By Nikki Hedrick
I’m 32. I didn’t quite grow up with the Internet, but in many ways we hit our adolescence together. Creeps who hide behind screen names and trolls looking for attention aren’t anything new, but through the Internet their voices have a much further reach.
I’ve had amazing experiences because of the Internet, and moreover, much of my income depends on it.
When it comes to social media, I’ve tried to be of the frame of mind that if I couldn’t say it in front of my grandmother it might not be fit for posting. Mind you, my grandma once left the room because I was watching Ghost Dad, a PG-rated family comedy starting a yet-to-be-ostracized Bill Cosby. I feel this way not because my grandma is on social media, but because every post is like yelling your thoughts in a crowded room. I try to use it as a positive tool.
When someone reaches out to my inbox, I always give him or her a chance. Have an idea, gig, collaboration, or just a question? I try to hold my conversations with dignity. I can’t do all things and be all places, but I try to acknowledge everyone.
Then there is the issue of those who feel you owe them. And that’s the situation I found myself in at the beginning of the year.
It began in October. A small-scale web publication reached out to me, and some back and forth happened. All polite, although I was a bit frustrated because my questions felt dodged. It was all through Facebook’s messenger app.
Weeks went by, and I didn’t even think about it. He would occasionally mass-tag me in something he was promoting, but we didn’t trade any communication until January.
I was at my boyfriend Eddie’s, and we decided to run a couple errands after he was off from work. As I was getting ready, the messages began—each one more grating than the last. I was being slowly belittled, but I did my best to take the high road, looking for a way out of the conversation.
He wanted a phone call to discuss details, but each time he typed out “darling,” I knew what it meant. I could hear his tone in his texts, and everything in my gut was annoyed and knew this wasn’t someone I wanted a business relationship with. I’m guilty of pet names, too, but this was a change in his tone from the October chat. He was trying to make me feel stupid, like a vapid little girl out of her depth.
I could hear Eddie hit the front door, greeted by the tail wagging and happy barking of his dog Lily when the last texts rolled in. I was shocked and angry. Not only were they sexually explicit and demeaning, there was an honest to goodness threat: “And if you piss me off, I will take 10,000 and invest in shutting you down.”
I handed Eddie my phone to read the messages and watched as his face dropped and then turned to anger.
Then it was time for a decision. Do I pretend this never happened? He wanted me to be embarrassed by the words he typed, but I’m not. He wanted me to be scared, but I’m not. He wanted to control me, but that wasn’t in the cards.
With Grandma in mind, I made a vague post and littered the comment section with screenshots. I would not let him hide. I let others know, made new friends in the process, and found so many stories of how he’s done this to others. They always do this to others. There is a pattern of poor behavior that is waiting to be unearthed.
The next several days saw a storm of activity, with him replying from multiple accounts—but it was always him. No friends or family rushed to his defense. Not a single person stood up for him or apologized on his behalf. Instead, my family, friends, and people I don’t even know pushed back.
This man is alone. He is literally attention-starved, and instead of building something with his legacy in mind, his name will always be associated with his putrid words. Just as the power of the Internet might have made him feel safe enough to spew vile words, it also gives us the power to say enough.
And to say that this type of abusive bullying behavior will no longer be rug swept. That every time someone searches his name, my screenshots are there showing others just what type of person he is.