoy hurting others and lack guilt or remorse.
I won’t pretend that I am totally immune to all of this; I am human, after all. Of course it was unpleasant, but I am resilient, I have good social support, and I have too many other things to keep me happily occupied. This experience has actually made me think about human psychology, which was one of my favourite topics during medical school. It’s so interesting to try and understand the psychology underlying these trolls and their pathological behaviours. I’ve come across a lot of research articles on trolls, and it’s fascinating how these sociopaths and psychopaths think and act. They are clearly disturbed individuals with maladaptive and unhelpful coping mechanisms.
Even after nearly two years, Troll is still stalking me online. Sometimes he’d write multiple comments a day (again, who has that kind of time?). The poor thing is still dejected, and is coping by writing repugnant comments. The comments are mainly about my appearance but none of them have been threatening in nature – they’re all immature insults akin to those you might hear in a school yard.
Apparently I’m fat. I’m also ugly. His opinion means nothing. My body is healthy, it functions, and it allows me to do everything I want to do, whether it’s swim or do yoga. Secondly, it is more of a reflection on him than on me. Anyone who has studied Carl Jung will know that when a person dislikes or is critical of another person, it’s the very thing in himself that he loathes. Perhaps Troll thinks of himself as fat and ugly. Again; sympathy.
Trolls want attention because they often lack it in their own lives. They desperately crave a reaction. Two years is a long time to be carrying these negative vibes. I wonder how long Troll spends a day obsessing about how to hurt me. These are people who live life at lower vibrations. I could think of so many better ways to spend my energy and time than to write malicious things to someone. Whenever a comment is written on a Saturday night, I feel sad for Troll that he is not out enjoying his night with some friends. Instead, he reminds himself of how hurt he feels and directs some hate my way.
Troll has given me an interesting and important topic to blog about (thanks!) and an opportunity to review psychological and psychiatric themes I learned about during medical school. I know you’re reading this, Colin. I do hope you find the help you need to move on and live a more positive and productive life.
I know that I use humour to cope with situations, but this is a serious issue that can cause a great deal of psychological harm. I still remember the high profile suicide of Charlotte Dawson in 2014 after she battled many years of trolling on Twitter and other forms of social media. I hope this article will empower anyone who is affected to speak up.
Here’s what to do:
- Keep a dossier of evidence – screenshot any messages, comments or suspicious activity
- Report the troll’s account(s) to relevant social media
- Starting a blog can help. Blog Analytics can track who visits your site, including IP addresses.
- Stay safe – do not publish your personal email, phone number or address
- Tell your friends and family so that they can support you, and also look out for any trolling behaviour
- Go to the Police
Cyberstalking and online bullying and harassment are flagrant violations of the law. You can apply for a restraining order, but the first step is to go to the Police with all of your evidence. The Police will take a statement from you, so it helps to prepare everything before you go (the more specific you can be, the better). The Police will make contact with the troll on your behalf and issue an official warning.
You can take your troll to Court for a restraining order if necessary. If you are affected by cyberstalking or online trolling, you can apply for an Apprehended Personal Violence Order against the troll at your local court. The justice system is there to protect people – your safety is a priority.
Do reach out to your loved ones for support, know that you are not the only one who is going through something like this, and you certainly do not deserve it. Don’t forget that there are also support services like Lifeline Australia (13 11 14) if it all gets too much.
Lastly, I’ll share a technique I learned from reading Eckhart Tolle. His book “Power of Now” is in my top 5 reads for 2018 – I highly recommend it. If unpleasant things are thrown your way, imagine that you are transparent. Let those things go straight through you, rather than hitting a wall inside you and hurting you. With every horrible comment I receive, my strength and resilience increase. I always like to focus more on the positives; I am strong. I am resilient. I am loved. I have so much to be grateful for and a supportive network of family and friends.
On that note, I’m off for a delicious dinner with people who care about me.
p.s. Please share this article on social media – it may help someone. Let’s put an end to cyberstalking and trolling – love and positive vibes only.