You can be anyone you want online- that apparently includes me.
A little more than fifteen years ago, my ex-husband pulled the car to a stop on a pitch dark stretch of gravel road in the middle of a snowstorm. He proceeded to beat me as I sat in the front seat. When he stopped to catch his breath, I crawled to the back seat, unbuckling my infant daughter from her car seat, and stepped outside of the vehicle. There was a light on at a house a quarter mile away and I thought I could get me and her to safety in fairly short notice. I started screaming for help as I ran toward the house and he fled in the car.
When I got to the house and knocked, there was nobody home. The doors were locked and there wasn’t another house around for at least five miles. I carried the baby to the shelter of the barn and sat with a friendly gray horse for about an hour, hoping someone would arrive. They didn’t, but the snow let up. Fearing we’d freeze, or that he would come back, I took my coat off, wrapped it around my daughter, and walked five miles to town. It took hours. Fortunately, I knew a couple that lived right on the edge of the small town I arrived at. I knocked on their door and they called the police.
This was not the first or the last time I’d be attacked by him, physically. I have stab scars in my legs. I have 2 collapsed vertebrae. I have a burn scar under my hairline at the back of my neck. That’s just the start.
But, by far, the worst of what he’s done has been the psychological abuse.
Eventually, based on the physical abuse, I was able to get the court’s permission to take my daughter out of state. We moved to Tennessee, where I have family, to get away from him. Shortly after arriving in Tennessee, though, I started having issues with cyberstalking. My picture and pictures of my daughter were being pulled off the now-defunct social media platform of Hi5 and winding up in ads on Craigslist claiming I’d kidnapped her, that I was abusing her, or that I was a prostitute.
An unfortunate legal requirement was that I had to provide him my phone number at that time so he could call and check on his daughter- the one he’d never paid any attention to.
I started having midnight callers from all over the country wanting to talk dirty to me. When I’d hang up, they’d call back angry. Every time I’d change my number, I was required to give him the new one and every time the calls would pick up again.
Eventually, he lost his parental rights and I was no longer required to provide him my contact information. I moved from the house with the address he had into a different home. Things settled down for a while, but when my first book was published, things started up again. Every time my book would be featured on a website, the comments would fill with his usual lies about me in an attempt to assassinate my character.
As I stopped advertising the book and doing interviews, that round of terror fizzled out.
In 2015, I posted a Facebook comment on a popular page’s post. There was an online discussion going on about children who don’t know their fathers for varied reasons. I explained that I have always answered my daughter’s questions in an age-appropriate way, but with as much honesty as that allowed. The post went viral because the advice resounded with some other mothers. Then, as it became popular and a screenshot of the comment started surfacing on various other pages, the comments again filled with his hatefulness- lies about me, personal information, and vile, vulgar stories about our former relationship. My dignity will not let me repeat them, but you can imagine the things a hateful man can think up to say about a woman he has previously been intimate with and now seeks to ruin.
At the age of 13, our daughter came out as a lesbian. Part of her coming out was launching her own social media campaign to bring awareness to anti-LGBT bullying she had endured. She received a lengthy message to her campaign page almost as soon as it opened from an “anonymous friend” who told her they were concerned that she had been tarnished by her mother’s “neo-liberal” beliefs. They told her that if she’d been allowed a better relationship with her father, she’d be “normal” and that they were “so very sorry” her head had been “warped.”
Now, let me explain something here- I am very much a liberal on many subjects. However, there are certain policies I do find myself leaning more to the right on. I am married to a man who considers himself a conservative. I am the daughter of a man who considers himself a conservative. Many of my friends are conservatives. I have never had an issue with opposing beliefs. I only ask that opposition is met with kindness and intellect.
Recently, a false post was created and circulated on the internet. It was created to look like I had posted it at 12:50 a.m. on March 21st (when I was fast asleep- I assure you). The post is written in a syntax that is not mine claiming that I was proud to have broken the law to ruin the business of a conservative white man.
Not something I’d do. Not something I’d brag about. And the business described in the post does not exist where I live.
The photo accompanying the post does not exist where I live.
It was not me. But in the online storm that followed, the post was shared to multiple forums where someone discovered the name of my former employer. Not only did I suffer dozens of emails and comments on my articles and posts found across the internet, but a very good and respectable business was caught in that crossfire. They have had to remove their social media because of the aggressive way in which people responded to a fake post.
It is not fair.
Unfortunately, though, after speaking with officers, there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about it. At worst, it’s a misdemeanor here, and to charge that, there needs to be a significant reason to believe that someone wishes to do me bodily harm.
In short, abusers have a new way to abuse without repercussion.
When your job is to be online, you can’t hide, either.
All you can do is this:
The internet is wonderful. The internet is awful. The internet is a tool and a weapon.
You have to decide which side you wish to be a part of for yourself.
Would you hold a stranger down while someone kicks out their teeth? If not, why would you blindly share a post that you don’t know to be true? A post that is so damning it could ruin someone’s life or business?
You can be anyone you want online.
Be someone good.