Almost a lifetime ago, a friend who I once considered a close confidant left her Facebook account logged in on my blackberry. This unfortunate turn of events lead my to accidental discovery of a private Facebook group. This group had been started by this friend of mine and a mutual associate, and was entirely dedicated to super nasty comments about me.
I should have stopped scrolling the moment I realised the notification that popped up for the group did not come from my account, but once the penny dropped and I saw my name mentioned, it was impossible to look away. I kept scrolling, for hours into the night. I found details of private text messages I'd sent her: "LOL she is anxious about her dental surgery. I hope they screw it up and she has those fucked up ugly teeth for life!". She had shared every dark little secret I'd ever trusted her with, as well as other personal information. She'd even been bitching about me in real time while we we're hanging out just hours earlier.
It was pretty awful.
I was back home for a visit at the time. I ended up wandering into their bedroom, just like I did when I was a small girl after waking up from a nightmare. My sobbing woke my parents and my mother sat with me in my bedroom, rubbing my back at a total loss for words until I finally calmed down enough to get some sleep. I was 21 at the time. My mum must have thought she was re-living those terrible teenage years where I'd come home worked up about some school yard cat fight which would inevitably be over by the next day. Only I wasn't 14, and neither was she, and this wasn't going to be okay the next day.
That group existed and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
For all I know, it still exists, and there is still absolutely nothing I can do about it.
This is the thing with online bullying; there is no recourse. Of course I confronted her about it and that friendship has been a long time dead, but that isn't closure. For weeks after the fact, mutual friends would tell me that the two people concerned continued to, very publicly, discuss and humiliate me. Again, having blocked them on all platforms, there was nothing I could do.
Once I was after the sheer hurt of it all, I got really really pissed off. I contacted my family lawyer in a vain attempt to make them stop. As I can now appreciate, the legal system doesn't extend to hurt feelings. As hateful and vitriolic as they were, they hadn't threatened or defamed me. All I could do was sit, and let it pass. I felt like a mouse cornered by a cat, who just had to play dead until the cat got bored and moved on to something else.
Eventually I stopped thinking about the nasty things I'd read. Those memories were pushed out by good memories with the passing of time and new people. Hindsight is absolutely 20/20, but dealing with online bullshit in the moment can be harrowing and isolating. Composed with the benefit of hindsight and Included below are my top tips for dealing with online bullshit;
1. Stop Reading
Unless you are receiving threats against your person or the information being published is defamatory in nature, stop reading it. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from opening that message you know is going to be full of abuse.
It is human nature to want to know exactly what is being said about yourself, but once you've heard it, it will wound you, no matter how thick your skin may be. It will make you sad or it will make you angry, and neither is ideal. Just knowing that someone wants to bring you down is reason enough to cut them from your life. You don't need to add evidence to that file.
2. Stop Responding
At first, I responded to every "omg, I'm so sorry but..." text she sent me, but I soon realised that was just pro-longing the saga, and I very much wanted it to be over. So I stopped responding, point blank.
If the nastiness is coming in the form of a message, delete it and don't respond to it. If you feel it necessary, make it known to the person you no longer wish to receive contact from them. If they don't respect that, save their ongoing harassment (in case you need to take it further) but don't fuel the fire.
3. Know Your Rights
If something that has been said about you in public that is untrue, and damages your personal reputation or business dealings, you may have a case for defamation. The term defamation gets thrown around a lot, but this is a really great guide to what is and is not defamatory. Legal recourse also extends to threat and intimidation, impersonation and distribution of pornographic materiel.
Often, a simple cease and desist letter will be enough to scare any troll back into their cave. Whilst legal advice can be an expensive exercise, if its within your means I fully encourage you to stand up for your rights. Don't be a push over if it is serious. Take action and send a clear message: you aren't to be fucked with.
4. Get up. Get out.
Its the day after the fallout. Don't sit in your bedroom and re-read everything you've already read 1000 times. Don't sit around and think about it. Don't go over it again and again to different people. Get yourself up and out of the house.
Call friends and go rock climbing after work, or arrange your tupperware closet. Keep your hands and your mind other wise occupied. Sure, there will be moments where the gut sinking feeling will sneak back in, but the more distractions you have, the less likely you are to dwell and you'll quickly realise that this one incident does not define you, or this point in your life.
5. Be kind to Yourself
Something shitty just happened to you, and its okay to acknowledge that. You're going to be upset, and that is also ok. Talk to someone about what has happened. If you need counselling, seek it out. Even if it is a simple act of kindness towards yourself, like a long bath or a new outfit - handle yourself gently. You don't deserve what you received and it does not define you. Remember; this too shall pass.