Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Pain of Cyberbullies and Internet Trolls

The kindness of strangers.
Oh, the wonders of the internet!  It is a magical place: a place where I can see almost unlimited pictures of puppies and hedgehogs, a place where I can share my story and make meaningful connections with people across the world, and (sadly) a place where I can be randomly insulted at any time.

I would like to share with you a story from last Tuesday evening.  

Background:  There was a man from an OCD support group that I had reached out to in September of 2016.  I wanted to ask him his opinion on some of the recent drama that had transpired in an OCD facebook group we had joined.  I reached out to this particular man about it because he had a different group himself and I felt the need to talk to someone else about this weirdness.  

He agreed with me about the odd Facebook group situation.  We spoke a few times and shared a number of pleasant conversations about OCD, facebook and blogging.  We didn't speak often, but when we did he was always very nice and we were both supportive of each other.  Though he was in another country and almost a decade my senior, it was nice to meet someone who was facing similar demons and who worked on OCD advocacy.

In February 2017, we had a brief conversation, and then I didn't hear from him until one evening in May 2017.  I responded expecting normal pleasantries and asked for an update on the book he had said he was writing.  His response?

"May I see the mounds?!
As in your huge tits 
Go on"

This was followed by a missed Facebook call and finally the message "No worries."

I just didn't respond.  

This was not how we spoke to each other.  In our first conversation he mentioned his girlfriend and I spoke about my boyfriend.  While he had made an occasional flirty comment before, it always seemed to be in good fun and he was always respectful. I didn't understand where this came from, but I certainly didn't need to be sexually harassed online.

To his credit, the next day he messaged me apologizing saying that he was drunk.  However, I chose not to reply to his apology.  Though we had chatted a few times, I considered his outburst a pretty significant breach of boundaries.  The consumption of alcohol is not an excuse for harassment, and I did not care to continue speaking.  At that point, I considered the matter closed.

Then comes Tuesday. I was perusing Facebook, minding my own business, when I received the following message from this man:

"They're fine udders
Pity about the face
You look like an old woman
Bet you love to knit"

10 months without a word, and out of the blue boom.  Another mention of my boobs, followed by a nasty dig at my looks, completed by a laughable conclusion.  Where did this come from?

I hate to admit it, but my anxiety and self doubt had me looking at my pictures and trying to figure out what made me look old.  The self-blame is easy and natural for me.  However, recognizing the ridiculousness of such a reaction, I started to ask myself what the comment said about the commenter.

That is where the real tragedy comes in here.  I started to think about the kind of pain someone must be experiencing to feel the need to lash out at people online.  I started wondering what kind of need someone is trying to fill when by cutting down someone else from afar, unable to even witness any reaction.  What satisfaction did typing these things to a relative stranger give to this man?

Also, what do these bullies hope to accomplish?  Cyberbullies have literally contributed to suicide.  I would assume most of them are not sadistic enough to hope for this result, but that begs the question... what exactly were you hoping for here, guys?  

Do these bullies want their targets to hurt the way that they hurt? Are some of them seeking some kind of twisted justice?  In the case of the man who messaged me, for example... was he so mad that I had not accepted his apology that he felt he needed to get back at me for it all this time later?

At my tutoring job recently, a student was looking at research articles related to cyberbullying.   One of the articles described how there are even groups of internet trolls who specifically target funeral pages (I could not believe that this would be at all widespread, but apparently it is very real and has been for awhile.  Check out this article from 2011 describing the problem.)  

With all the wonderful things a person could spend time doing on the internet (ex. There is literally an entire Facebook group dedicated to "Disapproving Corgis"), how bad does a person have to feel about him or herself to be spending otherwise free time trying to tear down other people? 

Happy people do not become cyberbullies or internet trolls.

Please do not get me wrong here.  While pain may be a reason for cyberbullying, I do not believe there is any excuse for it.  Cyberbullying is cowardly, cruel and destructive.  However, I do think there is a benefit in recognizing that cyberbullies are not coming from a place of strength or power.  

If you are ever harassed online, either directly or anonymously, remind yourself of this.  Do not let the opinions and rantings of troubled minds determine how you judge and value yourself.  Repeat the wise words of Coco Chanel, "I don't care what you think about me.  I don't think about you at all."

And to the guy who harassed me:  I hope you work through whatever's going on and find peace.


  1. There is no excuse for cyberbullying. Period.

    Two things -- block those people on FB or unfriend them. You do not need to be exposed to that, drunk or not. Amp up your security settings.

    And second, you are a lovely, beautiful young woman -- inside and out. Do not listen to things like this. They are not worthy of your time or energy.

    1. I agree with you 100%. I blocked him after the Tuesday outburst. I don't need that negativity in my life.

  2. I am so sorry that someone said those things to you. Obviously, it's his problem and not yours, except that you shouldn't have to be exposed to that kind of toxic treatment. Jeanie is right - block him, unfriend him - do whatever you have to do.

    1. Thank you. I'm just glad that I am in a good enough place to basically brush it off. I don't have an answer on how to cure the cyberbullying trend, but I hope that we find some way to limit it.