This is an interview with a victim of targeted online hate. This individual wants to remain anonymous but has been targeted by far right sympathisers and she actively promotes better understanding between communities. This is her voice. (Question): What kinds of targeted hate have you experienced online? Can you provide details and what platform did it take place on? I noticed a couple of months ago that a far right nationalist was following me on Twitter. I found it odd as I stood out like a sore thumb amongst his Far Right/Nationalist followers. After a Google search I was concerned why he would follow me on Twitter and given his interests, we have nothing in common and he is a racist. I noticed that he was harassing a number of people and sent tweets directing them to his websites and other links. I found it disturbing that he could make up bizarre stories, capturing innocent people’s photographs and information and creating hoax stories potentially putting their lives at risk. (Question): How did the targeted hate make you feel? Were there any short or long term impacts? The last few weeks, where he has been specifically targeting me and a few others making reference to my personal life and family, has had a negative impact spiraling from anger to depression and I then resorted to trying to connect with other victims online as to what he will do next. I then had episodes of despair as I was pushed from pillar to post, with the police not taking my concerns seriously. He (the perpetrator), had chosen a few targets and accused them of being pedophiles, also using photographs of victim’s relatives and creating fake accounts. When he cloned my own account and sent messages to my followers it made me angry and further depressed. (Question): How long has the hate been continuing and have you reported it to Twitter? What did Twitter do on this? Its been overt for six months. But the intensity has really been over the last 2 months. Yes I have reported to Twitter and blocked some of his accounts. (Question): Have you reported this to the police and what has been their response? I have reported this to the local police and made a statement and I have been told to save any screenshots on a weekly basis. I have found the whole process daunting and you are very much left to your own devices in chasing up information. It’s not treated in the same manner as other crimes. Also there was an incident this week where the offender was being extremely offensive and where I had to collect the evidence as a whole even though my natural instinct was to report into the police again? The whole process is time-consuming, reporting and blocking accounts on Twitter and at times Twitter has not made the process easier. I have had to scan my ID for verification purposes which has made the situation worse. Twitter provided no follow-up support or customer care to find out how you are coping and the whole process is mechanical and sterile. (Question): What do you say to those who say that on-line abuse is nothing, that it has little of an impact since there are people out there who say this? I would say that unless you have been personally affected by an online troll threatening your life or your family/friends, no one will ever understand how this can affect you emotionally. You end up locking down to protect tweets and constantly managing your account to see whether it has been cloned again and your followers abused. When there are racist comments made against you an offender has taken time to investigate/stalk your history, pictures and personal information and the whole experience makes you feel suspicious, nervous and anxious as to who is behind that account. You can feel very isolated and lost in the system of reporting hate crime. At times I have been tearful and detached from my children. You can feel that reporting these types of incidents wastes police time. It’s embarrassing that your friends/family have to observe you on Twitter having to try to disengage from a bigot who is serially trolling you and the most awful low point was when he cloned my account and sent messages to my followers. Some of my friends did not understand what was going on and thought that I was sending people abusive tweets when in actual fact it was not me, it was him – he used my photograph and cloned my account by changing the name slightly with a change in the case of a letter. That was the worst part, having to explain to others it was not me, that it was this abuser. (Question): Do you know who the perpetrator is and whilst not naming him, is he well known to the police and authorities? Yes he is known on various media outlets, Twitter, Facebook and you can do a simple search on Google to find lots of information about his criminality and online activities. (Question): Why do you think you have been targeted? I have no clue. (Question): What would you say to other victims of such targeted abuse out there? I feel like it has been a waste of time reporting to the police, unless your life was at serious risk, as the whole process can seem a useless exercise when the police inform you that they can’t trace who is behind the account and that it could be his associates? You feel like what’s the point! Just proves to me the police do not have the technology to deal with online trolls and the aftercare support can be isolating unless you have a third party support group – you have no chance. Having support can be valuable and crucial especially at odd hours such as late in the evening when this particular perpetrator decides to tweet at me. This is why I believe that third party support services like TELL MAMA are so important. Also, the police need further training on how to take complaints seriously and the media coverage at the moment with Katie Hopkins et al is not helping things, especially when social commentators play up the issue of free speech and that people should be free to offend. People can say that glibly, though when someone becomes offensive and targets you, it then starts to seem as if you are reporting a trivial crime, even though it is having deleterious effects on your reputation and your health.
The fact is these trolls are capable off pushing people to despair, depending on someone’s mental health, age and vulnerability. I could see how someone could commit suicide or perhaps withdraw from social media/block their account and be more guarded. This could lead to them losing their networks of friends/followers online which could have built up over a considerable time.
Some trolls need a mental health assessment, they can spend hours and hours online, researching your life and stalking you and they create fake profiles and go to great depths to cause the maximum amount of distress with each tweet. They should be treated by the police like any other offender with consequences/prosecutions and victims treated with dignity and respect.
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