Portrait of a cyberbully
this is based on a true story, I have changed certain details to avoid identifying
the individuals involved - for reasons that will become clear.
definition of cyber-bullying is "when the Internet, cell phones or other
devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass
another person." On the web, cyberbullying can include threats, revealing
personal details, hacking forum passwords, and . It may range from one simple
'I know where you live' message to an orchestated campaign involving many people
of an extended time. As another site
pointed out, it is limited only by the imagination of the bully.
it the same as stalking? It can certainly feel the same, but in most cases it
is an incident or two for the amusement of others, rather than a campaign against
an individual, intended specifically to intimidate. But there's huge overlap between
the two, depending on how you define them; because i focus on the motivation of
the assault, I see stalking as the more serious issue (in most cases), and I suspect
a fair bit of so-called cyberbullying is actually plain old fashioned stalking;
one individual (usually sick or damaged) trying to control and manipulate another.
Bullying is about the bully; whether attention seeking, sick or evil. their victim(s)
may simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or overweight, the 'wrong'
color, or even a 'wrong' hair color - the bully often does not care. Stalking,
conversely, is about the victim: a campaign of evil focussed specifically and
only on one named individual.
Some believe that it's bullying
when it's kids, stalking when it's adults - I disagree.
story I'm about to tell involves cyberbullying as part of a stalking campaign.
- two people in one?
BullyBaby joined one of my forums; she
was active from the start; not only joining threads, but starting new ones, not
only reminding other members when they were close to the line, but frequently
emailing me to tip me off. A little officious, but a good and useful forum member.
she asked me if she could be a moderator. I replied with thanks, but explained
that it was a small, specialist forum, I was usually around, and really didn't
need any moderators at the moment.
This clearly unsettled her
- but a rejection is a rejection, however carefully dressed up. Bullybaby started
posting less frequently, and the tone of the emails she still occasionally sent
was cool. I didn't want to lose her membership, and I hoped time, the great healer,
would do its job.
Then she started getting stroppy with new members.
After an in-forum attack, she emailed me with her complaints, which were entirely
unjustified - to the point of being just plain silly. I think at this point, I
began to realise that she was now more trouble than benefit, and I replied with
a carefully worded note reminding her of the rules.
of days later, she so insulted a new member - accusing him of stalking her in
another place - that I had to remove her post, and suspend her membership. And
this is where I made my first mistake: I wrote to her and explained why (this
is counter to the advice Ii always give, which is 'no contact').
storm of emails followed, some pleading, some apologising, some abusing me. Eventually
it dried up, and she diappeared. For a few months. Then I got a mail asking if
I would give her temporary membership so she could 'tidy up' some of her posts.
As any forum regular knows, this is dangerous territory; even a benign rewrite
can change the tone of a thread, and make others' later posts look silly. I replied
with a polite 'no', but agreed to edit posts for her if she indicated which, and
gave good reasons. This was my second mistake: I reopened discussion, and,
worse, I allowed her to think she'd get her way.
Needless to say, she sent some requests, all of which
were pointless, minor changes. I declined. Then, new members started arriving,
posting insults and personal comments aimed at me. Unbeknown to me, she had gone
to the forum company's support forum, and was posting lies. I had to remove a
fair number of posts, and several members - some of whom had posted 'good' posts
to start with, presumably to get a feeling of how things worked.
then I made my third mistake. Because of the forced disruption of some threads,
I decided to post a note explaining to the members what had been happening, and
why I'd acted. And I posted her user name (nothing else, no personal details whatsoever),
which enabled her to post in the support forum that I'd stalked her, and broken
their 'cyberbullying' rules. Remember, at this stage, I still had no knowledge
of her campaign.
My post explaining things disappeared, as did
many of her posts from threads going back months. I suspected hacking at this
stage - my passwords weren't the brightest! - and I repeated my post. That also
disappeared, followed by an email from the company saying if I posted it again,
or ever mentioned her user name, they'd close the forum. Needless to say, there
was no right of appeal - my email requesting reasons for their action went unanswered.
A few days later, good members started to spot what had happened and let me know.
hindsight, had I followed my own rules form Day 1, her campaign would have failed
utterly; indeed, it never would have got off the ground.
to all those who sent information - even the stuff I cannot publish!