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How Online Bullies Took the Fun Out of Blogging

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I’ve been quiet around here this year, and there is a reason why. During quarantine and all the many crises that that occurred during that time, people got meaner. People looked for an outlet for their anger. Some of those people found me.

Before I go further, I know that I am so incredibly lucky to work for myself. I have my dream job! I am extremely fortunate to have a steady passive income. Of course, it took years and years of very hard work to get here; it didn’t just fall into my lap. I have enough prior work experience to know that I have it much better than I did before. But, just because I have a covetable profession, it doesn’t mean that I should face online bullies. No one should have to deal with that.

2020 and the first part of 2021 were not easy for anyone. During that time, I was pregnant, had a baby, and did my best to navigate new motherhood. It was a tough time to become a parent. Not only did I fear contracting a deadly disease, all of the birth and childcare classes that we wanted to take were cancelled. We were left to figure things out ourselves. Plus, I did all of this over a thousand miles away from my family. Once our child was born we didn’t have any childcare. It wasn’t easy. It was lonely and stressful at times. There were days and weeks when I felt completely burnt out and exhausted. But, since we were in the midst of a pandemic and far from family, I couldn’t call anyone to come help.

Online friendships became an important lifeline for me. During a time when I went months without seeing anyone other than my husband and baby, online connections became more meaningful.

At first, everyone was scared for their health and safety as we entered mandatory lock downs. I was about 24 weeks pregnant at the time, just recovering from severe morning sickness, and I was terrified to leave my house even to go to the doctor. When I expressed this fear and said that it wasn’t a fun time to be pregnant, I got bombarded with nasty messages from an acquaintance. I had to block her. I’d just suffered through a 3 hour glucose test, 4 blood draws, walked a mile to and from the doctor in the snow, and I was fearful that I could have caught covid from the small amount of human interaction I had just experienced. The stress of it, and the mean words, reduced me to tears. Her words were so unnecessary; yet she chose to say hurtful things to me.

As American politics became more heated, things took a turn. Suddenly, people who I considered to be online friends would send nasty middle of the night messages. When I shared family photos a week after George Floyd’s murder, I received a middle of the night message telling me that I should be embarrassed for sharing that sort of thing when more important things were going on in the country. This person – who is not a stranger yet claims to be – apologized in the morning (this was very appreciated), but I had already seen the message and lost sleep over it. She later admitted to missing my dozens of Stories and my blog post devoted to the Black Lives Matter cause.

This person seems to have left Instagram which is why I didn’t anonymize the username.

Someone who I had been dm-ing with for years also sent messages in the middle of the night. Please note, that at the time she was messaging me, Obama hadn’t even made a statement yet. I wasn’t aware that being one of the first to speak up about incidents of racial injustice was a requirement for a blogger. I use Obama as an example because he is someone whose opinion I seek to help inform my own in times of turbulence.

It was an emotional time. It was a stressful time. But being mean to someone online didn’t do anything to make it better. These are people who instead of channeling their emotions into a way to create positive change, decided to aggressively lash out at an exhausted pregnant woman / new mother who was desperately missing her family and friends. And frankly, the social pressure of needing to make statements about situations that I knew nothing about was bad for my mental health. All I wanted to do was to spend time with my newborn. Instead, I found myself pouring over news articles so that I could try to say the right thing and avoid more verbal abuse online.

I remember shivering and crying on the couch on a night when BLM protests took over Chicago. I had mastitis and a 103 degree fever. All the pharmacies were closed so the prescription I needed couldn’t be picked up. I was scared of needing to leave my apartment to go to the ER if my fever didn’t break. And people were still sending nasty messages. They couldn’t see me. They didn’t understand that they were tearing down a real life person who was dealing with something else. I felt so completely defeated.

People on Instagram asked me if it is hard not to take the comments personally. For me, every one of these comments (and there were many more than the few I shared) hit hard. You just have to do your best to forget it and move on. I try to think that the person isn’t upset with me, they just needed a place to channel their feelings.

With the arrival of the new year, things started to seem like they were getting better. We got a new president, we finally moved into a new home away from an unpleasant neighbor, and a vaccine was on the horizon. The world seemed to be getting brighter.

Until, very suddenly, it got much worse. Here is the thing about that person you are being mean to, you don’t necessarily know what is going on in their life.

At the start of March, the company that my husband had worked for very quickly went out of business. It came out of nowhere. It truly shocked us and his colleagues. It almost felt like a breakup. He had been with that company for six years and he let it dominate his life. He would spend a bit of time working every day when we were on vacation and he worked every day of his paternity leave. We thought it would all be worth it in the end. Instead, the company failed and we lost a lot of money. He never even got paid for his final month of work. We had just moved and spent nearly all of our savings on our new home. It was a scary time for the major earner of the household to be unemployed. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before he found a new job (with actual work/life balance!), but the uncertainty of those few weeks was unnerving and we had many sleepless nights.

Do you know what I was dealing with on top of this? TikTok. I’ve mentioned this before, but someone stole one of my photos and used it as their TikTok profile picture. That person then started to leave extremely racist comments on other people’s videos on TikTok.

I brushed this off at first since it seemed like the person might have been trying to extort me. I reported the account to TikTok and assumed they would take it down.

I was alerted to this when I received a shady email from a young man asking me if I was the person behind the TikTok account and racist comments. When I told him that someone stole my photo, he still went ahead and started to post videos including my photo responding to those comments.

These are a few of the comments I received. Some people went out of their way to leave comments on all of my social media profiles and to send private messages. When I explained that someone stole my photo they didn’t stop leaving comments or apologize.

What started as a simmer quickly turned to a boil as these videos received thousands of views and people began to reverse image search the profile photo on TikTok. They started to come for me. They found me on every social media platform and left hateful public messages calling me a racist. They refused to believe me when I told them that someone had stolen my photo and that the racist comments were not mine.

I really appreciated when people gave support and tried to stop the mean commenters.

The person who had emailed me and who was creating his own response videos had convinced some of these people that he had hacked into TikTok to get the IP address of the user and that I was the person making the racist comments. None of this makes sense but it is what happened.

I know what you are thinking: Why didn’t I report all this to TikTok? I did. Repeatedly. For weeks. I consulted with attorneys. I filled out copyright violation forms on the TikTok site. I reported the account using my photos. I did all of this on a near daily basis for three weeks. Eventually, after much begging, I got the young man who posted the initial videos that were going somewhat viral to remove them. This is someone that KNEW that the person in the photo wasn’t the person making the racist comments. Yet, he went ahead, created videos using my image, and watched as his comments blew up with people saying things like “Let’s get her fired.” People shared my name and personal information in the comments. He could have deleted the videos at any time. He should have realized that this was harming my life. At first, he even refused to delete his videos because he “was making a lot of money from them”.

It wasn’t until I tagged this guy on Instagram and he watched my Instagram Stories that he saw that I am just a mom trying to make it through my day. And that constantly monitoring my social media accounts to delete hate speech being thrown at me was that last thing I needed.

Luckily, the creator took this down quickly, but she told people that they needed to go after me because I was the person who could have TikTok remove the racist profile.

Even though the guy took down his videos, the TikTok account using my photo was still up. TikTok kept rejecting my requests and copyright claims. Things kept escalating. When my family was going through an extremely challenging and stressful time, I was dealing with people on TikTok telling everyone to “Go after Kit Graham”.

Eventually, I got in touch with someone via the TikTok Support account on Twitter and they removed the offensive account and all response videos. Up until this point, I continued to receive hateful messages on my social media accounts.

It felt so unfair. I had spent months standing up for causes that I believe in, including Black Lives Matter which I posted about repeatedly. I donated two week’s worth of my advertising revenue to causes aligned with BLM and to charities that provided much needed assistance to people impacted by Covid. I do deeply care about racial equality and suddenly everything that I had been saying for months got erased because a stranger stole my photo. The worst part is that the angry mob left comments on work that I had done for my biggest client. I have a hunch that I lost work because of these comments.

All of these incidents made me want to hide. I felt like putting my life out into the world was making me a target. The pandemic and everything that happened during that time made my job less about creativity and more about saying the right thing and avoiding the haters.

I want to return to blogging. It IS my job. It’s how I earn an income to contribute to my family. It’s not something that I can just walk away from. That wouldn’t make sense since I am able to balance caring for my child while working from home. The idea of working outside the home and paying someone to watch my daughter doesn’t make sense financially, nor is it something that I want to do.

Here is the deal. I don’t want to spend my days researching current events. I don’t think that my opinion matters that much. I am not a public figure. I am a lower-tier blogger who makes just enough to call it a full time career. Researching current events so that I can make a public statement about something that I have no expertise on isn’t a good use of my time. It takes time away from my family and my job and those two things need to come first. Plus, no one should be coming to me for the news. Please get your news from an actual news outlet.

I hope that this makes sense. I feel like I have been torn down by strangers so many times in the past 16 months. I am exhausted. I don’t understand why people are so mean or why people are choosing to take time out of their day to be mean to me. Please, don’t go out of your way to be mean to someone. Don’t bully people you don’t know. Bloggers and influencers share a slice of their lives and not the whole story. You never know what else someone is dealing with, and just because we live more public lives, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have feelings.

My point in writing this isn’t to complain. I wanted to give insight into what I have faced in the past 16 months. All of the anger that was directed at me caused me so much stress. It harmed my mental health at a time when I had so much on my plate already.

If you take anything away from this, know that your words have weight. Know that cancel culture can get out of control and can move forward while ignoring the facts. In my case, I was the victim of having my image stolen, and people rallied against me because of words someone else said. Above all else, you can take time to make someone’s day better, or you can destroy it. Please just be kind.

While professionally I had a very tough time in the past year, personally, my life was filled with so much joy. I’ve often talked about how much happiness my daughter has brought to my life. She is the most important part of my life and she brightened the hard days. Two things can be true. I can be incredibly happy to be a mother while also feeling intense moments of sadness and fear. It doesn’t always have to be one thing or the other. Just because people make their life appear one way on social media, it doesn’t mean that you are seeing the full story.

To those of you who have gone out of your way to show kindness to me in the past year; it has been so appreciated.

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