Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mean Girls

Ah, the internet...that beautiful place where we can say anything we want without fear of retribution. We can just hide behind a screenname and nobody will know who we are. We can say whatever we want...true or not. Great, isn't it?

Not so much.

According to the organization, cyberbullying is when a child or teen "is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones." If both the victim and perpetrator are underage, then it's cyberbullying. When adults are involved, it's considered cyber-harrassment or cyberstalking.

A few years ago, I was the victim of cyber-harrassment. I was a frequent participant on a wedding website that shall remain nameless. A few weeks after my wedding, I posted my wedding pictures. Mr. Brice didn't want me to...he thought we should maintain our privacy, but I still had that newlywed glow and wanted to share my happy day with everyone else.

Everything was fine until several weeks after that, when I started seeing posts on the forum that seemed like they came from me...only they didn't. It was my screenname, and if you clicked into the associated "bio", those were my wedding pictures, but I assure you, I wasn't making those posts. Whoever was posing as me was saying horrible things about people on the forum. Absolutely slanderous, just awful stuff. And people on the board started to hate me for it.

I couldn't figure out what was happening. Had someone hijacked my account? Did I have a split personality kinda like Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde, and my unhinged side was coming out at night without my normal side knowing it? Because someone was posting this awful stuff, and it for sure wasn't me.

It took a while of being personally attacked before a friend of mine (we'll call her Ally) finally figured out what happened and who was doing it. Turns out that someone had created an imposter account...if you hovered the cursor over the screenname, you could see that while I had a lowercase L in my screenname, this person used an uppercase I, but they looked the same at first. My friend posted her discovery on the board, calling out this troll for harassing me. The harrassment stopped. For a few days, at least.

Now I knew who it was, but I still didn't know why. A couple days later, a new screenname popped up on the board, purporting to "warn" me about two friends of mine (we'll call them Greg and Mary) from law school who supposedly were badmouthing me to everyone they knew. This new person seemed to know a lot of details about Greg and Mary, so at first I believed her, but it didn't make any sense. This couple had gone to my wedding...they were good friends of mine.

That's when we made the connection. The crazy beeyotch who'd stolen my wedding pictures and was posing as me to attack other people...she was Greg's ex-girlfriend! You know, my friend who allegedly was badmouthing me? Mr. Brice confronted turns out that he was also being harrassed by the troll at that point...and it had spiralled out of control into real life, to the point that his fiancee, Mary, was being followed and receiving threatening phone calls. They even had to change the wedding date listed in their wedding registry, because they were afraid that his ex-girlfriend was going to show up on the day of the wedding and make trouble.

Then the harrasment moved to Ally, the friend who'd put two and two together and figured out who'd been behind it all. Ally, a Princeton graduate, had been in the process of buying a house, and a new troll showed up on the nameless wedding website board, this time with the screenname PrincetonGirl. PrincetonGirl asked everyone to look at the pictures of her new home...when you clicked on them, it was the EXACT SAME HOUSE that Ally was buying! And Ally hadn't shared that info with anyone else!

Needless to say, we were all really scared at that point. So of course, that was when we had to take the bar exam. Perfect timing, right?

Anyway, long story short, we ultimately got the authorities involved and got subpoenas to shut some websites used for harrasment down, as well as filed a restraining order against Greg's ex-girlfriend.

Why did this happen? Who knows. Best I can guess, the crazy chick saw Greg and Mary's picture in the wedding pictures I'd posted and it got her unhinged. *shurgs*

Anyway, as big of a headache as this was, I was lucky. Greg and Mary, not so much. They did get married, but 6 months later they were divorced...the stress of the whole situation was too much for them. :(

But in the great scheme of things, we had it pretty easy. Cyberbullying, cyber-harrassment, and cyberstalking can turn deadly.

I'm sure you've all heard about Megan Meier, the thirteen-year-old girl who hung herself last year after being rejected by a teenage boy she met on MySpace. The thing is...he never existed. He was actually a persona created by a woman living a few houses away.

What happened to Megan is not an isolated event. In 2005, Jeff Johnston, age 15, hung himself after 3 years of cyberbullying that his mother and principal were unable to stop. In 2003, 13-year-old Ryan Halligan hung himself after receviing months of threatening IMs.

Cyberbullying is usually not a one-time communication, unless it involves a deaht threat or credible threat of serious bodily harm. Kids usually can tell what it is, but parents often are more worried about the bad language used in the message than the harmful effect of the mean or embarrassing posts.

So what can you do? Educate kids about the consequences (losing their internet accounts, etc). Tach them to respect others and take a stand about bullying of all kinds.

Parents should be where kids can go when things go wrong online, yet kids often avoid them because parents overreact, or worse yet, the parents underreact, saying "kids will be kids". Most children avoid telling their parents about these incidents because they're afraid it will only make things worse.

And above all...don't say anything online in the anonymity of the Internet that you wouldn't say to someone's face.


  1. *applauds* FANTASTIC post, Amanda. I'm amazed at how stupid and cruel people can be, especially when they think they can post derogatory, nonconstructive comments under anonymous or made-up screen names.

    If you post somewhere, YOU CAN BE TRACKED, even if you attempt to log in as "anonymous." Make no bones about it.

    Shame on them, and I know those people will get what's coming to them.

    Thank you for posting on this. It's a very real, very scary threat, and we all need to take care to protect ourselves!

  2. It is scary. The internet opens up communication that simply didn't used to be possible--but it opens up danger that never used to be possible either.

    It also shows a lot about character. I mean--really. Internet trolls are everywhere. I try not to feed them--but sheesh. If you have something to say--use your real identity already.

  3. WOW - I think I may have belonged to this Wedding Site also, but I was never exposed to any of this insanity.

    However, I have seen some women on there (and in other chat forums)post some really personal, private information. Home addresses, details about their jobs, details about the kids and schools.

    Then get upset if someone mentions HEY - there are crazies out there, You must protect yourself by not giving them your life on a platter.

    NOT like that's what you or your friends did at ALL.
    But there is a level of restraint and awareness one must have.

  4. Thanks so much for this post, Amanda.

    I was cyber-stalked for nearly four years. The women who did it had fled the country to live in Belgium because she was going to be arrested for making false reports of child molestation on some really good people. So the behavior can get absolutely terrifying.

    So often people don't realize how serious this is. It not only CAN get serious, but it IS serious from the get-go. And until it has happened to you... well you have no idea how surreal it feels. Nor can you begin to grasp just how far a frothy-dog-crazy person will go when they believe they won't get caught.

    Thank you thank you thank you for posting this!

    I'm so glad you are out of that mess.

  5. wow. that's really all I can say.

    i hate that you went through that, amanda. Honestly. Nobody should be put through that type of situation. Thank goodness it didn't get any uglier.

  6. I was cyber-stalked for a while, some years ago, as well. All because I had a fan site for a band that someone took a dislike to.

    By the time it was all over, I had dealt with threats of any and all kinds, defaming remarks were made about me, and my online "reputation" was shaky, if not in shambles. As for myself, I was stressed, unable to sleep, and my job performance was suffering greatly.

    It took going to the police (the stalker was from another country, we learned) and letting the stalker know that I had no compunction about pressing charges if they continued bothering me, before it finally was over.

    Some people simply have nothing better to do with their lives, I guess.

    I'm glad you came out of the mess with your sanity intact, unlike some others, unfortunately.

    Like Chrissy said, it's hard to explain the feeling to anyone who hasn't experienced it. It's really, truly, one of the scariest things that ever happened to me.

    Great post - I hope others learn from it.


  7. Mean people suck. And cyber bullies should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Gosh, Amanda, I'm so sorry you had to go through that.

    At least in this day and age, it's easier to find out who people are, despite their attempts to stay anonymous.

  8. APPLAUDS, I am linking this for my post today.

    You know I was the victim of this twice from not only that site, the spinoff sites as well.

  9. Good grief Amanda, that's INSANE. I am so sorry you had to go through that. I applaud you talking about this but there is one thing in your post I think you should add.

    Don't say anything online that you wouldn't say to someone's face. And don't POST anything online that you don't want EVERY person you've ever met to read. The net is global, it's not just limited to your friends. And as you showed so elqoquently there are some seriously SCARY people out there!

  10. Kids will always find ways to be bullies. Thee scary thing is how anonymous bullies can be given the technology around today. Many kids (adults too) will do something anonymously they'd never have the guts to do in person. Horrible for the victims.

  11. This is a great post.

    I write (or more accurately used to write) articles for Associated Content and my most popular article was about auditioning for Deal or No Deal (it's still making me money :). Apparently, some folks think it is somehow connected to NBC and Howie Mandel and that if they post a comment to the article they'll get picked to be on the show. One lady wrote in and left her complete home address in her comment.

    Sheesh, how dumb is that?

    But then again, you don't have to post a whole lot of information for someone to be able to find you and stalk you - dangers of the Internet, I reckon.

  12. That's horrible. I'm sorry it happened to you. I can't even imaine how scary that would be!

    The only time I had anything happen with identity fraud was the time I made a Myspace under the name Amy and put up a pic of an Asian girl to catch my best friends baby's daddy cheating. He had a thing for chinese/japanese/asian, anyone oriental (he had tons of porn with just Asian chicks in them - Mickey made him throw it all out), she knew he wasn't being loyal. So I began talking to him and flirting with him and it didn't even take 3 times of talking to him to get him to give me his number, address and what time he got off work. He didn't even mention being a father. It's safe to say she left him and now they split weeks so that she has the baby for a week and he has her the next. What an ass.

    I know it isn't anyhting near what you went through, it wasn't even scary...but I haven't really had any bad experiences using the internet. I got my head chewed off by my sisters when I made my myspace and had my info on it, needless to say, I changed it so that now I'm 99 years old and live in Boringsville Kansas. lol.

  13. What a great post Amanda. Loved your post too, Rhonda. You guys so rock.

    It's a scary world we live in today, especially for teens.