Now, this is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down… Well, not really, but let’s say that it’s definitely a story that “flipped-turned upside down” my views on social media, the friends you keep and the people you associate with. Let’s also say that it’s a story of an experience that will stay with me in some form for a long time and one that hopefully can offer YOU some guidance if it ever happens to you.
Cyber-bullying is something that had never really happened to me before the situation I’m going to tell you about today. Sure, I’ve had trolls sliding into my DMs on Twitter when I was politically active there (Brexiteers, pervs, you name it) and a weirdo on Facebook who Googled me, found my address via my Etsy and suggested we meet up IRL at the pub down the road from me. That was scary, but this was scarier in a different way.
Before I regail you with this cautionary tale, I’d like to say that the person who did this will be known as “Tulip” from now on. Please don’t ask me why I chose that moniker… I have no idea. I won’t be giving you the person’s name, account details or giving any kind of hints to who it might be – I’m responsible like that and know how nasty social media can be. I’m also not here to play the victim, even though I was. I will, however, be very candid about what happened, the effect it had, and giving some pointers on what to do if this kind of thing happens to you in the future. Anyone who messages me asking for this singuarly nasty individual’s username will be told where to go, in the politest way. I’m not here to name and shame. Well, not until I quit Instagram, that is… If that day ever comes…
So, here goes. put on some meditative music and grab a herbal tea (lol, get a wine) and let’s get to it.
Imagine yourself in this situation, if you will. A few weeks prior to the event I’ll tell you about I had blocked an individual – Tulip – who I didn’t care to follow anymore for a myriad of reasons. Put bluntly, as a designer who supports and follows designers I respect, I found Tulip’s work boring, samey, derivative and the individual itself turned out to be not my cup of tea. I also knew that this designer had been copying other people’s work, and that thing I love, potentially buying followers. I was not close at all to this person, but instead followed her back because some of my friends followed them as well and we were kind of intertwined in a weird way. You know like at school when you hang around with a person because she’s mates with your mate but you don’t really talk? Very that. One day I decided to stop being a fake and unfollowed, removed anything relating to them on my feed, then blocked them a few days later because I don’t do things by halves, fam.
Boom. I jogged on.
One morning a few weeks later I was chillin’ out maxin’ relaxin’ all cool before my classes started (I’ll stop with the Fresh Prince stuff now) and casually scrolling through Instagram, as usual. I was planning my activities for the day, thinking about deadlines and looking forward to catching up with students and teaching. Suddenly, a close friend of mine sent me a screenshot of Tulip’s Story post – obviously I had no access to Tulip’s Stories or content as I’d blocked her – that said…
“Does anyone know why Emmaknitty has blocked me? I just really want to know!”
“Bloody hell”, I said, “obsessed much?”. I moved on again. As in, I had to get my arse in gear and go to work. Unlike some people, it seems.
An hour or so later I unsilenced my phone between lessons and noticed that I had a comment under my latest post from Tulip, via another of their accounts. “Emma, why did you block me?” I ignored it, blocked this other account and moved on.
A while afterwards I received another comment from another of their accounts saying the same thing, “Emma, why did you block me? I just want to know!”. I blocked this account and moved on. Slightly bemused. Bit freaked out.
A little while after that I recieved another comment saying the same thing from yet another of their accounts. I know what you’re thinking: so many accounts? I know. This individual has one account for their craft account, another for their other craft account, one for their big toe and three others for their bellybutton fluff collection, neighbour’s cat and cactus garden.
“Right. Hmm. Ok.” Then of course, I thought the following:
Closely followed by a thought of, “How the hell can you think it’s normal to send the same message from all seventy thousand of your accounts and not think that it makes you come across as a total nutter?” I guess it takes all sorts.
Closely followed by another thought of, “who’s life can be THAT empty that they spend an entire morning obsessing over why one person you weren’t close to blocked you? What a total narcissist”.
It’s a fair point. What does it say abut your personality if you can’t actually fathom WHY a person would want to block you? Come on, sis.
During that morning and early afternoon, in total I recieved five messages and five comments from five different accounts that belonged to this person. All saying the same thing more or less, all sent closely together, all of which were blocked, ignored, giving a very clear message, along the lines of “Bitch, if I blocked you I blocked you. Sling yer hook, leave me alone and get yourself a fulfilling hobby. Oh, and don’t forget to make an Instagram account for it, too, just to give yourself extra options in case someone blocks you!”
Here’s something important to know. The backstory.
In the past Tulip had bought a pattern from me for an item and taken a very lovely image of her kid wearing it. It was an awesome image, and I asked Tulip if I could use it for marketing purposes, to which she gave a very enthusiastic “YES” and I added it to my Etsy and Instagram marketing, with thanks. Basically, consent was given.
After I blocked Tulip I removed the images of her child from my Etsy and Instagram. Why would I keep photos connected to her, after all? That wouldn’t be on. They got deleted and yes, I moved on. One thing I didn’t realise however was that there was still one photo of their kid far back on my feed that I hadn’t noticed.
A few hours passed and I was just about to sign in to my final class of the day, an extremely important group of professional adults which requires 200% of my brainpower. I had 15 minutes to get an enormous coffee, decipher my notes and make sure that Windows Update wasn’t going to well, update, before I logged into Zoom, as it always seemed to do.
“VROOOM!” – my phone vibrated. Again. And again. In total I recieved around thirteen messages along the lines of;
“REMOVE THE PHOTO OF TULIP’S KID!”
“WHY ARE YOU USING PHOTOS OF SOMEONE’S CHILD WITHOUT PERMISSION?”
“DELETED THAT F***ING PHOTO OR ACTION WILL BE TAKEN!”
“I WORK IN CHILD PROTECTION (chinny reckon) AND WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS WRONG!”
“YOU’RE USING IMAGES OF CHILDREN WITHOUT PERMISSION!”
“ARE YOU A P**O?” (I have blanked out the word here as it’s more offensive than effing, but you can work out what it says).
I don’t care why Emmaknitty has blocked me! I just want her to remove the photo of my child from her feed! That’s all I want and she’s refusing to!
The above was posted fully-publicly-like on Tulip’s Stories for all their thousands of misguided followers to see. Tulip had posted publicly on their Instagram account that I was using photos of their kid without permission and refusing to remove it, which was not true, but what were her followers to know? In the eyes of someone who doesn’t know the full story, that looks awful, right? If I’d seen that, especially as a mother of a young daughter, I’d probably be searching for my pitchfork/lighting up my torch like a medieval villager hungry for blood. Or one of that crowd looking to lynch Beast from Beauty and the Beast. Guess where that photo was? It was a photo that was part of a collage that I hadn’t noticed when I was removing all the images before I blocked her, and I had overlooked without malice. I didn’t know about this until a friend told me and sent me a screenshot.
Unfortunately I could do sod all about that because I was at work and was no longer able to see her Story posts. Some of us have jobs that mean we can’t look at our phones every 32 seconds.
I’m not going to sit here and type to you about how damaging it is to imply publicly on social media that a person uses images of children without permission. Psychopaths and sociopaths see people as pawns and do not consider the dangerous consequences that their own creepy actions can have in the real world.
Let’s just say that it’s a very disturbing way of expressing your frustration about not knowing why a person has blocked you, and a potentially devastating one at that. Interestingly 99.9% of people who I spoke to about this were not at all surprised that Tulip responded in the way they did. There’s a hot cup of T for you. It was telling, and I could say more.
The people who messaged me abuse were either blocked instantly or told into which orifice to insert their phone, and given a beautiful selection of pretty Anglo Saxon swearwords or all three, followed by being screenshotted alongside the messages I recieved from Tulip. We’ll discuss this later.
What happened after that? Well, Tulip got a semi-calling out from me on my Stories (which they were clearly told about by someone who follows me and I lovingly also blocked too, haha). Tulip then messaged me about it via ANOTHER OF HER INSTAGRAM ACCOUNTS – is this even for real? – then I replied to that message. Then Tulip blocked me so she couldn’t read my reply. I mean. You couldn’t make it up. Hilair.
I had no other option but to email her my polite response, with a nice “I hope you find the help you need” as my closing words. In a way I hope Tulip does. In another way I hope the same happens to Tulip one day just so this person discovers how appalling cyberstalking and bullying feels. Like I said at the beginning, one day I’d like to tell more people about who did this. But not yet. Maybe never. Writing this article is cathartic enough, right?
So, what can you do if you are being harrassed on Instagram?
Harassment – When someone is being harassed on social media, they may receive continuous messages from one person or a group of people with the intention of causing embarrassment, distress or fear. Persistent harassers will continue to harass the victim even after having their social media accounts blocked, by setting up numerous anonymous or ‘fake’ identities so that they can simply move to the next account. There is legislation in place to protect people from on-going or long-term harassment in most parts of the world.
Step one: firstly, do as I did and screenshot all the messages, comments, tags ANYTHING you get from the person. This is important evidence that you should keep safe. I still have all messages and evidence from Tulipgate kept safe in a Google Drive folder for a rainy day. Cyberbullying and stalking is taken very seriously by the Police and is no longer seen as something that should be ignored or overlooked, and a Police officer in my family told me, what I had would have been enough to justify a knock on the door from Tulip’s local constabulary. I didnt go that far, although I certainly thoght about it, but it’s nice to know that these options are available in the future if need be.
I’m worried that if I block someone from now on it might happen to me.
You have the right to block anyone you like. You also have the right to keep your reasons for blocking a person to yourself and not to feel pressured into telling anyone why you have done so. If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable, upset, annoyed, irritated or you just don’t like them, you can block them. If they don’t like it and hassle you about it, ask them to leave you alone or ignore them, and if it carries on Tulip-style, consider step one above.
Remember that if a person cannot handle the fact that someone has unfollowed or blocked them that is their issue, not yours, and shows a lot about their maturity level. The fact that you have chosen to surround yourself with people you love and respect shows a lot about yours. Personallly, I don’t enjoy fakeness directed towards me and certainly don’t enjoy having to be fake to people, unless absolutely necessary. Like at the school gate. Social media is one of the few places in my life where I can be comfortable enough to be honest and frank to people and that’s why I use the block button lavishly on occasion. You can be sure that if I follow you, I love you and your work. No fakery, all T.
If I could go back, would I have done anything differently?
I’ve thought about this a lot and the honest answer is, “I dunno”. It might have been a lot easier if I had just told Tulip frankly that I didn’t like them or what they did, but would it have made me feel good? Should I have just told Tulip that I didn’t want to follow them anymore and that’s that? I have heard from people that this individual doesnt take kindly to that kind of thing, so it may have blown up further, or not. Who knows? Is it possible that Tulip thought we were super bezzie mates and I didn’t and that would have explained why she acted so intensly? Would it have made things easier if I was truthful to her and told her that I found it abhorrent that she was copying other people’s art whilst myself and my peers in the craft community are frying our brains daily to produce original work? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and what I did on that day was disassociate from the situation by ignoring and continuing to block. All I can say honestly about that day is that Tulip truly showed her real side and cemeted the fact that I shouldn’t have been supporting her in the first place. True colours and all that.
What else can I do if I’m being bullied online?
Something else you can do is to tell trusted friends and family in real life and online (if you have a close circle – I was lucky enough to have support in the online creative community) what is happening so they are aware.
Don’t forget that you can also contact Instagram directly. Bullying and harrassment is taken seriously by Instagram and can result in the perpetrator’s account being suspended and even closed down if the harrassment is deemed serious enough.
Don’t forget that bullying and harrassment is not your fault and you shouldn’t be ashamed. There are plenty of options available to help you and anyone you know who is being treated this way on social media. Keep yourself as safe as possible and always reach out to friends if you feel uncomfortable.