Our lives are more public than ever, we think nothing of posting pictures of our nights out, food we are eating, funny memes and gifs, opinions on anything and everything, nothing is off limits anymore. For the majority of people this is a way of sharing our lives, for others it is an opportunity to hide behind a computer and use social media to bully and mentally abuse other users.
When I decided to write this article, it was on the back of an instant message I received through Facebook. The message went like this:
Him: Stunning, beautiful
Me: Please don’t, I am happily married and not interested in anything but friendship thank you.
Him: I apologise I did not know
Me: Apology accepted
Him: Please don’t contact me again and do yourself a favour and delete your profile
Me: Excuse me? I think I will be blocking you now. Weirdo.
I’m not going to lie, at first, I was shocked and bemused by the sudden escalation, then I was somewhat insulted. Who on earth was this stranger who decided he had the right to name call purely because I pointed out that I was uncomfortable with anything but friendship? Of course, I posted his comment on my Facebook page, after removing his identity because I’m nice like that, to ask what everyone thought about this random attack. I had a massive response. Among the responses I was asked several times for his name so he could be trolled in return. Whilst I agree, this person clearly deserves it, I didn’t want any of my contacts to get involved or lower themselves to his level, so I politely declined to reveal his identity.
I’ve had many similar messages, but for some reason, this really played on my mind. Not because I was upset by what he had said, but because it got me thinking about how, if I were in an emotional delicate state at that time, or was experiencing this on a constant basis, something like this could be really damaging to mental health. We have all read about suicides from individuals who have been constantly bullied and stalked online and little is done to prevent these bullies from seeking out their victims and breaking someone down so much to the point that they decide to take their own lives. It makes my blood boil that these faceless cowards are able to get away with causing such misery.
Since becoming a writer full time, I have opened up a whole new world of opportunity by connecting with Facebook and Instagram users from all over the world. I get a lot of friend requests and always try to be smart about who I connect with, but every now and again, this happens. Thankfully the majority of connections are immensely supportive and I am learning from them every day. Social media has become a business tool and library of information, so for my day to day work, I wouldn’t want to do without it. For many social media is a part of everyday life and why should we have to give it up to avoid online stalking and bullying? Yes, we can report and block individuals, but nothing can stop it from happening altogether.
Out of curiosity I posted a request on Facebook to ask my connections about their similar experiences and I was inundated with responses from both male and female users of all ages and cultural backgrounds. It quickly became very apparent that these cyber bullies were not picky with their online attacks and who they attacked. I want to share some of the experience’s others have had, not to sensationalise the attacks, but to raise awareness that if this is happening in your personal life, you are not alone and there are steps you can take for support.
MC sent me a message to tell me that he was trolled on a post where he considered taking his own life. He was called a coward for surviving his suicide attempt and that it was just a cry for attention and if it wasn’t a cry for attention, he would have been successful.
JD, another male, told me that he regularly gets posts from 'hot girls' who are clearly bots and gets friend requests from Middle Eastern and African accounts who try calling constantly and get abusive when he doesn't answer.
DB a female sent me so many examples I struggled to choose just one, she even has a dedicated folder devoted to these messages. She, like me, receives a lot of foreign requests attempting to engage in conversation that goes absolutely nowhere, usually beginning with something along the lines of ‘Hi, you are so pretty and amazing’.
AE another female told me one of her messages said she was fit and wanted to do her like an animal. Another offered money for photographs in her underwear.
I had a guy continually messaging me saying hi, he then tried to video call me, when I declined to answer he said ‘Fuck you’.
Let’s face it, no one welcomes this type of attention no matter what the content is, it is invasive and unnecessary, but what can you do? Here are some tips to protect yourself from these unwanted invaders.
I feel so strongly that we need to support each other on line and over the next few days will be opening a Facebook page specifically dedicated to sharing experiences and to be there if anyone is having a particularly difficult time. Of course, this will also attract the trolls and bullies, but I challenge them to face a group rather than an individual. Any reports of anyone showing disrespect will be immediately reported and blocked. I’m hoping that this will become a safe place for people to come together as a group, have some fun and share our experiences without the threat of being bullied. I will also post for you. If you want your identity hidden, just drop me a message and I will post on your behalf. If you would like to be invited to like the page please send me a message and I will make sure I add you.
Please send this to as many people as you can so we can prove we are united as one and not willing to put up with this abuse.
I would like to give a special thank you to those who shared their experiences with me.
© Sarah English – Write Idea 08 January 2020