Yesterday, after two years of a prolonged smear and abuse campaign I took the decision to finally delete my Twitter account.
Social media plays a big part in my online life, it is an extremely useful tool in many respects, I use to keep up with the latest news, views and developments, both in terms of the world at large and the more niche Catholic community. It helps me in terms of formulating column ideas, as well as providing a useful medium in which I can disseminate my views and contribute to a wider debate.
I have always commented under my own name in order not to be summarily dismissed as a faceless troll – such is the disbelief expressed by those encountering an orthodox Catholic mindset for the first time, the instinctive reaction is that the commentator must simply be trying to provoke a strong reaction.
My hope in using social media was to present an image of an ordinary faithful Catholic woman, a wife and mother, not some theological genius, but to demonstrate that loving God and leading a happy and fulfilled life were not mutually exclusive, but that the latter would automatically flow from the former. I also wanted to dispel the dour image of orthodox Catholicism; when I first started commenting from a Catholic position online, some people equated my lifestyle to that of a joyless puritan or membership of a bizarre cult. It was assumed that I didn’t drink, wouldn’t appreciate bawdy humour, wore shapeless floral dresses obliterating any hint of feminity and subjected my children to hours of forced bible study and corporal punishment.
As people got to know me, the dissonance grew, they couldn’t reconcile the picture of an outwardly normal woman with beautiful children, with the crazed extremist bigot of their imagination so instead picked on my weaknesses or any perceived flaw to pull me to pieces and indulge in character assassination, build up a different monster, in order to de-humanise and dismiss anything I had to say. Had I been of an unprepossessing appearance, their job would have been made a lot easier. We shouldn’t fool ourselves that we are any different to the Victorians, most people prefer their monsters to manifest repellent physical characteristics and I guess that’s why a lot of the abuse that’s come my way from the odd alliance of self-professed Catholics and a particularly bitchy gay man, has focused on my appearance, with the Iggy Pop jibe, or the gay man happily preening that his hair is natural whereas my is “rank, dyed” and my face is “chubby and tangoed”. We see the similar phenomenon with the demonisation of ‘chavs’, with the uniform of Burberry and excessive weight or dull appearance being symptomatic of a perceived moral failure.
In a damning indictment of twenty-first century attitudes towards mental health, I’ve been horrified and amused in equal measure to note unqualified people whom I’ve never met diagnosing complex psychological disorders from which I allegedly suffer in order to qualify their disdain.
It seems that I can do nothing to avoid the false accusations and spite. Back in February 2012, a gay man invited a huge Twitter storm my way after doing the passive aggressive trick of using a full stop before my handle, misrepresenting my stance on homosexuality and gay marriage to all of his four thousand followers. The level of abuse was like nothing I have ever seen.
Since then, he has not stopped. He monitors my feed on a daily basis, when I had a locked private account for personal use with friends only, he complained about it and trolled responses, despite having a similar account himself, he engaged in baiting and accusations about my alleged sock-puppetry, insinuating that I was this blogger and tweeter, used this as justification to out and taunt me about my former bar job (information which he would have only got from a third party), made tweets which I perceived as threatening, asking to see copies of personal messages that I had allegedly sent, saying that many people would like to see ‘those from Miss Holier than Thou’, mocked my pregnancy with his friends describing it as breeding like rabbits, a pun on the tweeters username and a nasty slur,(I lost the baby) my mental health and my appearance. He took issue at two tweets that I had made in January to someone else (he had been blocked) screenshotted them and sent them out to all his followers out of context stating that they were all about him, inciting yet more abuse my way. He mentions my handle and my name, then sneakily swiftly deletes tweets to deny his actions. I have a screenshot of him admitting to deleting his tweets because he “wouldn’t put it past her to allege harassment”.
Back in August he sent me a nonsensical self-aggrandising email about how I ought to apologise to him for talking about him, (I hadn’t, although I had expressed regret if he had felt hurt as a result of reading my feed) copied it to a professional associate whom he believed to be sensible and said that if I did not apologise he would write a blog expose about me. He tends to write many of these blogs about those whom he doesn’t like. This threat has been repeated again this week “I shall write a blog about this good Catholic wife and mother”, if accounts he doesn’t like mention him or upset his friends.
This guy has engaged in discussions about my abortion and whether or not I was culpable and the level of guilt I must be carrying around, he has discussed whether or not I am still excommunicated, whether or not my marriage is still valid and my children illegitimate as well as made several hurtful remarks about my appearance and accused me of child neglect. Using his locked account he has disrupted conversations, meaning people suddenly tail off accusing me of homophobia. On checking what prompted a discussion about abortion to descend into vituperative insults about homophobia and hopes that I have sex dreams about orange-haired lesbians, it seemed that his locked account interjected into a conversation I was having that had nothing to do with him. In addition in the past few weeks he’s used my handle (despite being blocked) to misrepresent my position on vaccination and complain vociferously about a re-tweet he didn’t like, got his followers to express hideous sentiments to me and then launched into a character assassination about what an evil person I am and how everyone knows about my online activities and how I am hated. In a discussion with another Catholic about a wholly unrelated topic, he couldn’t resist getting in my handle, blaming me for the conversation, before being reminded by a third party that they had initiated the thread.
It’s telling that any abuse that comes my way always seems to be as a result of this tweeter and yet in an act of sheer projection anyone such as Eccles who may pick him up on his behaviour or abuse is deemed to be my doing.
He’s been joined in this endeavour by another woman who has relentlessly spent since July engaged in an activity that can only be described as vampiric, feeding off my timeline on a daily basis, using my handle, my name and commenting in depth on every aspect of my life, right down from her opinion on my pregnancy to whether or not we ought to get a new puppy. By her own admission she regularly screenshots my tweets in order to keep them for her records, so she can prove what a malevolent character she believes me to be.
I locked my account in order to deprive these people of their source of obsessive stimulation and to give myself some peace only to find that those who interact with me are also subject to attack.
Over the past two years I have been accused on no evidence of repeatedly being behind several anonymous accounts and told to prove my innocence and that my reaction “can you tell me why you believe this and provide some proof”, is abnormal. I have had one manic poster engage in a three week Twitter spree in which she posted manic stream of consciousness rants and blogposts and who still two years later, has convinced herself that I was part of a huge conspiracy with “The Left” (consisting of Helen Lewis, Owen Jones, Sunny Hundal, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Medhi Hasan and errr, Toby Young) to smear her and deliberately endanger her daughter. She sent streams of emails to professional associates and wrote blogposts insinuating that I was seriously mentally unstable and a danger to my children. The police described her activity as alarming but felt that it was not in the public interest to prosecute. Other lawyers felt differently but one cannot force the CPS and being exhausted and heavily pregnant, suffering from pre-ecclampsia, I wanted to minimise the stress. Subsequent to being given a platform as a Telegraph blogger, she has deleted many of these fantasies, so at least there have been some small graces, but the idea that I would deliberately conspire to threaten or cause harm to a small child is extremely hurtful.
She has been joined by a ragtag coalition of people who dislike me for one reason or another, be it professional jealousy or dislike of my views and they have done their best to spread poison and undermine my personal and professional reputation, with letters written in green ink to as many people as possible, together with libellous, malicious and spiteful tweets, which has intensified as they’ve realised that they are not gaining any traction.
In recent months, I have been trolled and abused once again while pregnant, threatened (the threat was followed up) by complaint letters if I did not tweet disassociations from accounts that others did not like, been parodied in a blogpost by a deacon in Holy Orders, been too frightened to attend a Catholic bloggers’ Guild meeting that I desperately wanted to go to due to intimidatory tactics, all whilst pregnant and recovering from the loss of a baby. The threats came the weekend that we were preparing to bury our baby, my miscarriage described as an excuse. In addition I’ve had my maiden and former married name outed on the internet (information that would have need to have been obtained by paying the records office) and had my personal life outed and picked over in excruciating detail while being subject to libel on a daily basis. There have also been many false accounts, including one which took a personal photograph of me breastfeeding one of my children, which made reference to my abortion and previous marriage and used that as evidence of what a terrible Catholic woman I was. Whoever was responsible for it obviously had a good grasp of grammar and language and experience of setting up false accounts, but very poor knowledge of Catholic theology.
Even deleting my account has prompted speculation that I have been ordered off the internet by my bishop (to whom I am not answerable) or other agencies as the extent of my online activities has become known. This is incorrect, I took the decision yesterday afternoon, after yet another morning of accusations and responsibility for an Eccles blogpost being laid at my door. It is being crowed about that no-one is sticking up for me or mentioning that I have been bullied off the internet. The reason being that none of my friends want to give these people the satisfaction and were hoping that I might come back.
Once again, I have never ever commented or engaged on the internet using any other name than my own. For the terminally hard of understanding, I am not Eccles or anyone else.
But it’s clear that the bullies will not leave me alone to use social media, either to interact with my friends, for work purposes or most importantly the New Evangelisation.
It’s impossible for me to be able to use social media without daily libels, abuse and harassment all stemming from the same group of people. The police tell me that my only option is to sue for defamation, they have expressed sympathy with the huge amount of undisputed trolling and harassment from the same few people, but said that as a semi-public figure I need to expect it.
It’s easy when it comes from random strangers, but when targeted personal abuse that tries to poison and undermine friendships, it makes social media an untenable and poisonous source, as well as risking my equilibrium. Two years of knowing that one is being stalked, that everything is being screenshotted and saved, just in case it can be used to undermine our family in some way, two years of being built up into some sort of two dimensional cartoon monster, of being accused of deeds of which I am wholly innocent, of being called a psychopath, of being called ugly, of attempts to interfere in my work, of any upset being laughed at, of being called “professional victim and martyr” disparagingly when I complain is enough. When I was pregnant, one of these people posted that I was too vain to take the correct medication for their diagnosis of ’schizophrenia’ and various alternative meds were suggested which wouldn’t make me put on weight. It was claimed that I was faking pregnancy and sites were linked to with fake bumps. When my husband was putting the baby’s tiny body in the casket, threatening letters were being sent because someone didn’t like an online video that I posted of my daughter singing the Salve Regina. I was described as a ‘dangerous pyschopath’ and the Catholic equivalent of Katie Hopkins. All for posting a video of my 9 year old singing a traditional Catholic chant using a sock puppet like a ventriloquist’s dummy, something that she did entirely spontaneously which caused a lot of merriment and mirth.
What makes me cross is that famous figures like Caroline Criado-Perez are treated seriously with random tweeters prosecuted for sending abusive messages and threats, whereas those who have done their best to destroy my reputation, both online and offline and have gleefully revelled in their public bullying and contempt, wallowing in any distress or ‘meltdown’ are free to find another target. I have been told that I endangered my own baby’s life by using Twitter, it’s been likened to a pregnant woman entering a smoky pub and blaming the smokers -if I don’t like the heat get out of the kitchen and yet following one parody post from Eccles, which doesn’t name any individuals and could be about a number of people, they have a fit of the vapours, snatch back their victim mantle and seek to invite further scorn upon my head for a post which I didn’t even write by a writer whom I don’t know!
One day I will tell this extraordinary story in full, together with screenshots, it would make a fascinating dossier for future archivists and sociologists, documenting the spread of internet communication, but I think it’s also a cautionary tale about how the internet is not a disembodied impersonal medium but an intensified microcosm of human weakness capable of fostering vituperative and vindictive vendettas of epic proportions.
There will be those who say that the abuse is a measure of my success and impact, no doubt this is true, but it is coming at too much of a cost to us as a family, I have to put my children first. I am at the stage where I am seriously worried about their safety, combined with various comments and insinuations that I am guilty of severe child neglect; at one stage someone remarked that there was no danger of their being overfed. So-called ‘liberals’ alleging that a ’dangerous Catholic homophobic mother’ is neglecting and/or endangering her children could have dreadful repercussions.
The bitter irony is that I will resurrect my Twitter account in the New Year, however it will be under an assumed name. It’s ironic, that for the first time ever, I’m forced into taking the very action that I have repeatedly been accused of.