If you can’t say something nice…
I’ve read a lot about on-line bullying recently and it’s freaking me out, although the strength of the writers behind the posts is commendable and amazing.
I’ve read about women being threatened for no other reasons than that they’re women, I’ve read about bloggers being passive aggressively picked on at events, and I’ve read about trolls and how their sociopathic tendencies have been traits inherent to human socialization far before the glory that is the Interweb.
I don’t know why these topics sat clustered on my feed although the timing seemed eerily relevant. Strangely, it was also in the last few weeks that I noticed my own name floating around, smeared in anonymity (of course).
When I stumbled on it, the pure shock of it made me giggle.
“What the…” I felt my cheeks flush. I mean, let’s be realistic. Not everyone —online or offline— is going to like me, and frankly life would be boring if they did. There are also some pretty terrifying views in this world and I’m glad I don’t agree with everyone. People who kick puppies for example. But still. Me? On a slander site? Really?
I’d Googled my name and a bunch of my sites before an important launch, to see how SEO was doing. What I saw in the top 10 was a link to a couple of ugly paragraphs that someone had embroidered around my life, and yep, even lifted profile photos to drive the point home.
Wait. What point? Why the photos? Is it like a Wanted poster? ‘If you see this woman…’
For some reason I remembered being in grade 8 and sitting down at my desk, only to see someone’s ball-point mayhem scratched into the wood veneer. “Kat Inokai is UGLY.”
My fingers had traced the gouged letters on the table top and I felt my throat close up and tears spill over my cheeks. I couldn’t look up for a long time and I didn’t want to, because I knew that when I did I would see everyone differently. They wouldn’t just be my friends; they would be suspects. They would be people who wanted to wound me and all of a sudden I wouldn’t know who to trust.
“What did I do?” My heart was gutted. As far as I knew I was friends with everyone. I thought that’s how it worked. I thought you just had to be yourself and you know, not suck, and that everyone would be nice to you. Did I do something wrong? Was I really so ugly that it warranted anonymous graffiti that could only be sanded off? And most importantly, who did this? Who?
That last question drove me nuts. I didn’t care so much about what the critic had to say, so much as who was saying it. I hated not knowing. If they could only have talked shit about me to my face, I would have cut them out of my life right then and there. But nope. I was stuck sleuthing for weeks. Months. In fact I still don’t know who did it. What I do know is that one day after French class I sat back down at my marred place and saw that someone (maybe even the same person) had amended the scratch to read: “Kat Inokai is UGLY. But she’s nice.”
Jump cut to me staring at the screen blankly a few weeks ago.
Immediately my brain started building a composite by sifting through the details in the post.
“So, ok…. ‘pscyho, self-absorbed, hot mess…yada yada….’ But oh, nice! They read my blogs. Yay!” I laughed despite the otherwise harsh personal attack that touched on my split from Ex-Hubs, my fertility issues, meeting Cap, and our new family.
After the shock had thawed I realized that some things they mentioned hadn’t been on any of my blogs. That they had either done some grade A creeping (at what point does it become stalking btw) or knew me, or someone close to me. They included details and names and places that made it very clear that they wanted to hurt not just me but my family. And in the spirit of grade 8 libel, details that they wanted both me and members of my family to find easily.
Did I know this person? Because in this world it’s so damn easy to unfriend, unfollow, and unplug from each other. Given all those options, why would you spend the time…make such an effort?
“Because obviously they are completely unbalanced. Kat. It’s ridiculous. I am so sorry. I just really hope it’s no one we know.”
Having to tell Ex-Hubs that I’d been smeared AND that he was mentioned made me feel strange and sheepish. It was the digital equivalent of telling someone you have Herpes.
But whoever wrote it didn’t know that Ex-Hubs is one of my best friends and will always be part of my family. Together with Cap, my friends and supporters we hatched an action plan. I talked to everyone I should have talked to for guidance and regarding security, and sent off all the appropriate emails.
But still. Who?
My brain raced through the details: the site’s demographic; the tone and language used; the probability of it being a total stranger versus someone within 2 degrees; the giveaway details (both hits and misses) that narrowed down the guesses; the need to damage, profit, and have me, my friends and family find it.
What would they get out of this? Why would they want to hurt my Ex-hubs? My kids? My partner? My family?
The problem of course is that no matter how much you take things in stride, you can’t find the answers to everything, and you also can’t sand this off the internet. So, much like my desk which haunted me for the rest of the school year, I felt tainted by this post. My family had read it. My friends. Some of my clients and community. Maybe even you.
But at the end of the day, I had a choice to make.
I could stay quiet and hope the post disappeared while I drew everyone’s attention elsewhere (jazz hands!), or I could keep doing what I’m doing, being who I am, and keep sharing.
Because it’s what I do.
I write about things that I’ve gone through. Whether people like it or not, whether they like me or not, whatever platform it’s on, I share stories about topics that know too much silence. These posts are often cringe-worthy, brow-knitting, face-palming episodes of my own life that let other people know that they’re not alone.
It’s my way of reaching out and it’s the way I use words to hold hands.
I’ve written about Crohn’s, depression, miscarriages, fertility, loss, the reality of relationships as they change and shift, and being a parent. And now I’ve also written about this.
So if you’ve been libelled, threatened, bullied, smeared, or Mean Girl-ed into silence or even secondary hesitation —I’m writing this to let you know that it’s not ok, but it will be.
And if you think it’s the end of the world, it’s not. It’s not even the end of your world.
Because the people around you are your world.
The ones you talk to everyday. The ones you hug and hold close.
To them, SEO doesn’t matter, nor Facebook likes.
They already know your story — they don’t follow it on Instagram. Or Twitter.
They don’t judge, and if they have something to say to you, they say it to your face.
You may choose to stay quiet, or you may speak up.
But whatever you do, stay brave.
And feel the pride that can only come from being honest, telling your story, and most importantly —signing your name.