As users of the Internet we’ve met victims of online trolling — they’re everywhere now. Maybe you’ve been targeted yourself. Some have even been the trolls themselves.
Often, these acts of online bullying amount to back and forth dialogue in a comment thread or a few pointed tweets. But some citizens of the Internet have been exposed to a darker slice of our online society — one that has impacted their lives offline.
Below are the words of trolling victims who have experienced this darker side of the Internet. If you have gone through or are currently experiencing hard times online, too, share your story in the comments below, or via our Google Form. For those who contribute to this abusive behavior, let this be an wake-up call, a reprehensible example of the true pain you cause your fellow humans, both online and off.
If you or someone you know is struggling with bullying and abuse, contact Stomp Out Bullying or look for helpful resources local to you.
“I lived with someone a few years ago that I thought to be a friend. After slowly realizing that they were completely mentally unstable, I basically tried to cut all ties with them and go home as little as possible. After the lease ran out and I left, I found an awful, vulgar post about me online that was full of hate, lies, and fake comments – all posted by the same person. I know it was him because I’d seen him on this hate-gossip site frequently before, always putting people on blast. There is no way to get these articles removed without the use of a lawyer. Every now and then I would see the article rise in search rankings on Google as it got more and more views, until it got where it is now – the #1 result for my name.
I haven’t [overcome this]…I just moved to a new state and am seeking new full-time employment. I fear that every time I’ve applied for a job, someone Googles me and is faced with that article right at the top. I found a service that can remove it – for $2,600, which I just can’t afford at this time. I need to find a good position, which I deserve, to make the money to get this removed – but I fear it’s the very thing that has been stopping me from getting hired.”
“Two guys I went to high school with had a bad reputation for abusing drugs and for being confrontational with lots of people. In my second year of college, I defended a good friend of mine who was targeted by the two bullies and they started attacking me. They were sending me threatening messages and took it to the next level when they were posting memes of me with racist captions. I am a Korean-American; the two guys were posting pictures of me captioned ‘genocide isn’t always a bad thing’ and calling me a ‘jerk off’ along with a lot of other vulgar content. It was extremely difficult given that I had done nothing wrong to either one of them, yet I was being discriminated and bullied…I felt threatened, demoralized and was genuinely scared for my life.
I spoke to a handful of attorneys to pursue legal action after trying to resolve things on my own. Long story short, my parents had enough and reached out to one of the guy’s parents. Soon enough, both of the guys deleted all the content they had once posted, but only one of them apologized.”
“I was 13 years old and just finishing up 8th grade at one of dozens of Catholic elementary schools in my town. I was a bright kid. I was a teacher’s pet. I had filled out sooner than most girls, and I was taller than my peers. I was an outspoken, witty kid, but I didn’t have many friends.
I broke up with my ‘boyfriend’ of a few weeks…Later that week, I went out with a new guy that I liked who had encouraged me to dump the old boyfriend for him. I got a chat room invite the next night from the new guy. Others present included dozens of my friends from three different schools along with a bunch of screen names I didn’t recognize. I quickly realized this was not a friendly chat room, but rather a place for everyone to contribute their thoughts on how much of a slut I was…
The chat rooms only lasted two nights, thankfully. I printed the conversations out originally to show my mom, but then I was afraid that she would be embarrassed by me and my ‘slutty,’ ‘whorish,’ boy-kissing ways. Instead of sharing it with someone who could help me, I kept it in my bed-side drawer and re-read it every night…I started to believe what they were saying.
The school I attended would not take any blame for what their students did off school property. They knew that the kids who were bullying me came from families with money, and they couldn’t risk losing that income. They basically told me and my parents ‘too bad – deal with it.’
I transferred schools. While the diversity of public school shocked me at first, I flourished. I joined every club I could. I became captain of the varsity volleyball team. I made new friends. I started a diversity program for the entire school district that utilized small focus groups of students to determine what underlying issues the schools had and how to create action plans to combat them. I was on intra-city student council. I worked in the front office and was in the principal’s office every day – constantly suggesting ways to improve student experiences. I attended leadership conferences and shared my story to help others. I became and advocate for suicide-prevention and was outspoken about my experience, which made me a trusted source of advice for kids who needed someone on their side. I even became the first Caucasian student in my college’s history to receive a diversity scholarship!
Years later, when my younger sister graduated from that same private high school, her principal (who was vice-principal during my time there) apologized to my mother, saying that the school had failed me. He took responsibility for not helping me when I needed it and for not punishing the students who bullied me.”
“My fiancee’s ex-wife posted nasty things about me on Facebook and emailed these untruthful things to my colleagues at work. They used my pictures from LinkedIn and Facebook and Photoshopped hurtful remarks on the photographs before posting them online and sending them to my colleagues’ emails. They even recorded a video with hateful comments and posted it on Youtube and Facebook.
I contacted Youtube and they removed the hateful postings about me and the nasty remarks that were recorded on video, however Facebook was not so responsive…The videos and pictures were shared 121 times on Facebook and had a total of 74 comments. They remained on the perpetrator’s Facebook page for approximately two months before they were removed.”
“A person from my past who gave money to someone I was involved with came after me via email and attacks on LinkedIn to recover his money. I was threatened with bodily harm and my family was threatened…It ended up with the local police calling him and telling him if it continued they would contact the feds and report this. That stopped him but we still have this slight fear of reprisal, and keep a close watch on our neighborhood and home. It doesn’t go away that easily.”
“In 2005, someone that knew me in real life had discovered my LiveJournal and MySpace page. At the time, I had an after-school job at an insurance firm. Whoever my troll was printed off some blog posts and sent them to my employer. He/she also forwarded links to certain blog posts to my school. I wasn’t really out about my sexuality to anyone.
LiveJournal was a way for me to connect to others, and be able to express myself. It was such a betrayal that someone used my own words to out me and to get me in trouble. Whoever this person was wanted to ruin my life…I was harassed online by a nameless, faceless person. I think that what was so scary and frustrating about it was that I couldn’t even fight back.
Then, I left for college and didn’t use LiveJournal or MySpace anymore. It just stopped once I left for college…My anonymous harasser wasn’t able to follow me there, or maybe they just got bored or moved on to a new victim. Whatever the reason was, I’m glad it stopped.”
“I’m a photographer. My bullying started when a troll stole one of my photos. When I asked him to take it down, he said that he had the right to steal anyone’s photos on the Internet. This was the start of an almost 12-month battle with this person.
There were threats [and] posts saying he was on his way to look for me. He threatened to burn houses down [and] he made threats to friends of mine. I approached the police about it and was told that I should just get off Facebook. I would block him and ban him from my photography page, only to have him make a fake profile and come at me again.
It came to an abrupt end this year when a photo I had entered into a completion was disqualified after he told them I’d stolen his photo. I could provide copies of the photos that went into making the photo that was disqualified, and I eventually got an apology. He has since left me alone.
But not before he cost me my sanity. I had a nervous breakdown…I closed my page on Facebook and my personal profile and lost a lot of friends because of it. I’ve gone in to my shell, and I’m not as confident as I used to be. I’ve lost my self-esteem, and lost part of myself along the way.”
“Many sites offer anonymous means of denigration. Unfortunately, I fell victim to being the focus of said denigration [on Glassdoor]. This was from persons who had no reason other than to save face and blame others — me — for their shortcomings and unprofessional behavior.
Being a manager or supervisor is tough enough without people bullying you when they fail. I kept the hurt inside and have let it eat away slowly.”
“After tweeting at a particular professional athlete and calling him a ‘jerk,’ he unexpectedly responded to my tweet out of hundreds saying very similar things. Immediately, people began retweeting and favoriting this athlete’s tweet, which I didn’t really mind. However, several twitter users began tweeting at me with various accusations that I was a whore, I had AIDS, my only hobby was making sandwiches, and my husband was with a hooker. One tweet even told me ‘Shut up. [Unnamed athlete] is living in a mansion and you are in a two-bedroom apartment stealing your neighbors’ wifi.’ Most people simply praised the athlete for being ‘the man.’
At first I was pretty upset by the extremes that people went to over me calling this athlete a jerk. I replied to two of the men who attacked me, but I realized that just provoked more attack. I deleted my replies to the harassers, put down my phone, and watched multiple episodes of How I Met Your Mother. I did report the user who said I had AIDS for harassment.
Now, even though it just happened yesterday, I find it hilarious. I can’t believe the things people think are okay to say to another person on the Internet. Should I have called the athlete a jerk? No. Should the athlete have replied to me and used his 40,000 Twitter followers to his advantage? I’ll say no. The ignorance of his comment was only followed by more ignorance from his fans.”
“I made the mistake of criticizing the host of a TV talk program and including his Twitter account name. I said he was hogging all of the air time with the guests when he had said, repeatedly, he was going to take questions from fans on Twitter but never did so.
Big mistake. Even though he must be mentioned in hundreds of Tweets, he took my comments personally and launched back criticism of me. But that wasn’t the worst part. He has over a million followers and they savaged me — I was dumb, ugly, a bitch, every insult that could be directed at a woman. I had to just stay off Twitter for 24 hours until it blew over which, luckily, it did. I know many people have had it much worse than this.
It’s surprising because I would think that someone who is in the limelight would have a thicker skin. What I said was critical but not personal, and their reaction was over-the-top. I learned to never use someone’s Twitter name in a comment unless it was a positive remark.
l learned there are a fair number of people online who are looking for targets they can dump on. I’m old enough that I didn’t take it personally and knew it was just trollish behavior from people who are just angry all the time at life. I just didn’t appreciate how many people out there are looking for individuals they can freely berate with no consequences. That day it was me, the next day it was someone else. I was lucky that no one fixated on me, they were bored when I didn’t respond back and moved on.
Extremely popular people on social media should appreciate that their remarks have consequences, that their followers will do horrible things under the guise of protecting them that they probably (hopefully) wouldn’t approve of. Their condemnations have a disproportionate and powerful effect.”
“Soon after opening my organization against bullying my family was attacked by some trolls on Twitter. It was a small group of women I didn’t know. They got info about me online and then posted stuff about my family to try and humiliate me — personal info, my kids’ schools, arrest records. They found my teen daughter online and called her awful words and told her how her biological father had a record.
This continued for 6 months. Twitter would not help. Cops said it was all civil so I needed to sue. I didn’t have $10,000 to sue so I just had to ignore it. A lot of my friends and family left social media to avoid the attacks. It’s still not over but it’s calmed down.
They put me through so much grief that my doctor put me on anxiety and depression medication. My daughter had to see a therapist a few times. I never have understood why they chose to attack me. However, I learned a lot from it and now when I help others through my organization I can say from experience I know how they feel, and I will help them with all my heart.
“I posted a YouTube video of my two little girls looking for a Gamora action figure. It went viral and the Huffington Post ran a story on it, labeling it ‘everyday feminism.’
This brought out the Men’s Rights Activists, who left disgusting messages about my kids in the comments — sexually explicit comments, calling the kids ugly, saying my wife and I were awful parents.
I cleaned up the comments, and then I started a website devoted to encouraging girls to read and create comics, and participate in other geeky pastimes. It’s obvious the culture in the geek world can be toxic for women and girls. I think we have an obligation to try and change that.
I want my girls to be able to enjoy the same hobby I do without the fear that they will be treated with derision because of their gender.”
I’ve collected piles of emails from users of my mobile app, which has been installed several million times. From death threats to racial slurs that don’t even make sense, I’ve seen all of them.
A few years back I wrote a blog entry ranking the ten worst interactions with my users.
Generally, I’ve learned to let this stuff roll off of my back. On the other hand, I’ve actually started to enjoy collecting, classifying and ranking the [comments].”
“I manage a popular Facebook page. Students submit ‘confessions’ and we post them anonymously through the page. I sometimes comment on posts and my opinions are more blunt than what most are used to. I started developing my own following just through my activity on the page. With 7,000 fans, I started getting a lot of anonymous exposure. People would submit confessions about me that would say how useless and disgusting I am, etc. This has been happening for the past year. Some even get a little threatening.
After continuous hate mail, I started questioning myself. I reached out to my following on Facebook, and shared some of the hate mail. It was my Facebook friends that brought me back to reality by saying the [trolls] were just trying to get to me.”
“Producers from a certain respected, nonfiction TV network sought me out to do a ‘documentary’ about a dramatic survival story that I was proud of. I was not allowed to see it before it aired. It turned out to be a ‘docudrama’ that took my tramatic story of sexual assaults and survival and twisted it into a shocking, false story where I was made more blame-worthy than the sadistic predators I survived. This caused social media to go ballistic against me. I was humiliated in front of millions of people and slut-shamed and blamed on social media sites worldwide — for things that were false and fictionalized.
At first I tried to ignore it, but each time the show ran on another network, the social media frenzy renewed, and people would find me online to send hate mail. My extraordinary life story had been hijacked, my true narrative derailed. I would heal, try to move on, but it would air again and I would be humiliated, harassed and have severe PTSD flashbacks triggered all over again.
I finally decided to follow the advice here and fight back simply by sharing the truth. I put facts and links to evidence in strategic places, contacted legal departments of sites, and posted photos and graphics to send a strong visual message that counteracted the fallacies of the media. It worked.
I took screenshots of the harassing and hurtful comments, and rather than let them hurt me anymore, I made graphic collages out of them, believing that someday they would become assets to help me educate others in media ethics, cyber-bullying, and how insensitive, unethical media can re-traumatize survivors. On the bright side, out of this dark period came something beautiful. I launched a new organization to promote online kindness and bring dignity to others who have been misrepresented and humiliated in the media.
I also decided to go back to college to gain expertise in Media Psychology. The first step in stopping the cyber-bullying of children is to eliminate the adult bullying culture condoned by parents, leaders and executives in corporate America. Humanity and kindness start from the top down.”
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