This is not a post related to those who get cyberbullied by people who know them. I'm talking about the cyberbullying that comes out of the blue. I don't want to name the places these people come from, as it will attract them, but there are websites and message boards where those who love to ridicule everything on the internet gather to share what they found.
I know, I got smashed by them. In my case, it WAS my own fault. I disobeyed a site's terms of service and threw a fit when my offensive(according to their rules) fanwork was removed. Rather than accept that, I raged. It was the main site where fans and readers of said fanwork came to read and comment on it. I feared this meant they wouldn't know where else to find the fanfic. I posted it again, thinking there was an error. The website suspended me immediately.
Logic dictates I should have accepted what happened and found another place to link my friends. But was I logical at the time? Nope! I wasn't getting my way, so I made a huge stink all over the internet. Why did my work get pulled, but others with similar content could stay? I claimed I didn't understand the rules because of my mental disability. I blamed the art site for not making the rules clear enough. I blamed the person who reported the original fanwork and got it pulled down. Back buttons exist for a reason, right? Yeah, that's what I thought, too.
Well, guess what? The people from the Places That Shall Not Be Named(PTSNBN) got wind of it. Just like sharks smell blood in the water. I started getting spam and hate comments. Somebody linked me to one of the PTSNBN and there was a whole bunch of stuff about me that I never wanted people to know. All of a sudden I found myself the subject of online mockery. They took screencaps of my Livejournal, screencaps of my art site journal, grabbed my least flattering photos, mocked old videos of me singing(pre-2011) and aired my dirty laundry and drama for the internet to see. They mass-reported my other fanworks until they were removed from the art site, and they got the fanwork that started it all removed off the secondary site I was linking to during my suspension. Boy, was I ticked, and I let them know! Guess what? It just fueled them on and the attacks continued. My responses to them were extremely immature. They thought a twenty-eight year old reacting like an eight year old was the height of hilarity. These people humiliated me in nearly every possible way a person can be humiliated on the internet. I say nearly because there were things I avoided, but still--all the scars I'd closed up since high school were ripped open, and I was a mess. It sucked, but it could have been worse.
There are those out there who had far more than their pride damaged by these people, but I digress--I went through four years of fear and anguish over this. What happened to me was not the worst cyberbullying has to offer. It just felt like it to me.
In attempt to combat it, I made fake blogs full of cussing and drama just so they had something to chew on while I went about my life. I convinced these people that I cut and dyed my hair and that I wore glasses because I felt physically unsafe out in public. Gotta love photoshop; it let me post photos of my "new" hair for awhile, and I had fake glasses frames I could wear for the "bad" photos, which were intentionally unflattering and dorky. These were posted on a fake Myspace page that I made just for the cyberbullies to make fun of, and boy did they run with the pictures. I was able to pretend they were attacking somebody else who just looked similar to me. It helped, but it didn't make it go away.
The truth is, I never changed my hair at all, and my eyesight is fine. I don't feel clever for the ruse. I'm probably not the first person to do it, but it let me feel safer after one cyberbully sent me a death threat. I now realize it was probably some teenager thinking they were funny, but at the time it was as real to me as the Mick guy who threatened me with rape and death in high school.
The fake blogs and fake Myspace were bait to capture the IP addresses of the cyberbullies, but I couldn't do anything with them. Many of them were using proxies anyway, so all my efforts were about as effective as finding a needle on a planet full of haystacks. The fake blogs were wastes of my time and energy, the fake Myspace got tiresome to keep up, and all they did was make me look bad. I abandoned them all after deleting the worst of their content.
Then I bumped into somebody on the art site who was making the same mistake I did, and I realized why I was targeted. I realized how annoying and ignorant my behavior was. My perception of this person was the same perception people from the PTSNBN had about me. I realized that the internet doesn't care about disabilities, skin color or your background. People won't listen to what they perceive as excuses, and trust me--EVERYTHING can be construed as an excuse on the internet.
I stopped most of the cyberbullying that same day when I owned up to my mistake. I acknowledged that I was wrong, made many apologies and tried to help the person about to be targeted by telling her my story. As expected, she didn't listen, and she narrowly avoided the same disaster I went through.
That said, think about the content you post on the internet. Think about it right this minute.
Now, let me show you what NOT to do:
First and foremost...DO NOT SHARE NUDE PICTURES OR PORN VIDEOS OF YOURSELF ANYWHERE! EVER! NOT EVEN VIA EMAIL! Why? These things will be found. Emails get hacked. The person you sent those pictures or videos to might not be who they say they are. If things with your girlfriend or boyfriend go sour, they might just be petty enough to share your naked photos or videos around. Private photo and video galleries can and do get raided. Once the nude images and porn videos go public you can NEVER get them off the net. They will be there forever, and might ruin your future in terms of gainful employment.
DO NOT POST YOUR FULL NAME, YOUR PHONE NUMBER OR YOUR ADDRESS! This is a given, but I want to cover it anyway. Don't. People from the PTSNBN consist of people who know how to search for and find people's phone numbers, addresses and full names on the internet. Facebook is REALLY bad about that. I don't even use my real surname on Facebook. Call me paranoid if you want, but I prefer to keep that information offline. I "leaked" a fake last name when the the PTSNBN people were actively harassing me. I did it to stop them from searching for it, and I still fear they might find that info. I search myself regularly and so far, so good. I know I can control what content I put out, but there's no telling what other people might unknowingly put out about you. Google your own full name and see what comes up. You'll be surprised. As for your phone number and home address--come on...do you really want to get flooded with boxes, pizzas, product samples and junk mail? Do you want to get obnoxious prank calls and texts all hours of the day and night? Do you want people from Craigslist showing up at your door or calling you at two o'clock in the morning? Just keep that info off the internet. Not even secure social sites are infallible, and a persistent cyberbully will find the information. Cyberbullies posting your personal info aren't breaking the law unless it was never listed anywhere on the internet, so I'm sorry to say you can't pull legalese on them if they found your home address on your Myspace page. Just keep it off the net for your safety.
KEEP SEPARATE EMAIL ADDRESSES. One email address for private use and another for registering on forums or websites. If that isn't an option, find a free forwarding service. I enjoyed the use of the forwarding service known as w3.to*, and I had several shortened email addresses that I used to sign up for websites, blogs, etc. If I'm just commenting on a blog I'll never comment on again, I use yopmail or mailinator. The email I used to sign up for weebly was one of the w3.to forwards. That doesn't mean I don't use 'real' inboxes. The messages I receive from the "send me a message" page and blog comments go to a hotmail account intended JUST for things related to the Affirmations For Bullying Victims. My personal email, to which my w3.to emails used to funnel to, is on another free webmail service. The people from the PTSNBN never got a hold of my personal email address, and I believe that alone saved me from a LOT of grief. I think I let them find a fake one that I never used, but I could be wrong. It's been forever. If the cyberbullies get your real email, they'll try to hack it or sign it up for a bunch of spam, and going to unsubscribe from all of that is a huge headache. And if they hack your email and are able to reset all your passwords and get your personal information all from one email account, you are REALLY in for a mess. This is why the email forwarders were really useful to me. Somebody would've needed to know my real email address to even attempt to log in on the forwarder website, and even then all they would've seen was where all the emails went to. I even doubled the forwarder. Most of the email forwards landed on a "primary" forwarder address, which funneled to my real email address. If somebody tried to change any of that info, the site emailed me to confirm it or deny it. It makes finding my email more trouble than it's worth, doesn't it? It's one way to keep cyberbullies from messing with your inbox and online accounts.
ETA: *W3.to just decided to discontinue their forwarding service, so I had to scramble and dump so many services into undisclosed locations. Websites like mail.com allow several aliases and domain names(ie email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc.) which means I don't have any single email address attached to my name. Coupled with the hotmail alias service, I probably have over fifteen email addresses that I give out for public use. And btw none of the emails above are real, so don't try them. ;)
KEEP STRONG PASSWORDS! Emails, blogs, social sites and other online accounts get hacked all the time because of weak passwords. If your password's "secret question" is too easy to guess, then your password is next to useless. You know those fun memes on the internet that ask you to list a lot of personal information to get your porn star name or your movie stage name? Those are one of the ways people guess your secret question. I don't do those memes, or if I do, I use answers that don't disclose too much. The ones that ask for my first pet, I'll say my late cat, Pepper, but I had another pet before him. I don't tell what it was or what its name was. I don't disclose my mom's maiden name or my dad's middle name. I don't think I've ever even disclosed my own middle name. As for passwords, come ON, don't just use "password" or "1234" because those will get guessed. And for God's sake, if you're on a fandom related site, don't use a password related to that fandom. On a Godzilla website? Don't make Rodan your password. On a Transformers website? Don't use Bumblebee. On a Doctor Who website? Don't use TARDIS. Don't use birth date numbers or zip codes. Don't use ANYTHING if you've posted it in public. Street names, last names, address numbers, phone numbers, I could go on. Those are too obvious. People will guess it! As for me? I like to spell Latin words backwards in l33t speak, or I'll use alphanumeric versions of character names for fandoms unrelated to whichever fandom site I'm currently on. Let's say I'm on a Star Trek website. My password might be "DrTArD15 - - 0P7imUS + PR1mE^Ru1ez! ! !" Got it? (And that is not an actual password for anything I use. I never disclose my real passwords! That's yet another mistake people make!)
DO NOT SHARE YOUR PASSWORD. If a website appears to email you asking you to log in, open another tab and type in the site manually. Don't click links in suspicious emails. That's how you get phished! You might manually go to the site and find you never logged out. You just saved yourself from a bad case of hacking. Congratulations! Now, don't give your password to anybody who asks you in an IM or chat, not even if they claim to be working for the site in question. Real webmasters who run the sites you log into won't ask for your password! Don't be gullible! Please!
DON'T BE RUDE IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE. Suppose you say something offensive on a message board. You didn't intend it to be, but it comes off that way. The worst thing you can do is be rude about it. Don't be. Don't attack the people for taking what you said differently than you intended. The world wide web doesn't broadcast tone of voice unless you make a video. It can be hard to tell whether a comment is meant to be sarcastic or not. I try to punctuate my sarcasm so it's obvious. "Oh, joy! (sarcasm intended)" seems to work out pretty good. The best thing you can do is apologize and try to reword your statement. You've done the best you can, and then it's out of your hands. Don't engage the people who keep hounding you because of a little error. I promise you, if you do, it will probably snowball and your favorite forum will become a place you hate. It happened to me before. It's not worth it.
DISABILITIES SHOULD NEVER BE USED AS A CRUTCH. I, personally, have no issue if somebody tells me they have autism, dyslexia or are dealing with other mental or physical difficulties. I used to chat with somebody who was blind, and so I knew not to give him links to funny pictures. I knew somebody else with cerebral palsy who had to type one key at a time, so I took into account that her responses were much slower than somebody typing with all ten fingers. If I find myself chatting with somebody else on the autism spectrum, I try to keep what I say as literal as possible or explain my points more clearly if I'm misunderstood the first time. Sometimes I have to reread things that I initially think are insults, and when I do I discover it's not an insult at all. The person might be joking. Reading between the lines is hard for me, but now I try to do it rather than jump to conclusions like I used to. If I'm still stumped, I'll just ASK them, "Hey, are you joking with me?" Usually, I get a straight yes or no, and I go from there. I had to learn to not take everything on the internet seriously. Don't get me wrong, there are things I read that still hurt me to the core, but I don't respond to them like I did in the past. It's not worth the anguish.
The mistake I made was broadcasting my issues like they gave me special privileges. It started out innocent--I thought I was educating people about it, and I still try to. But my error was hiding behind it when I became a cyberbully target. I learned right away that using the statement "I can't help it when I get mad!" does not fly on the internet. IRL, we say things in anger that we wouldn't normally say. They come out of our mouths before the brain-to-mouth filter can stop it. I get that. On the internet you take far more steps to communicate than you do via speech. You have to go to the site, click a button, type your words and click another button to post. Think about it. You have plenty of time during each step to stop. With your computer, you have the option to not post something scathing you've just written down. You have the option to not post that rude video calling out a cyberbully for saying your artwork is stupid. You can decide not to post that hate art you drew of your MMORPG character killing that guy you hate's character. People who act out online and blame their disorders get targeted the most. It's cruel and it shouldn't happen, however it can and does happen all the time. I know, it sucks!
Feel free to talk about autism on an autism forum, or have fun talking about your tics in a Tourette's chatroom. Feel free to disclose your disabilities anywhere you want if you're trying to be open to discussion. Just be careful your disability or disorder doesn't become a crutch, because people on the internet are brutal. This is ESPECIALLY true for those who claim they aren't officially diagnosed and just read about it and thought it fit them. NO. Don't do that. It will make you a target. Too many people fake disorders online nowadays that it's hard to believe who has one and who doesn't. Personally, I like to give the benefit of the doubt, but I am not the rest of the world wide web.
IF YOU DISCOVER YOU ARE ALREADY TARGETED:
Run damage control immediately.
~ Lock down your blogs, make your social media accounts viewable to you only and remove your email address and instant message service usernames from the public eye. It might be impossible to get it all in time, but you will make the people from the PTSNBN work harder to dig up your info. They will laugh at you for pulling a "DELETE F***ING EVERYTHING" move, but so what? If you get rid of the information before they get it, they can't screencap it. (Warning: There is something called the internet wayback machine that can turn up old cached pages from years ago. They use it often during their harassment! This is why we always have to be careful of what we post online!)
~ If you have a username you use everywhere, beware! They'll google it and find your online accounts. You'll have to run through ALL of your accounts to gain control of your personal information. I also suggest that if your passwords for those are weak, you change and strengthen them immediately. The same goes for your email address password.
~ Remove photos and videos of yourself from the internet the best you can. The cyberbullies might find them, but again it'll take them longer and some might give up. It's worth the shot. Videos can be downloaded and reuploaded somewhere else. Don't assume your videos are safe. If you're on youtube and absolutely don't want to remove them, make them private--not unlisted, PRIVATE! Unlisted videos are still available worldwide, private videos are not. Be careful who you allow to view them. If it's somewhere other than youtube, find out if you can password protect the videos. Otherwise, I'm sorry, you should take them down for now.
~ DO NOT try to engage the trolls and cyberbullies. They want to get content out of you to post and use against you for further humiliation. Go punch a pillow, or write your angry answer in Notepad and close it without saving, but do NOT respond to the nasty messages or spam. They want that. Don't post angry videos, don't try to explain yourself, don't try to justify yourself and don't try to defend yourself. I know you'll want to. I did all of that and it backfired on me. Don't give them that power. I know that words on the screen still hurt, but the people who sent them can't see the hurt unless you respond. Don't give them a response and THEY won't have new material, and THEY won't know their words had the intended effect. Remember, they can't see you behind your computer screen. It's okay to cry and pound your fist into your desk. After you're done, block the offender, but don't delete the message. If the website gives you the option to hide it so you can't see it, do that. Take a screencap if possible. If things get so bad they become a legal issue, those messages may help your case against the cyberbully.
~ Lay low and let the garbage blow over. I know how much it sucks to have to back out of your favorite places on the internet. Believe me, it's miserable. If it's at all possible, take on a new username and rejoin the site after a few days or weeks(or even months or years!). That may not work if your art or writing style is distinctive, but if you're just a forum lurker and don't post much you might get away with it. The trick is you can't tell ANYONE who you really are, or you'll be back to square one.
Being cyberbullied is an awful experience. I can't say whether random cyberbullying is worse than the schoolmates who follow somebody to Facebook and send them nasty messages or not. I graduated from high school in 1998, quite a few years before sites like Facebook existed, so I never had school bullies follow me there. The only cyberbullying I know is the random sort that comes out of left field.
Both forms of cyberbulling can drive a person to suicide if it's persistent and cruel enough. If you're having so much trouble online that you're thinking of hurting or killing yourself, talk to someone ASAP. Talk to parents or a counselor. Get HELP. Your life is worth it. If you feel physically threatened or see people lurking around after your personal info got posted in public, call the police.
Regardless of how cyberbullying strikes, you have the power in your hands. They have no power over you. They think they do, and they want you to think they do, however you have the choice of responding to them or not. No response means no content, and no content means they have nothing on you. They'll resort to digging up content about you from the past if they're truly nasty, but I'm pretty sure the less persistent ones will just give up and find somebody more volatile to satisfy their needs.
I won't lie. It will take a LONG time for them to give up. If you screwed up somewhere, admit it and apologize and try to let it go. Prove you grew up past that by not engaging cyberbullies and trolls. Eventually, the most respectable of those people will recognize you improved and leave you alone. If it came out of left field and you don't know why, try to hang on. Try not to give them more content. I won't lie, they'll probably keep talking about you forever--same as the ones who nail people who screw up-- but if they have nothing new on you, they can only speculate while you go about your real life.
Most importantly, I must repeat this, if you do feel physically unsafe, call the police. If you think you're going to hurt yourself, get help immediately. YOU matter, and the world would miss you.