I’m taking a break from the Internet for a while, which means I shan’t be regularly checking my email or Twitter or Facebook for some time.
At the present time the Internet is something of an unhealthy and unhelpful place for me.
Due to a bit of Internet sleuthing (and a slip-up on behalf of the offender) the identity of a persistent troll on the Catholic blogosphere has been discovered. Whilst she’s done nothing illegal, she is responsible for comments such as these made by Dylan Morgan here, and here Alidyl73 here and AliDylan73 here. There are plenty more examples, but I think we have the gist.
In addition she has left many unpleasant and calumnious comments, not only on my blog (sometimes using these alias in her email), but on that of James Preece, Paul Priest and I think, Ttony of the Muniment Room.
Whilst what has happened is not in any way illegal, it has caused an immense amount of bad feeling and hurt on the Catholic blogosphere, with myself being publicly and repeatedly accused of being the perpetrator.
Normally with trolls, I take Mulier Fortis’ sage advice, namely delete and say an Ave, but what has made this situation quite so trying is that other people have not deleted her comments and they have been attributed to me and held up as proof that I some kind of evil genius. It has caused enormous distress when such a comment is left up on a blog, with various visitors clicking the yay button. Whilst I know that is indicative that I need to work on the sin of pride, it hasn’t done anyone, least of all the cause of evangelisation, any favours.
Worse still, is last year not only did Damian Thompson allude to the ‘sock puppet row brewing in Catholic circles’ and ‘looking forward to an exposure Scooby Doo style’ leading to a barrage of messages warning me to batten down the hatches, meaning that clearly a group of people were already in the know about my alleged ‘trolling’, but this mistaken idea was spread about same-sex marriage and abortion activists, as well as major journalists in an attempt to discredit anything I might attempt to achieve in the public square. I had one extremely well known atheist, skeptic, SEO expert write to me, accusing me of online bullying and specifically using one of these troll comments that referred to me, as ‘evidence’ and telling me I should expect a public exposé very soon. He did not seem to wish to entertain the possibility that I was not the culprit, but to be fair, has not yet produced the long-awaited post, perhaps out of compassion given I was so visibly distressed when pregnant last year and also because I think he came to realise that in order to ‘out’ me, he needed more than someone’s word or opinion.
Already defensive, I didn’t react well and neither have I reacted well to a repeated episode of taunting on Twitter today whereby very spiteful and unpleasant parody accounts have been set up depicting me as, quite literally a fat sow or pig, and shown suckling a litter of piglets, together with a very nasty biography, along with various people (the usual suspects) calling me mentally ill and insinuating that I am not looking after my children properly. Anyone who has met us in real life, will confirm that nothing could be further from the case. A bit too much time spent on my mobile phone (mostly in the afternoon when they are having a nap) does not equate to child neglect. My children are in no way emotionally or physically neglected, that I’m defensive about this, is indicative that I am giving the opinion of random and certainly un-Christianlike strangers on the internet too much weight. I have tried blocking but this doesn’t seem to work, one man copies and pastes anything I say with alacrity, along with his snide comments and commentary. He simply will not leave me alone and Twitter does not seem keen to act, death threats are illegal, repeated taunting and bullying, being part of the general rough and tumble that constitutes free speech.
I can’t help but wonder about the coincidence of the fake account occurring shortly after I openly hinted that I had the identity of the troll, dropping subtle clues (that would only be known to her) and causing her to delete the account. This seems like the reaction of a person who has been rumbled together with her furious reaction.
In order to address matters scripturally, a friend wrote to her (discovering that the IP on an email she’d sent him matched that of comments left on mine, Paul Priest’s and Clare Mulvany’s blogs), explaining the devastation she’d caused and suggesting that she ought to apologise. To which she responded angrily, accusing me of defamation (something isn’t defamation if its true and besides which I haven’t named her) the IP of her email providing yet more evidence, coinciding with the IPs of a nasty comment received both here and on James Preece’s site, earlier this month by an ‘Alan McNabb’.
It isn’t just the IP that has given the lady away, amongst other things are the language and themes of her comments. Here is an extract from her email which ties in with Alidyl/Alidylan73 and Dylan Morgan above.
… what appears in the name of Catholic Blogging is shameful. The way traditional Catholic Bloggers tear into Archbishop Nichols, Bishop Conry-whom I know-The Bishops Conference, and any Priest or blogger they dislike is in no way Christian like or remotely Catholic.
I think this shows all of us why we need to ensure that we remain charitable at all times even if we feel our criticism is merited, and it is worrying if this the impression people glean of Catholic blogging, but certainly the style of writing and the themes will strike a chord with anyone who has been following this sorry saga. It may give us all some insight as to how we may be perceived or why we could be seen as ‘nasty bloggers’.
I don’t really know what to do with this information. We know the lady’s name, the area she lives in and even the church she attends. That’s not meant as any kind of threat, I most definitely do not want to ‘out’ her, I do not want to invite the storm on her head that has come my way, but at the same time, I am unable to cope with the repeated allegations that I am some kind of anonymous Internet bully. I also need to stress that all this information has been obtained by entirely legitimate means, all it took was one careless mistake and it became clear that she had a very large Internet footprint. Every time she left a nasty on mine and others’ blogs, it was picked up.
I’m not going to publicly piece together the evidence here, in case it is needed later, this is simply a very public appeal for all of this nastiness to stop, but there are several of us who are party to all of the relevant information, this isn’t a personal whim or fancy. I also know that no amount of evidence will convince those who, for reasons they won’t disclose, are thoroughly convinced as to my inherent wickedness.
Another point of note. One of the accusations was that there was simply one “trolless”. The. Catholic. Internet. Troll. The internet is a very big place and we would be foolish to assume that every single malign comment is from the same person. I was perplexed upon accusations of being a certain “Big Benny” or “Big Bertha”, having no idea what this was all about. Upon googling I discovered that poor Fr Tim Finigan had been the subject of a Tablestista troll called “Big Benny” on various posts, to do with the Tablet. I also saw that Father Z had experienced similar from a Big Bertha. As had Fr Ray. I don’t think we can assume that this is the same person that I have identified, the style of writing is different and I note that on Fr Ray’s post, Big Benny claims to be a clinical psychologist. I have no idea what might possess people to believe that I would express those sentiments, particularly in relation to same-sex adoption. It’s totally ludicrous and nonsensical like much of this business. I am sure all priests are wise enough to take this in their stride nonetheless and have no wish to see some sort of witch-hunt carried out on their behalf, the reason I highlight this (though wary of the Streisand Effect) is in the vain hope that sensible people can see that it’s stretching credulity to claim that I am somehow responsible. But all of this has given lots of fuel to those who may wish to attack me for their own agendas and together with the injustice of it, continues to affect my peace of mind.
I think the answer is really to keep calm and carry on, but genuinely I’m struggling to keep things in proportion. It’s very hard to stay calm when the calumny continues and is spread about by adversaries. I have been advised to call in a legal expert on internet harassment as a result of today’s obsessive Twitter troll and certainly as a result of this episode of trolling, of which many of us have been victims. I am not sure what remedies are available, although of course not only me, but also my husband would welcome any opportunity to be able to clear my name. I don’t even think that what has happened is even illegal. People do say horrible things on the internet, most of us are not narcissistic enough to feel the need to track down and publicly shame those who have upset us. The only reason that I have been monitoring matters is because this has caused such strife and division amongst a group of people who should be sticking together. My hope is that by exposing this to the disinfectant of light, the process of healing can begin.
Learning how to deal with the dark side of the internet is something that I’m yet to master. Not feeding trolls is so much easier said than done. I’ll be back when I’ve recovered my equilibrium. I’m off on retreat. I may be back anon, quite literally. Now there would be the ultimate irony.