In a follow up to yesterday’s post, The Trouble with Trolls, Dead Friends Forever author J.R. Turner talks about her experience with online trolls.
In your online marketing ventures, when did you run into trolls?
Trolls are pretty much everywhere, so it isn’t the venue as much as it is those running the venue that one has to be careful about. MySpace is the worst I’ve ever encountered at enforcing their Terms of Service. They’re directions are to engage in an email exchange whereby you offer evidence, and they copy and paste in the appropriate script which essentially states they won’t get involved. When I finally managed to get someone on the phone, the man there admitted to me that his only job was to answer the phone and tell people to use their email system.
What got them started on your site? What types of messages did they leave for you? Were they public messages?
I had the temerity to stand up to a bully when a teenager became his target. From then on, it turned into a gang of three, with supporters, stalking me across many forums and working behind the scenes to ruin my reputation. I was compared to Shirley Fine and accused of preying on new writers to bilk them for hundreds of dollars. This is simply ludicrous.
The posts ranged from obscene language on forum posts, to sexual vulgarities about me on a personal blog—all of it public.
How did it make you feel when you saw their vitriol?
Disheartened is the word that comes to mind. I’ve always strived to remain professional in my interactions on the internet. I haven’t always maintained that professionalism, as I am human after all, but never did I find it appealing to engage in negative exchanges. Cyber-bullying, especially when supported by others, is constant and unrelenting. After a time, I gave up any expectation these particular people would move on and leave me alone so I might enjoy MySpace freely.
This hurt in many ways, including the sacrifice of the work I had done to help others with my MySpace blog, promoting and aiding new writers for the most part. I had reached upwards of 600 blog hits a week there and had many subscribers. The group I created as a haven for those who weren’t interested in the constant bullying was hacked and lost as well. When one works so very long and hard to create something wonderful for others, and it’s destroyed, it is extremely sad.
Did their cyber maneuvers damage your brand as an author? Did fans say anything to you about what they said?
I’m sure that their ‘followers’ now believe terrible things about me. As an author, however, I believe my work stands on its merit and by and large, readers don’t really care about what these people did. However, it was the intention of these people to harm my sideline business (offering very cheap critiques to new writers who may not otherwise be able to afford similar services.) It’s impossible to know for sure how many potential clients I lost during this time, or how many people I wasn’t able to help, but flat-out it was their goal to destroy the possibility of more.
At times, I got notes asking me if I was aware that my name had come up again in forums I’d left months earlier—in an attempt to remove myself from the situation and hopefully have it die down. Many times I held silent, other times I didn’t. Every time—it never mattered. They only got worse.
How did you respond to the trolls?
I tried every way I could think of to diffuse the situation. I tried posting demands for proof of their statements, I tried ignoring them, I tried leaving the groups, I tried forming my own group. At one point, I hired an attorney to send a cease and desist letter. Nothing worked and MySpace refused to take any action at all.
Ultimately, did you have to take legal action against these trolls? How difficult is that?
Yes. My attorney concurred that obvious libel had occurred, and also that this particular person was obsessed with me. Unfortunately, the cease and desist letter was all I could afford to spend on this matter, but had I chosen to follow through, there was ample evidence to prove the defamation and libel. These trolls rely heavily on geographical distance to protect them, and in many cases, it does—as in what happened with me.
Looking back, do you see better ways you could have handled the situation? Could you have diffused it by simply deleting comments?
Nothing I would have said or done would have changed what happened. When there is no moderation, no recourse available from the hosting site, no means of addressing through proper channels this sort of thing, nothing can be done. Once you’ve found yourself on the Troll’s radar, no matter how innocuous the reason, they will work overtime to recruit and disseminate false information in order to harm you, your reputation, and your income if at all possible.
What else would you like to add?
My decision to leave MySpace was a difficult one and it took me over a year to fully decide. I encourage anyone and everyone to stay away from MySpace until they change and begin enforcing their Terms of Service. We shouldn’t lend our support to places that knowingly and willingly allow these sorts of places to operate unchecked. I would also encourage people to be wary of places like Urbis—a writer’s site the hosts the worst troll and cyber-bully arena on MySpace—as well as Writer’s Café, who is second only to Urbis. For more than a year, both forums have gone unmoderated and they are just as culpable as MySpace in the perpetration of these illegal activities.0