Diet & Weight Magazine

When Online Trolls Become In-Person Stalkers

By Danceswithfat @danceswithfat

21 Getting out of the waterI’ve written before about some of the ridiculous antics of my trolls. My IRONMAN 70.3 last weekend upped the ante, and resulted in not just online troll shenanigans, but also creepy in-person stuff. I’ve gone back and forth about how much of this to disclose – both because it will be disturbing to some people, and because of the idea that you “shouldn’t give trolls attention.” I understand that attitude and it’s how I deal with it most of the time, but today I think it’s time to talk about what’s been happening.

I know that some people may find this triggering and/or deeply disturbing and if you don’t want to read about it I totally support you in that, I’ll be back tomorrow with my usual blog fare.  Regardless please know that all of this has been reported, it is being monitored, I’m okay, and this won’t stop me from my activism, or my IRONMAN goal.

I’ve been harassed every single day for years by these people.  Most message come into my e-mail either sent directly or by blog comment, some are sent by FB private message, and a few are posted on my Facebook page. I delete those that are public and never publish the rest (unless they are interesting enough to make my hatemail page, which I haven’t had the time to update in a while.) They also troll  every interview and article about me, and everything I write that is published online, and I can’t always control the comments there.

A few years ago they started seriously trying to affect my livelihood,  they contact colleges, corporations and conferences that hire me to speak trying to get the talks canceled (including those I don’t make public which is pretty creepy), they contact publishers and people partnering with me telling them that they shouldn’t work with me. They’ve never been successful, which may be why they escalated.

It had started with constantly talking about me in fat hate forums. Then it was creating forums specifically about me, there is even someone who created an entire anti-me website (that is a tribute to rhetorical tautology and obsessive fixation.) That’s when the cyberstalking started. I started getting demands that I justify things in my past –  a quote that was printed in the margin of my tiny hometown paper when I was nine years old, a friend’s nickname, past dieting, my brother’s suicide, lies my father told in an interview, and more.  They try to get me to waste my time and energy answering a constant barrage of accusations and questions – it’s like have my very own little birthers and Benghazi committee.

I was doxxed with the excuse that if they were able to find the information then I deserved it, they created and disseminated a map from my home to the place I most often work out, they publish the details of events I attend or speak at, sometimes showing up to try to hijack the Q&A.

When I talk about what they do, they either claim it never happened or try to make it seem like I’m the problem and not them. My choice to do the IRONMAN has caused another escalation from online to in-person trolling and I think it’s important to talk about it so that they don’t get to do this to me in silence.  I’m going to talk about the online shenanigans and also the creepy scary in-person shenanigans.

Troll Shenanigans

The short story of the IM 70.3 is that I took 2 minutes too long on the swim and got pulled off the course.  After changing out of my wetsuit I got my phone and posted to my FB wall:

IM 70.3 was a Total disaster, way worse than my worst case scenario. 2 minutes over the time in the swim, didn’t even get on the bike. Thanks to everyone for your support. Sucks to have a setback like this, but now I have a year to get ready so I don’t feel like this next year at the full ironman. I’ll post a race report in at some point.

My family and I decided to go grab some lunch and by the time we got to the restaurant my FB page was trollapalooza – party at Reddit’s house and everyone’s invited!  They were also engaging in one of their very favorite pastimes – lying to accuse me of lying.  It’s very “meta.”

In this case the lie they had chosen was that I, in fact, didn’t finish the swim. Because they are not an organized army but rather a loosely affiliated group of jerks, things became a bit chaotic.  Some people said that I never got in the water. Some said that I had climbed out part way through. Some said that I had been pulled in by a rescue boat. When the dust cleared they decided to go with the story that I was pulled in by a rescue boat.

Soon people started to say that they were there and saw me being rescued.  My favorite said that she was there and saw me fail to complete the third loop of the swim and get rescued by a boat – which would have been slightly more plausible if the swim course wasn’t a single loop. This went on until my awesome Best Friend posted the picture of me that he had taken swimming up to the platform, and getting out of the water. Foiled again. Except some people didn’t get the memo and continued to post that they were there and saw me get pulled in by a rescue boat. Oops.

This is typical troll stuff, but the fact that they were posting it on my FB was pretty odd.  Instead of filling forums and websites with their hate, and sending it to me through comments and e-mails that nobody ever sees like they do every other day, my trolls were harassing and bullying me in public. So my FB friends were now seeing the hatred and vitriol that I usually try to protect them from.

The only reason I could think that the trolls did this was because they believed their own PR.  For months they had been telling me that if I failed at the IM 70.3 I would lose all of my readers, fans, friends, speaking gigs, etc. They insisted that because I set a personal goal of doing an IRONMAN, the validity of the rest of my work around Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size now depended on my succeeding at the endeavor (and every stage of it.)  I knew that wasn’t true, but I think that they accidentally started to believe their own lies.  Boy were they wrong.

What followed was a massive outpouring of support that has left me grateful, humbled, and crying tears of joy.  It’s a day on my FB thread, messages, and e-mail that I will go back to and read again on the tough days. Knowing that I would probably be away from my phone for awhile, people had taken it upon themselves to address the trolls on my Facebook wall until I could delete them, as well as posting on the wall, and sending private messages and e-mails filled with incredibly kind, supportive messages. Huge thanks to all of you for your support, you’ll never know how much it means to me.

But public online trolling wasn’t the only thing different about this day…

Creepy Scary IRL Trolls

The announcement of the IM caused another escalation, the trolls had become obsessed with every blog post and Facebook post I made, writing about them, tweeting about them, blogging about them, trying to get more information about my training using every tactic from insisting that I give it to them to pretending to be fans of my work. Meanwhile they kept telling me that they were engaging in letter writing campaigns to the IRONMAN organizers and that I would never be allowed to start.

Things got weird after I registered for a couple local triathlons.  I didn’t say anything about them publicly because I didn’t want the organizers to be harassed by my trolls. I ended up not doing them and after the second I got hundreds of e-mails/comments and even some posts on my FB wall telling me that they knew I hadn’t done them, as if I owe anyone an explanation for my training schedule.  I thought it was pretty creepy stalking behavior to have discovered that I had registered for two very small local triathlons, and extra creepy for posting about it online and contacting me to be sure I knew that they were stalking me at this level, but I brushed it off as just my trolls having too much free time.

That brings us to the IM 70.3.  I was standing in the athlete area at the swim start waiting for my wave to go. Another athlete walked up beside me and said “So what did reddit say this morning?”  I was so surprised I didn’t even think about it before answering him. “I didn’t look”  Then I asked, attempting to sound casual,  “How do you know about reddit?”  He stumbled through a story about how he was looking for information on this 70.3 and just happened to see a thread about me on reddit. I said that I thought those people needed to find a hobby of some kind, or volunteer somewhere, and he just looked away. In my experience anyone who has seen one of those forums and is not a troll agrees with me so I found it suspicious that he didn’t.

He then started telling me some story about learning how to swim three years ago. I half listened as I tried to calculate the odds that someone who just happened to stumble upon a reddit forums about me ended up standing next to me in a group of 1600 athletes, recognized me in a wetsuit, swim cap, and goggles, and thought it was appropriate to ask about a forum devoted to hating me, in a way that assumed I both knew about it and checked the forum.

Even though I thought that there was zero chance that this person wasn’t a troll (perhaps mostly because only a troll would think that at 3am on the morning of my IM 70.3 I would be checking reddit to remind myself how absolutely horribly they treat me) I decided to go with the charade that this was just some dude.  I congratulated him on his learning to swim, and wished him luck.

After the race I would find out that prior to the race the anti-me website had posted a minute by minute schedule of where I would be, including updating the site about my choice to wear my wetsuit and my 7:45am start time which I had talked about on my blog.

After my race ended, various forums and websites posted pictures and video that were taken of me and my family, some taken by people standing just feet away from me. Many of the pictures were taken after I had gotten out of the water and exited the athlete area, meaning that they couldn’t have been taken by someone competing in the race.  People online bragged about stalking me and my family, saying horrible things about my partner, my mother, and my best friend and his husband.

That’s when the paranoia started – I lost track of that guy after our conversation, had he been the one to kick me in the face? Had he been the one to grab my feet and pull me under water? When the results were published it showed a DNS (did not start) instead of a DNF (did not finish) I knew I crossed the timing mat so I assumed it was just some technical glitch, but now I wondered if they had they messed with my timing chip.  Laying in my bed that night there was a bright flash outside my window and I had a momentary panic that they were outside my hotel room taking pictures.

Other friends of mine who were there saw some of the people taking pictures and told me later that they got their faces on film. Apparently the stalkers saw this because they immediately started threatening lawsuits if their faces appeared anywhere.  (They’re not just the presidents of the “Dish it out but can’t take it” club, they’re also clients.)

They do it all anonymously, of course. Unlike me and the other fat activists, feminists etc. who they troll, they lack the courage to put their names to what they write. Often they try to justify their trolling – they say I deserve it because they disagree with me that fat people should be treated like human beings, or they disagree with the science behind HAES, or they believe me to be a liar/fraud/devil incarnate, one simile-happy troll recently compared me to Joe Camel.

I think, I hope, it’s pretty clear that regardless of what they think of me or my work, their behavior is ridiculously out of line. It’s a campaign of sustained harassment meant to silence me, to wear me down until I quit..  But it won’t work.  I will not be silenced, I will not be afraid, and I will keep speaking, and writing, and living my amazing life surrounded by love and support, and doing work that makes people’s lives better.  And I imagine that the trolls will keep standing outside, scratching at the windows trying to get in, desperate to feel like they are part of something. And how pathetic is that?

If you want the full race report and pictures from the IRONMAN 70.3  you can find them here.

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