Every once in a while a blogger will share a personal story so intense it cuts right through me … and the entire Internet. Leo Traynor, a writer living in Dublin, Ireland, who keeps a personal blog about his life “as seen through (his) jaundiced eye,” has written a jaw-dropping, heart-stopping tale about the abuse he and his family endured for three years at the hands of an Internet troll. I’d call it cyberbullying, but that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what this troll did to Traynor systematically over the years. Not only was Traynor subject to cyber terrorism, the online abuse eventually turned into real-world threats attached to grotesque deliveries made to Traynor’s doorstep.
There isn’t a single blogger in the world who hasn’t been the recipient of some unnecessarily nasty, personally insulting comments here and there. Like it or not, we all accept that sort of thing as par for the course, an unfortunate part of what is largely a really amazing medium to work in. It’s helpful to handle these comments with humor, or to sometimes fight fire with fire. The good news is, these comments can be shut down with a verbal warning or deleted if necessary. But direct messages, emails – these are different types of attacks. These are meant to corner a person in private, and Traynor dealt with an onslaught of them calling him things like “dirty f*cking Jewish scumbag.” This happened “two or three times a week. Sometimes two or three times a day,” he says. Traynor’s wife began to get messages like, “Your husband is scum. A rotten b*stard and you’re a wh*re.” In a blog post written yesterday, Traynor says, “The whole thing escalated in June, July and August this year …. I received a parcel at my home address …. I ripped it open and there was a tupperware lunchbox inside full of ashes. There was a note included, ’Say hello to your relatives from Auschwitz.’”
As you can imagine, Traynor said he felt “petrified” because his tormentor knew his address. “Two days later,” he writes, “I opened my front door and there was a bunch of dead flowers with my wife’s old Twitter username on it. Then that night I recieved a DM. ‘You’ll get home some day & ur b**ches throat will be cut & ur son will be gone.’” And this is perhaps the scariest part of the whole story: no matter how many times Traynor contacted police, they said there was nothing they could do. So Traynor took matters into his own hands.
Every night for weeks I lost sleep over it. Listening for noises. Opening the door everday with trepidation. Trying to maintain a semblance of normality and not let my wife or son see that I was dying on the inside. Mortified that they might be in danger because of my big mouth or ancestry.
Then the last straw. I received another tweet, on the public timeline this time ‘I hope you die screaming but not until you see me p*ss on ur wife’
I closed my account immediately and swore I’d never go back, in spite of the friends I have there.
I made it clear that I would pursue the troll or trolls and that I would take action. What I didn’t say though was that I’d already been pursuing them for weeks and had a very good idea where, if not who, they were.
Traynor had a friend identify the IP addresses from which these horrifying comments had been sent, and he discovered that “the abuse had emanated from three separate IP addresses in different corners of Ireland. Two of them were public wifi locations but the third….”
…was his friend’s house. Traynor says, plainly, “The Troll was his son. His 17yr old son.”
And that’s when my heart bled inside my chest.
Traynor spoke with his friend who explained that “his son was always glued to his laptop, tablet or smartphone,” and that “he’d become engrossed in conspiracy sites.” Traynor confirmed this teen had in fact used all three IP addresses, and arranged a meeting with the boy and his parents, unbeknownst to the boy. I won’t paste the details of their meeting here. You should go read Traynor’s unbelievably gripping post to get the end of the story.
I am almost too shell-shocked to really know what to say here, but I’ll try to give you my gut reaction as someone who was attacked by trolls once, who has written a lot about cyberbullying and watched it cause suicide after suicide, as a parent and as a concerned citizen and artist: This. Is. Horrifying. Most particularly because the target here is, as he describes himself, “a middle aged man with a limp and a wheeze and a son and a wife that I love.” Traynor says as a result of this abuse he became “so paranoid that (he) genuinely didn’t know who to trust anymore.”
For some people, for those who understand the world as a harsh place that we are all responsible to steel ourselves against, it would be easy to criticize Traynor for not having dealt with this problem swiftly and effectively enough to nip it in the bud before it escalated to the level that it did. But Traynor did all the right things: he blocked the troll time and time again, but the user kept changing accounts. He reported the abuses to the authorities. He deleted his Twitter account. The real question here is: why aren’t there more legal protections against this sort of terrifying taunting? And most importantly, what led a 17-year-old boy to want to attack a family friend in such a disgusting, malicious way? Something he called, when confronted, “a game thing.” Turning life into a horror movie. It’s just a game. I hope it’s not too late for this child to redeem himself. I really do.
How do I end a post like this? With some lame reminder to “know what your kids are doing on the Internet!” To be tactile with your kids, to put troubled or explosive kids in therapy when they’re young so they don’t grow up to be psychopathic monsters? To protect yourself online and not let any shame or embarrassment you might feel about being targeted prevent you from taking action in order to keep yourself and your family safe? Should I lament the culture of Anonymous trolls and mean girls and angry commenters? Should I accept this dynamic as a part of life and move on, realizing there have always been bullies, sociopaths and psychos and there always will be? What is the answer here? Because all I know is that I feel so sick and sad thinking about this poor man and the emotional upheaval he surely has experienced as a result of this ordeal. It’s lame. I feel lame. Not helpless. Just … at a loss.
Then again, maybe the point of Traynor’s story doesn’t lie in what he went through, but how he handled it. How in the end he is the victor. Maybe I should wish this man further strength in his resiliency. Congratulate his bravery. Admire the way he refused to retaliate. Applaud his compassion. Cheer his love for his family. Support him and tell him he is not alone in trying to rise above madness, to not be drowned by the dark souls of this world.
Leo Traynor: you are not alone. Thank you for reminding so many of us that we are not alone, either.
This is the story of the Internet.
Photo via Traynor’s Google+ profile.