Dealing with a cyber-bully.

Who's behind the screen?
Who’s behind the screen?

Over the last few years, cyber bullying has been on the rise, given that since nearly everyone has a smartphone and/or a tablet, it’s much easier to pester someone behind the comfort of a screen. Cyber bullying happens in school, for kids of nearly all ages, and it happens to adults – celebrities often talk about all of the negative things people message them.

But it’s not just happening to children and celebrities. In fact, I’d venture to say that it happens to anyone who’s willing to put themselves out there, online.

As a blogger – I’m coming up on my 10 year anniversary of – I’ve been putting myself out there A LOT. In fact, even before I had a blog, I worked for years as a newspaper columnist, and that was also a vulnerable situation.

During my years as a writer and as a blogger, I’ve encountered many people who want to cut me down based on various things: the way I look, the way I write, my opinions, my actions, etc.

In college, I had a “confrontation” with someone via MySpace. She didn’t send me messages, really, but instead she posted messages about me to her page. The messages were threatening, so I contacted police. She was a fellow LSU student, so when the police looked into her personal email account, they said she had contacted several people she knew to help her harm me physically.

I only saw her once in public during that time – and she threw ice at me. But I quickly left the area and made it home safely.

In the years since I’ve had this blog, I’ve come across many people who leave comments or send me messages saying they disagree with what I’m saying. And hey, that’s okay. We all have opinions and reasons for why we are the way we are – and isn’t diversity what makes this world such an interesting place?

But it’s when those messages turn nasty, that things go dark. Sometimes, I’ve had people completely lash out at me over something I wrote. Most of the time, it’s just a one-time occurrence; I said something that really struck a chord and then it’s over the next day when I post something new.

But, there are other times when a bully just keeps coming back. I have one such bully who is tricky in many regards. She, or he, has been willing to leave many nice comments from time to time, and has also entered in (and won) many of my giveaway contests – including a free week of organic meals from Green Chef and the opportunity to take my blog class for just $1.

But other times, this person says pretty harsh things about the way I write, my opinions, and in general, attacks my personality.

All of this is totally allowed. I am a firm, FIRM believer in our right to freedom of speech, but I’m not a fan of using it to cut people down, just for the sake of being mean. While this person doesn’t claim to be anonymous, I’m not sure if they sign using their real name or email address – another stipulation of this online world. Essentially, I have no idea who this person is.

Over the past year, she got so mad at me, she took to my online blog class and left it a very harsh review. If she really took the class, and hated it, then by all means, leave an honest review. But, as the course instructor, I can see which students are at which points in the course, and she hadn’t even taken it yet.

She was commenting on things she didn’t know, just to give my class a 1-star rating, which affects the course’s potential to make money.

After this, I reached out to her via email. I wanted to know, really, what I did to make her hate me so much. After all, sure, we disagree on a few things, but that’s okay. I played fair when she entered my blog giveaways and tried to just appreciate her as a reader who challenged me in the way I thought.

But, she never wrote me back. Instead, she just kept leaving nasty comments on my blog – and I decided to immediately put them in the digital dumpster.

Here’s a little known fact about me: words are hurtful. And I have put EVERYTHING out there on this blog – I’ve lost a job over it; I’ve had fights with friends; I’ve been threatened to be sued by my family; I’ve dissed exboyfriends… and all of this personal stuff is difficult and therapeutic all at once to put out there, but it makes me vulnerable.

And when someone calls me a cow or says I’m a bad writer or self-absorbed… I just want to hide under my bed. And I don’t know if that feeling will ever change.

The scary thing is… dealing with a cyber bully is difficult. You can’t call the police over someone who simply hurts your feelings or ruins your online business reputation. In fact, I don’t even know this person’s name or location – yes, I can see IP addresses, but there are IP blockers and scramblers that can disguise their location.

It’s tricky, and no matter how much you tell yourself you can handle it, or you’ll just toss the comments in the trash, you still see them. It’s not fun.

I’d honestly feel a little better about people who leave rude comments on my blog, if they had a blog. I have never seen someone leave a mean comment, who links to their blog. If you’ve got so much to say, start a blog!

But, I know it’s not about that. It’s a personal attack for a reason I usually don’t know. I will say, that it gets a little easier over the years, but it will probably never be emotionless. Suffering from an online bully? Here’s some advice from the official Help Guide:

  • Unplug from technology. Taking a break from your computer, tablet, iPod, video games, and cell phone can open you up to meeting new people.
  • Find others who share your same values and interests. You may be able to make friends at a youth group, book club, or religious organization. Learn a new sport, join a team, or take up a new hobby such as chess, art, or music.
  • Share your feelings about bullying. Talk to a parent, counselor, coach, religious leader, or trusted friend. Expressing what you’re going through can make a huge difference to the way you feel, even if it doesn’t change the situation.
  • Boost your confidence. Exercise is a great way to help you feel good about yourself, as well as reduce stress. Punch a mattress or take a kick boxing class to work off your anger.

About six months ago, I wrote a series of posts about an ex. Although I changed his name, he got very (very) upset when people thought they knew who I was talking about. Even though the posts didn’t say anything negative about him, he was embarrassed (for reasons I’m still unsure of), and he went to great lengths to try and get me to take down the posts and/or stop posting them.

He threatened to sue me, told other people to threaten to sue me, and even made up lies about potentially losing his job (even writing a fake email from his boss) to try and get me to take down the blogs. And yes, it was a difficult decision to make: do I please someone I once had a friendship with, or do I continue to write about my life?

I chose the latter and paid for it emotionally – pretty sure there’s a giant group of people in my hometown with voodoo dolls of me (explaining my severe back pain and frequent headaches), but that is the risk I took. I’d be lying if I said I felt good about it, even all these months later, but it was my choice and I did what I could to write about the events and not the person.

It always helps me to just remind myself that I write this blog for me; and I’m not perfect. This blog is the story of my life and everything in it, and it’s not always pretty, not always agreeable, and maybe it’s not even good. But It’s never about that. It’s just a place for me to be me. And if you’re going to attack me for that, then yes, your shit is going in the trash.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s