Flamers: my Ash Wednesday penance

Just a recap. Until recently I was a member of UK baby/parenting website. I still am. I contributed to a thread vis a vis homosexuality could a book really “cure” sexual orientation. Thread degenerated into a you are Catholic, therefore you are a homophobe, not all Catholics are homophobes most are perfectly normal nice accepting people, but because you agree with the Catechism you are an extremist fundamentalist just like your Church. If you had any sanity or normality about you then you wouldn’t agree with this evil doctrine.

Along the way there was some genuine philosophical debate and enquiry, but there was also a lot of wilful misunderstanding. I was irritated and blogged about it. Enormous backlash about breaching people’s copyright, trust, taking comments out of context and so on and so forth.

Now hypothetically if one were to type in certain words to Google, one could see the whole thread in its entirety. One doesn’t have to be a member of the site to view the entire thread. You only needs to be a member if you wish to contribute.

Say a pregnant woman, was looking for an interesting parenting forum to join she might well stumble across said site. She might see this thread perfectly legitimately whilst browsing the site to see if she wanted to join. She might think “gracious me, what a bunch of unpleasantness, that’s not for me” particularly if she was of a Catholic or Christian disposition. She might think “I don’t want to engage in this community” and decide not to join. She might and could easily C&P the thread to other Catholics in her community to warn them of what was going on. She could equally C&P extracts onto her blog, just to highlight the type of debate that was occurring. She wouldn’t have broken any copyright laws whatsoever. It’s called Fair Use. Alternatively she could join the site and engage in the debate, and link to her blog if she chose.

I had an email today from a lovely well-wisher advising me to block absolutely everyone associated with this site from Twitter. What had been happening was that these same people who have expressed such outrage at my appalling behaviour had, whilst under the auspices of friendship, been trolling and scanning my twitter feed, looking for alleged abuses and things that they could take offence at and use against me. These people who are just so very cross that I have published their comments, anonymously, have been C&Ping my tweets, posting them on a debate forum for everyone to gasp over. I sense more than a spot of hypocrisy going on here. “Look, she’s said this, look she’s said that”, having had a public fit of the vapours at a few anonymously attributed comments. Having had their fun spoilt they are now calling my well-wisher various hateful names, although they have no idea who it might be.

Yesterday I had a laugh with a follower about my voluptuous pregnancy breasts. All very open and honest, nothing untoward or out of hand, my husband told me that I ought to tell him about the Church of Santa Maria Formosa in Venice which we visited. (Think along the lines of the fallen Madonna with the big boobies from ‘Allo ‘Allo). Following the advice of Patrick Madrid, myself and my husband are open and transparent in our use of social media. We can access each others accounts and we know each others passwords. If someone has a cheeky flirt with one or the other of us, we are quite open about it. Not because we are swingers before any silly people jump to conclusions but because it is better to be honest and open.

My remark about my big bosoms and how perhaps all the enmity stemmed from envy, which was entirely light-hearted, was picked up on by someone who doesn’t even follow me and re-tweeted with the remarks “:-o) this was said by a Catholic”. *gasps and clutches pearls*. I don’t hold myself up as a paragon of virtue, indeed my bio says I’m prone to a bit of bawdiness and Catholics are not expected to behave like Puritans, ostentatiously  outwardly manisfesting signs of their inner holiness. Not that there’s anything wrong with people who are able to be shining examples of goodness, they are often inspirational and all of us need to aspire to sainthood, but a lot of saints did indeed have character flaws. There is not a saint or Bible character who was portrayed as perfect. Let’s look at an easily recognisable Bible figure – David. He was called “a man after God’s own heart”. He was a liar, adulterer and murderer. That doesn’t mean that God delighted in his sin. He repented and submitted to God.

A bit of light-hearted banter is not indicative of some grave moral distortion. I don’t even need to defend myself on this point, however it gives some idea of the type of genuine stalking I have faced. Equally on hearing about how my child had been drawn into this, an affronted follower offered to set the offender’s house on fire. Ever heard of Paul J Chambers and the twitterjoke trial? I was told that I had been inciting hatred on Twitter. I cannot be responsible for what other people say, and I did not give him the name or address of said person or indeed suggest that he should have carried out his plans. I have, as I am entitled to, vented a bit of spleen as frankly, when I have given up debating with those who have no interest in what I have to say, it is more than a little vexing when these same people want to drag the argument on and on and on to my blog. My email is pinging non-stop, the blog comments are streaming thick and fast and here’s the thing people, I don’t want to talk to you. Go away and get over it.

I am not publishing several comments because I disagree with their contents, they serve no purpose other to make ad hominem attacks and I don’t have the energy or inclination to reply. I am not going to publish a comment which is substantially incorrect in its assertion about me, unless I can be bothered to respond. I don’t want to respond, so I’m not publishing. Simple.

Someone else trawled my feed in the small hours of the morning to discover that I had been having a conversation with a pro-life activist. Many of the people incessantly bugging my comment box and indeed who have disagreed passionately with me on topics of life-issues have become really quite heated and personal at times due to issues of their own. I mentioned this to a pro-life activist, naming no names, just stating the facts.

I have now protected all my tweets and blocked every single person associated from said forum. Still the vitriol comes pouring in. Why have I done this, what am I trying to hide? Nothing, but given that my twitter feed is being watched like a hawk, with people waiting to pounce on every single word to twist it for their own purposes, then I have a right to decide who I want to have open discourse with.

So now the fun has been spoilt and people can no longer see my tweets, I’m getting emails about my lack of integrity, unlike they, who have been copying and pasting my tweets onto a private forum. The wonderful kind person, who has acted with integrity and generosity to warn me about this to tell me that I need to delete absolutely everyone and she is sickened and appalled by what is happening, has also informed me that they are scanning my feed to see whether or not I am going to take my children to a pro-life prayer vigil. Because shock, horror that would just be such a dreadful thing to do wouldn’t it? To silently and powerfully pray outside an abortion clinic, for the women inside and their unborn children. And goodness wouldn’t it just be so sick and manipulative if a pregnant woman might see a heavily pregnant woman, together with her extremely beautiful young toddler and have second thoughts. That would indeed be an outrage. And what if someone came to engage with me, what if I told them about my experiences of having two unplanned and physically difficult pregnancies and gave them hope for the future. Wouldn’t that be shocking beyond the bounds of imagination?

But it’s Lent, I have no time or inclination for this. I have other more pressing demands on my time. I had to disable my email earlier, I was waiting in hospital with my six year old, who is currently going through some difficult tests to ascertain the nature of a neurological condition which is affecting her quality of life. She needed all my attention and reassurance. What I didn’t need was the constant pinging of my phone and email, with people still desperate to have a pop, desperate to have their say, desperate to go on the attack because they don’t like the fact that they have been silenced.

I’ve also had people who have commented, who have absolutely laboured the point on and on and on, again and again and again, and I thought “I’ve had enough, go away”. Incensed at not having their comments published, they’ve then furiously demanded again and again that I remove the comments that they have already posted, because it casts them in what they believe to be a bad light.

I’ve had a hysterical comment calling me an extremist and telling me that I used to be lovely and moderate. No, I have not changed, I have not become more extreme, I have always held a deep faith and conviction, but what people can’t recognise or reconcile in their heads how a seemingly friendly, intelligent and rational person can defend all this “misogynist, homophobic, narrow-minded” nonsense and still perhaps be a nice person. The answer must be either a) she’s not nice and let’s find evidence to prove it, b) she’s a hypocrite, c) she’s mentally ill and needs pity and/or help, don’t encourage her folks you’re not being kind or d) she’s brainwashed. They have little boxes reserved for religious people in their heads which I don’t fit and they can’t deal with it. So the answer is to go on the attack.

I don’t get the anger. I’ve done NOTHING wrong. I’ve defamed no-one, I’ve slandered no-one and incited no violence or hatred anywhere. I trust that regular twitter followers will verify that. What I have done is drawn attention to some of the sheer hatred and vitriol coming my way because I dare to say what I think and I dare to have these so-called hateful views. I am not a “right-thinking” person.

I think it is obvious who is narrow minded and it isn’t me. Someone has commented that if I go on a prayer vigil I can expect “consequences”. Someone else has misunderstood “sackcloth and ashes” in a reference to Ash Wednesday and taken that as some sort of admission that I haven’t really received a whole heap of abuse. I am accused of “playing the victim”. When I am bullied, trolled and stalked online and I publicly highlight it,  I am either lying, playing the victim or some attempt is made to justify this behaviour on the grounds of my shortcomings.

I’m not playing with you. Go away. You may comment all you like, but you’re wasting your time. One of my Lent promises is not to waste my time with internet “debate”.  I have given up a forum, so don’t try dragging your dislike of me to my blog. You don’t like me, that’s fine, you don’t have to. But you don’t need to keep emailing and commenting to tell me that. I get the point.  Don’t waste your time reading my blog. Surely people must have more constructive things to do? The scariest factor is that at least two of the protagonists are school teachers, indeed a previous blog troll who was inventing fake personas and impersonating someone else, is a school-teacher. The person who made the initial accusation that my daughter was illegitimate is a teacher. I am clearly not tarring all teachers with the same brush. But it fascinates and horrifies me in equal measure that teachers, who are supposed to defend vulnerable pupils against all forms of bullying, are engaging in an on-line campaign of their very own.

When I was in the hospital earlier, I noticed several people glancing at me strangely. At first I thought they were admiring my daughter in her distinctive school uniform, then wondered if it was the toddler, who is looking exceptionally fetching at the moment, with her hair in little bunches like Minnie the Minx or Beryl the Peril. After a while I realised it was me they were looking at, I still had the ashes on my forehead from earlier. I haven’t washed them off yet; they are a mark of who I am and I am proud to proclaim that. No matter how peculiar, embarrassing or dissonant it might seem to many.

One thought on “Flamers: my Ash Wednesday penance

  1. Caroline, whilst I understand that you wish to put this episode of unpleasantness behind you, I would like to draw your readers’ attention to the fact that you have acted within the confines of the law and thus no legal redress may be taken against you.

    I have been following you with some interest since the end of last year, having been alerted to the fact that you have been experiencing various difficulties.

    I have read your contributions both on here and on the parenting website, not only the thread in question but on other controversial topics. You may hold your head up high, your conduct has been exemplary and your logic flawless. You have the keenest intellect and the sharpest wit of which you may be justifiably proud. You manage to deflect your opponents with deftness and humour much to their infuriation. You are an excellent witness to your faith and I trust in time you will experience the fruits of the spirit. It is my opinion that you are a debater worthy of whom the great humanists would be proud – a Renaissance woman.

    What is evident is that various aspects of your situation attract envy. You are a highly intelligent, attractive young woman with a bright future; I suspect a career in academia is beckoning, along with a vibrant young family. In short you have many faculties at your disposal, your husband is a fortunate man.

    I was aware of the ruckus around the New Year whereby one of your commenters, who seems to be rather obsessed by you, continually flaming you here and on the other site, wrote a defamatory blog post about you. The discernable difference is that she was paraphrasing and misrepresenting your familial circumstances, stating things that were blatantly untrue. Anticipating further unrest, I took the liberty of making a screenshot of her blog which named you personally in her twitter feed, discussing your financial circumstances, although once you offered to donate money to charity, she removed her post, having already realised that it was necessary to remove her feed, personally naming you. I am aware that you publicly donated regardless.

    You will be able to substantially prove her statements were incorrect, but in an action for defamation the onus would be upon her to prove that her original post was correct. You gave her no grounds to make these claims. Had the blogger pieced together snippets to fabricate her post then the best course of action would have been to ignore, but the use of your full name gives you cause to pursue a legal option, should you wish to do so.

    Please do not let this relentless goading affect the spirit of your Lenten resolutions. I see no sign of insanity, only a quest for righteousness and truth. You are beautiful, sweet and good, utterly without guile and Jesus is holding you close to His Sacred Heart. You are bravely suffering in His name.

    Please be assured of my love and prayers and do not hesitate to contact me should you require legal help.

    I would be grateful if you could make an exception and publish this. You are not alone.

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