18 votes

For those that have been the target of online harassment, what was it like for you?

I'm interested in the stories of anyone willing to speak about their experiences, whether it was cyberbullying, stalking, doxing, hate mobs, or anything else.

Given the sensitive nature of the question, only share what you're comfortable with, if at all. The following questions are not a list to be answered but more just jumping off points for consideration.

  • What was the harassment like for you?
  • What platform(s) did it take place on?
  • Was there a specific inciting incident?
  • Was it related to any larger cultural factors?
  • What was your response like?
  • What impact did it have on you and/or others?
  • How long did it last?
  • What takeaways do you have from the experience?

9 comments

  1. TheJorro
    Link
    Suffocating. Until I realized I could log off. What @Diet_Coke said yesterday about just logging off and coming back to find none of it mattered was almost entirely my experience. Basically, I...

    Suffocating. Until I realized I could log off. What @Diet_Coke said yesterday about just logging off and coming back to find none of it mattered was almost entirely my experience.

    Basically, I moderated a subreddit that was one of primary and original GamerGate targets. We witnessed the movement before it had a name, and the lead up to it. We thought it was just another phase but it kept on going. Usually things used to last a couple of days, maybe a week, and then it would die down. GamerGate was probably the first movement in gaming of its kind—one that would just linger, stay, and reanimate itself every few weeks.

    The main tactic was that they would flood into a post. Suddenly hundreds to thousands of comments from people that didn't frequent our subreddit ever (and it was relatively close-knit before GamerGate, so there was always a predictable tone and atmosphere, with plenty of known users) suddenly started coming out of the woodworks to share all kinds of misinformation, in increasingly hostile and unfair ways.

    I think everyone now knows what GamerGate was, the summaries of it in retrospect have seen right through it. At the time, though, it was a confusing and nebulous mass, fuelled by a constant barrage of misinformation. It was wild to see so many people arguing in hypocritical, backwards, and downright incorrect ways. It was the first large-scale operation of picture collages of comments/tweets that were taken out of context, faked, and generally lied about in order to spread their dogma to people that were inclined to rebellion but not thought. You could tell them the sky was blue and they'd find any possible way to argue that it was green all along and that you were wrong. They claimed they wanted truth, but they refused it at every turn if it wasn't their preconceived truth. On multiple occasions, I'd see them make a claim, get linked to a source (often the very same article they were referring to) to show that the opposite was actually what was done, and they'd try their best to excuse that and claim they had it right regardless. It was wild how far they would go to lie to themselves.

    I think I've made my thoughts known on "single-line quoting" known here, and it comes from this era of the internet. Single-line quoting was a constant tactic of the GamerGater, to find one line in a larger post, quote it only, and then represent it out of context, usually with a "Are you saying x? well, here's Y!" even though nobody was actually saying x within the context of the original post at all. The idea was that they could derail the argument through that tactic to take it to an area or perspective they wanted so they could layer on another "gotcha!" claim. GamerGate was a catalyst for a lot of bad commenting habits becoming weaponized in order to fuel misinformation. I still see remnants of it here, but at least it's not malicious. I still see it done in so many gaming forums and subreddits as a way to say "I found a problem with this one line in the article, so let's dismiss the entire thing!". Many gaming forums still do this to shut down any discussion about social issues—I saw one posted a while ago about how the new CoD Modern Warfare is not living up to the promise of the original (over how it approaches violence) that was dismissed out of hand because it made the mistake of saying one mode in Black Ops 4 was part of the launch and was not released post-launch.

    For some misguided reason, I took it upon myself to be the "PR face" of the sub, even though that position was (in retrospect) created by someone who had no business doing anything like that, and that position too was something that was more to feed an ego than to be effective. So consequently, I was the face of "oppression" in the subreddit, even though many of the decisions and actions that GamerGate were not happy about weren't actually of my own doing.

    Every day, for months, I'd log into reddit with 50+ increasingly bizarre, erratic, and hostile messages. I'd be getting username pinged across multiple subreddits that I wasn't involved in just because people thought it was fun to argue with me as much as they could. My mistake was enabling them—I genuinely did enjoy commenting and discussing and arguing with people on reddit... but that was pre-GamerGate era. That era destroyed so much of internet forum etiquette, and none of them have felt the same since. Suddenly it became abundantly clear that the old hopes of "with free information, people will self-correct!" came crashing down as we witnessed the power of confirmation bias augmented by malicious editorializing.

    The mistakes seem easy to spot now, in retrospect:

    1. We should never have tried to engage them in discussion or keep repeating our rules/moderation philosophy: they weren't interested in that, they were interested in being as disruptive as possible and hostilely taking over our space.
    2. I should not have responded to so many messages from different people: I should have made single statements and then left it at that, letting them argue over what they thought it must mean.
    3. We shouldn't have relied on the reddit admins. I can't really speak for what it was like on their end during this but a lot of our mod team's response was contingent on waiting for the admins to do something. Give us better tools, give us more abilities, give us more data to put numbers to the phenomena we were experiencing. Something. But seeing how it all played out... we would have been better to have taken an iron fist to it ourselves and just said "fuck off, we're closed" until they moved on.

    It also doesn't help that we were mostly young, dumb, and inexperienced. It was the first major challenge and we were totally unequipped for anything like this. We were a bunch of young people running a friendly gaming subreddit that got quickly overtaken by a Breitbart-test-campaign mob, fuelled to create as much pain and suffering as possible on everyone they turned their evil eye to. We were out of our depth but it wasn't clear at all until much later, when GamerGate eventually took off its mask and we all realized that it was a new resurgence of the alt-right, grabbing a foothold in video games, of all fucking things.

    Mind you, I have a lot to say about how an overzealous approach from the other side of politics helped fuel this rise, but that's for another time.

    This shit lasted a long time. Close to a year perhaps. One day I realized: they've been working off misinformation for so long that they don't know how to find any real information. They knew my username but that's it. A lot of their assumptions about me were so off-base, that they probably convinced themselves that I could never be who I am... because I'm nobody special in real life. I was just a guy volunteering to mod a video game subreddit because I really like talking about video games. They'd actually choose to believe I was some kind of antifa-type activist in real life. Even if they tried to find any information about me, they'd never even believe what they would find. So I logged off, and went about my life without any issue. It probably helped that I'm not from the US too.

    To this day, I think anyone who genuinely thinks GamerGate was ever for "ethics in journalism" for more than an afternoon is still sipping at the Kool-Aid without realizing it. Even before it was formed, it was clear that it was not actually about ethics in journalism. It all started with a bunch of thin-skinned gamers getting riled up by the alt-right.

    19 votes
  2. [3]
    nacho
    Link
    I've managed/moderated online communities for more than a decade. Threats, shock imagery, child porn, systematic spam, following you around, trying to reach employers, attempted doxxing, just...

    I've managed/moderated online communities for more than a decade.

    • Threats, shock imagery, child porn, systematic spam, following you around, trying to reach employers, attempted doxxing, just abusive comments/messages, attempted swatting, mailed items, attempted phishing, impersonation (of me, of authorities directed at me), calls for an audience to do these things to me or moderation groups, I've had most of it.

    • I, my house, my employers etc. have yet to be approached irl by the abuser directly. Abusers have approached others they've mistaken to be me, my employer etc. Beyond that, phone, email, mailed letters/packages, messaging services, private messages, report/contact forms etc. I've seen most things.

    • There have been specific incidents (bans, media events, topics, shows etc.) leading to harassment. Other events don't have a specific inciting incident I can identify.

    • Yes and no. When someone with an audience in the tens of thousands tell others to harass you, I'd say the resulting abuse is in relation to a cultural factor. Same when people do things because they read of similar things in media, hear public figures say or encourage similar behavior etc. Other times it doesn't look like that's been a factor at all.

    • Used most available tools depending on circumstance, from calling 911 about imminent and credible threats to me, random bystanders or others. I've made police reports, reports to companies that their hardware is being used for illegal activities (child porn), contacted others to warn them of threats, ignored events entirely, responded as if threats weren't made at all to try to deescalate situations, gone on shows to speak out about what I've experienced, held seminars about experiences or ways for others to avoid this happening to others, had comments published regarding online harassment. As a response to credible threats and harassment experienced online I've made concrete plans regarding my personal safety, written a will at an age where that's far from common etc.

    • A friend was hospitalized due to white powder in the mail addressed incorrectly to them, possibly meant for me (police refused to say whether they'd been at risk or what the powder was). Others have had visits from police meant for me. People have gone to jail, lost jobs and had relationships with their loved ones break up due to harassment and threats made towards me. Random strangers have had property destroyed when people have thought they're taking their harassment of me to the physical world, then actually failing to doxx me and reaching a random person instead. I share very little of my personal life online as a direct consequence of the threat that could pose to me, random people around me or people who get mistaken for me.

    • The first time I sent a police report due to serious illegal activity as part of online harassment towards myself (not others) was in 2004. I expect this will continue as long as I manage/moderate online communities.

    • Takeaways: I've experienced similar things irl without relation to online activity. The big difference is how low the threshold seems to be for people to harass people online, and that they view this as something completely different to how things would transpire in meatspace. People have been tremendously surprised that their online activities as part of harassment has led them to serve years in prison, or have "ruined their lives." Many people don't seem to realize their words have power online. They escalate comments seeking a response, any response and are surprised when what they say is taken seriously when they've crossed serious lines (like moving into felony-territory).

    I'm purposefully sparse on details here. I doubt these are typical experiences for many online community leaders either. The web has changed a lot in the last 15 years.

    14 votes
    1. [2]
      Diet_Coke
      Link Parent
      What kind of communities are you modding that are sending you white powder? That's just insane.

      What kind of communities are you modding that are sending you white powder? That's just insane.

      4 votes
      1. nacho
        Link Parent
        For safety reasons (and since I've said things on this account I wouldn't on other platforms) I'd rather not say. The things I listed above all originate on large, mainstream communities covering...

        For safety reasons (and since I've said things on this account I wouldn't on other platforms) I'd rather not say.

        The things I listed above all originate on large, mainstream communities covering various topics

        1 vote
  3. Algernon_Asimov
    Link
    Oh wow. I had an actual breakdown. I was a fresh virgin moderator when I joined the moderation team of /r/AskHistorians 7-ish years ago. It was my first experience moderating anything online. And...

    Oh wow.

    I had an actual breakdown.

    I was a fresh virgin moderator when I joined the moderation team of /r/AskHistorians 7-ish years ago. It was my first experience moderating anything online. And it didn't seem like a big deal. I'd already been helping out, by directing people to the FAQs and things like that. Now I would get to clean up bad answers. It was just more janitorial work.

    Fuck no. I stepped into a political maelstrom.

    It seems there are people who are racist and bigoted out there. And some of those people like to frequent history forums in order to give the "correct" view of history. For example, they want to tell people the Holocaust didn't happen: it's just a conspiracy by Jews in their quest to control the world. Also, black people are stupid; this is proven by the fact that there are no civilisations in Africa's history. And if you're part of a moderator team which happens to want to remove false facts and to prevent racism in their history forum... you have just become a target of the alt-right.

    I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.

    I became a target for harassment and attacks. My inbox attracted death threats and general insults. People created accounts to mock me (like "Algernon_Asimov_F4G"). And I took it all personally. I didn't know any better. I wasn't able to distance myself from these attacks. I was convinced that I could reason with these people and explain why I had to remove their content. I was an idiot. These people weren't reasonable. My efforts to be reasonable merely gave them more opportunities to attack me.

    Six months later, I had a breakdown. I exploded at my fellow mods during a backroom discussion, and rage-quit the mod team.

    After a few months away, I realised it wasn't that big a deal. I apologised to the other mods (who understood), and rejoined the mod team.

    I've learned better these days. I don't take these things personally. And I understand why moderators become thick-skinned and unsympathetic.


    I also acquired a stalker!

    A young gay teenager decided I was his role model. But the way he tried to relate to me was by stalking me and harassing me - to get my attention. He created accounts to impersonate me in a subreddit I was moderating (like "Algermon_Asimov" and "Algernom_Asimov"). He followed me around subreddits. He used multiple identities to interact with me. He even created a subreddit about me. It was all very creepy. Meanwhile, on other identities, he was trying to become a respected moderator like he thought I was. He even joined the mod team of a subreddit which modelled itself on a subreddit I helped create.

    Finally, I got the clues and was able to connect the various identities together. When I confronted him with the evidence, he admitted everything, and explained that he liked me and wanted to be like me.


    And there was a non-English speaking teenager who got upset with me once because I removed their (her?) post. Then she harassed me via private message to the point where I lost my temper and told her to fuck off. Ever since then, she is convinced that she needs to befriend me to make amends. About once or twice a year since then, a brand-new account will reach out to me on Reddit, asking an innocent question. It's usually via a modmail message to my private personal subreddit. When I reply, they ask me "but what about what happened with User ABC?" Luckily, I think she's moved on. The reaching out has become less frequent (although I think there was another attempt just a few weeks ago).


    6 votes
  4. somewaffles
    Link
    Forget if I told this story here before but I'm going to try to keep it as short as possible. While miserable at the time, I'm glad it happened because it completely changed the way I look at...

    Forget if I told this story here before but I'm going to try to keep it as short as possible. While miserable at the time, I'm glad it happened because it completely changed the way I look at hatemobs / doxxing / mob mentality.

    So, I am very active in my local music scene. About a year before this incident I had opened up a spotify collaborative playlist and added all the local bands I could find, encouraging others to add their music as well. At one point, I returned to the playlist and turned off the collab option and with the intention of adding new artists and updating the playlist. I made a few facebook posts on a few local pages to get submissions, and got a decent response and follows. At one point, a user in the group pointed out (quite hostiley) that some of the songs had titles that seemed to encourage violence towards women (long story short they were a horror punk band, I won't begin to defend their choice in song titles but their titles were things like "Dead Cheerlearder", "Dead Boyfriend", "Dead Girlfriend", "Dead Cop", just stupid, shock humor.) I am still not sure if I added those songs or the band in question added them before I turned off the collab feature.

    I pointed out, while stupid, it's just their thing and the genre is kinda known for having shock type humor. And furthermore, they don't focus on women, it was just stupid song titles that involved all genders/jobs/whatever. By this time, the original commented had started tagging people who had previously asked to be on the playlist and I started getting comments/messages asking to be taken off the playlist and calls of me being a misogynist. Some other people on the opposite side started jumping in with anti-PC rhetoric which only served to make things 100x worse.

    People were going to my profile, finding my band, my promotion company and things I have been working on for years and calling them out publically. Everyone had clearly forgotten this entire thing was over a spotify playlist. While I did not agree with the outrage, I explained that I would take them down when I was at my computer later on that night. Ignoring these explanations more artists were tagged who weren't even involved with the playlist. I also run a basement venue and a band who was scheduled to headline that next weekend informed us they were no longer playing and made a post calling out me and my promotion company for being misogynist.

    My biggest mistake was not deleting the post sooner, but when you're in this type of situation and have no experience with actual PR meltdowns, you're not really thinking straight. The weird thing is, as mentioned earlier, I'm glad it happened. I DM'd that band who dropped off that weekends show apologizing, saying that things got way out of proportion. Funnily enough, that original band with the "Dead Girlfriend" song titles? That's the lead singers boyfriends band and she said shes asked him to stop writing songs with titles like that. Obviously I did not invite them back. Months later, we got emails from the same people who were losing their minds in my original post, asking to be put on shows or be featured on our site.

    These people didn't care what the actual issue was or who their outrage was directed at. They just wanted something to be mad about and half of them didn't even know what the original issue was. It was actually insane. We played damage control for about 3 days or so (thats 2 days after the original post was deleted.) I had never felt so alienated in my entire life. We luckily had a lot of local friends/artists who were there to help and stomp out rumors but it still was a really rough few weeks. Moral of the story is, before you join a hate brigade, understand what the actual issue is and take a look at the people who are at the center of it. I've found that a lot of the time, this stuff stems from a massive understanding.

    11 votes
  5. Diet_Coke
    Link
    I made this post in another thread: Some other takeaways: These people are uniformly ignorant. I would say none of them actually knew about the post that got deleted, or why it did. When I was...

    I made this post in another thread:

    I faced an online hate mob not too long ago, over a post I removed in r/FloridaMan because it had a shitty title. I made the decision to remove it on a Thursday night. The poster then made another post complaining about it, and instead of deleting it I basically said tough shit, leave if you don't like it. The entitled greasy masses didn't like that one bit. How dare a moderator stand firm for some basic standards? I went to bed. Friday morning, my inbox was just full of the most ridiculous, shitty messages. (E: having seen the messages that the developer here got, they're basically the same) At first I was actually kind of mad. I look at modding that subreddit as basically just a really easy hobby, and it's fairly low maintenance 99% of the time. I made a really routine removal, and now all of a sudden there's this internet lynch mob?

    I started arguing with them. At first, I was trying to explain why the post was shitty and why it was removed. That didn't go over well. Then I basically just started giving it right back to them. I told them they were stupid, they were losers, and made sure to constantly remind them they were seeking out and harassing a stranger over another stranger's internet points. And you know what? Most of them stopped replying after a round or two because (I assume) they had a moment of self reflection.

    What was interesting to me was that, outside of Reddit, I had an awesome day and weekend. Killed it at work, got off early, hung out with a cutie at her parents' lake house, it was great. I honestly think that's the best way to deal with these situations, is just unplug for a bit because none of it really matters anyway. I probably did waste a couple hours of time typing at these people. I 'lost' a bunch of karma, which I made up one day later with a four word post that got 3.2K karma. r/FloridaMan gained a few thousand subscribers that weekend. The traffic stats don't even show a fluctuation when it happened. Basically, none of it mattered at all.

    Some other takeaways:

    These people are uniformly ignorant. I would say none of them actually knew about the post that got deleted, or why it did. When I was explaining myself, I got a ton of 'u think I'm gonna read 5 whole sentences' type of comments. I got a lot of comments trying to say that mods are just there to remove spam and child pornography. My favorite was a comment that asked why I didn't give the submitter a chance to edit his post before deleting it - well, because Reddit doesn't let you edit posts.

    These people project their insecurities on you and try to accuse you of them.

    Here's my favorite message that I received:

    How does it feel;

    Being the mule? Being the jack of all fails, Being the kickaround, Being the simpleton, Being the fool amongst men?

    The nogooder’ The failure The infamous The mutt The lowdone The tomfooler The conniving?

    The dunce? The cuckler? The uglier than a 7 day clock?

    The virgin.

    And finally

    The gay?

    i had sex with your mom

    When you call them out on their projection and give it back to them, they act like any other bully and give up. They also love to make fun of you for wasting your time, until you point out that you're just responding to your inbox and they're seeking you out.

    I'd also bet most of the ones harassing me were kids, given that the thing they were all riled up about happened overnight on a Thursday, during the summer. They probably don't have a lot of IRL friends and want to feel like they belong to something.

    Also, Reddit doesn't do jack shit to prevent this behavior.

    But my biggest takeaway is definitely that these mobs only have the power you give them. If you let them get under your skin, they will do that. If you deny them the power to do so, then you win.

    10 votes
  6. sublime_aenima
    Link
    I was a bit of a powermod on reddit and I didn't mind throwing rocks at the hive so I've had a fair bit of the harrassment, stalking, doxing, etc. The first time it happened was the worst...

    I was a bit of a powermod on reddit and I didn't mind throwing rocks at the hive so I've had a fair bit of the harrassment, stalking, doxing, etc.

    The first time it happened was the worst experience for me. I had enough information out there so that someone was able to determine where I live and threatened to shoot my kids in front of me and my wife. They named a some specific locations near me, enough to have me get the admins involved and file a report with my local police. After that, I made sure to scrub all identifying information from my account and I was very selective over what truthful information I put on reddit.

    I set up an account so that I would get a notification from pastebin every time my username would pop up. I would get a notification at least once every other month. Usually it was a list of mods that the person(s) thought were cancerous, but every once in a while it was someone listing everything they knew about me (which was never much). Still, it was useful to know when someone was trying to gather info about me.

    Because I had very little personal info out there, I was often the mod that had to be the bad guy. My response was typically to either lean into the harassment and take on whatever boogeyman they perceived me to be. Depending upon the subreddit and the rule the person broke, I was typically a SJW or Nazi (sometimes both). Other times I would simply respond with copypasta (post and comment are copypasta) and/or gifs mocking their outrage, gifs mocking them, or copypasta gifs. I enjoyed the drama and would often instigate the drama in order to take the attention of some of my other mods.

    One time I got drunk on a Friday night and went trolling in subredditcancer after a different mod nuked a controversial thread in a different sub. In SRC, I was as immature and over the top as I could be. The result was something like 9 threads on reddit and over 16 on 4chan throughout the weekend. My inbox had hundreds of PMs after that weekend and they trickled in over the next couple months. Most PMs echoed the comments in the thread linked above, but others were much more explicit and hateful. They typically ranged from wishing me hurt/dead, to graphically explaining how they were going to rape me or kill me.

    I was once doxxed by a company that was trying to use reddit as the base for their chat service. They had been getting promoted by lots of subs, but had some shady stuff popping up. I called them out on it and ended up getting harassed at my work email, and cell phone. That led to the app getting banned from reddit, several accounts getting banned and the company folded. That whole event made the news, which amused me.

    I had a person create a couple subreddits that were centered around me raping them and another about me raping their mom. I have no idea what information was on the subs as they were private, then banned after someone linked them to me and I asked the admins for access so I could see what was there. Another person created over 100 accounts to stalk me over the course of several months. They would link child porn and gore to subs that I moderated, or would link them in comments to me in other subs. People get worked up over sometimes the weirdest things, usually from already being on edge over stuff that happened offline. Sometimes people would come back at a later date and apologize for having a bad day, but 99% of the time I would never hear back from someone after a day or two.

    6 votes
  7. Douglas
    (edited )
    Link
    Mine's not all that big of a deal: The harassment consisted of a kid who didn't like a discourse I'd had with him on Reddit about how white cismales (like myself) should avoid or sparingly use...

    Mine's not all that big of a deal:

    The harassment consisted of a kid who didn't like a discourse I'd had with him on Reddit about how white cismales (like myself) should avoid or sparingly use colloquialisms whose origins are rooted in demographics that are still struggling with uphill battles in equal rights/representation/etc. (e.g. "bitch," "retarded," etc.).

    After he stopped responding to the public thread, he somehow found my real name, my wife's name, and my job-- and expressed that to me in a private message with something like "It would be a shame if something were to happen to your supposed 'privilege'."

    This kid was foolish enough to've used his real name as his username, which was very unique. So I just quickly Googled him back and sent back all the stuff I knew about him, and how silly it was for him to've escalated the situation. He also had a subreddit devoted to himself with just him and his friends. It was quite laughable.

    The takeaway was that I should make more efforts to anonymize myself. So I've started using different screennames wherever I go, and used Delete Me's DIY instructions to de-list myself from every public record wherever possible. I also just started posting in multiple city subreddits when I could, and would obfuscate my age and any small details about stories I'd tell (e.g. swap sister for brother, friend for son, etc.).

    4 votes