Bullying, abuse, and character assassination are as old as “civilization” itself, and fake social media and online accounts created to sabotage, humiliate, and discredit others are as old as, well, Facebook and dating sites, I guess. Whilst it’s widely acknowledged that these things happen, it always amazes me how reluctant many people are to listen to you when you tell them that whatever they’ve seen or heard about you is not actually true. Why do people find it so easy to believe scandalous rumours and gossip circulating online, and a fake profile professing to be you, yet they find it so hard to believe something that you are telling them directly to their face?
Within just a few generations, the Internet and smart technology have completely transformed our lives and changed the world forever. We have incredibly powerful tools at our fingertips that can be used as a force for good or a force for evil. Whilst most of us use the Internet and social media responsibly for work or entertainment, a significant number of people are using it to abuse, bully, and sabotage others.
The Internet can be a pretty lawless place, and if you become the target of unscrupulous people it can feel like the wild-west. Unless you are famous or extremely rich and armed with a team of lawyers, private investigators, and tech experts, it is almost impossible to control what others are doing to your image on-line.
Nowadays, abusive people can launch an attack on their morning coffee-break that has gone viral by lunchtime. Rumours, lies, and gossip may be spiralling out of control in cyber-space whilst the victim remains unaware of the dramas unfolding round them, of which they have been cast as the unwitting star. Of course, cyber-space is not Las Vegas, what happens in cyber-space, does not necessarily stay there. Online attacks spill over into the real-world and can have a very real impact on our reputations, relationships, careers, and friendships. Which is of course, exactly what the perpetrators want. What may be seen as just a bit of malicious “fun” could well be a part of an elaborate campaign to discredit someone and do their reputation some serious damage.
But why would someone do that?
The reason so many people find it so hard to believe you when you tell them that you have been the target of online sabotage is because nice, normal, decent people simply can’t understand why someone would want to do that to someone else. It’s easier for them to believe that you are being crazy, paranoid, over-sensitive or imagining things than it is for them to believe that someone would go to so much trouble to set up fake accounts and online profiles with the intention of hurting you and damaging your reputation and relationships.
So why on earth would someone go to all the trouble of setting up fake accounts and on-line profiles?
Well, firstly, setting up fake accounts and online profiles is quick and easy, it’s no trouble at all. All you need is an email address or telephone number and you can create any profile you like in a matter of minutes.
Yes, but why would anyone bother?
As to why someone would want to attack you personally, there are many, many reasons…
Revenge for some real or imagined slight. You may have done something to anger a spiteful, vengeful person. Or… perhaps you are completely innocent but they are ill-informed idiots who believe you have done something that justifies their wrath. In my experience, vengeful people don’t tend to be the most intelligent or rational human-beings.
There is something about you that fills them with envy. They despise you because you represent something they want or wish they could be. Their fragile little egos can’t bear to see you happy and successful, so they want to trash your image and make you suffer. Maybe it’s a jealous co-worker who is enraged by the commissions you’re earning or an acquaintance who covets your lifestyle or popularity.
They see you as a threat and want to eliminate their rivals, either on a personal, romantic, or business level. They’re too weak, pathetic, impatient, or lazy to fight you fairly, so they resort to underhand tactics. They don’t care about integrity; they just want instant results and know that by damaging your reputation they can fast-track your demise.
Perhaps you are not actually the final target, you’re just collateral damage, a means to an end. Maybe their real target is the company you work for or your close friends, family, or allies. The perpetrators believe that their real target to too powerful to take on so are looking for a weaker link. By attacking you, they are hoping to undermine the reputation and image of the people or organizations that you are associated with.
To intimidate, silence or discredit someone:
Perhaps you know something incriminating or scandalous that could seriously damage your tormentors if it got out. They are worried that you’ll reveal the truth so want to silence or intimidate you. Perhaps you are a victim of their abuse in real-life and they are terrified that you’ll tell everyone what they did to you. Maybe it’s an ex that secretly filmed you and shared intimate images and videos of you. Maybe they are ex-colleagues who drugged and assaulted you at a work party. By launching a smear campaign to ridicule you and destroy your reputation, they are hoping that you will either disappear, shut up, or that your image will be so badly damaged that you’ll become an unsympathetic victim. By creating the illusion that you are emotionally or mentally unstable, dishonest, suffer from additions or have “loose morals”, they can discredit you so you’ll be written off as an “unreliable witness”. Should you choose to speak up about your experiences, people are less likely to listen to you or take you seriously.
Perhaps you represent a group of people that your tormentors despise, and they wish to silence or denigrate you. They may be misogynists, racists, intolerant of different religions, cultures, or sexual orientations etc. Maybe their attacks are purely a product of their prejudices, ignorance, and fear. They may be politically motivated or designed to intimidate and suppress members of certain communities and you have somehow got caught up in the crossfire.
Maybe your tormentors are just abhorrent scumbags with nothing better to do. Destroying you and your reputation may just be a game for them. For whatever reason, they have decided that manipulating other people’s perception of you would be entertaining.
Mental health issues or disorders:
Maybe the people doing this to you suffer from a serious personality disorder or have emotional problems and mental health issues. I personally believe that anyone that feels compelled to treat someone so inhumanely or takes pleasure in making other people suffer must have some kind of problem. Did you know that it is estimated that just over one percent of the general adult population are psychopaths? In some studies that figure is thought to be closer to 4%. Therefore, statistically speaking you are extremely likely to be in regular contact with at least one psychopath either at work, at home, or in your social circles. Whilst, the vast majority of psychopaths don’t fit the Hollywood stereotype of deranged killers, if you accidentally cross one, or if you attract their attention and they decide that you would be an easy or fun target to “play with”, you may well be in trouble.
A combination of the above.
Sometimes, there are a lot of different elements at play all at once. They combine to create a perfect storm, sending a hurricane of hate and a tornado of drama, scandal, gossip and lies ripping through your life.
So next time someone tries to explain to you that they are being sabotaged, instead of automatically writing them off as a melodramatic attention-seeker, please pause for a moment and consider the possibility that they are actually telling the truth. After all,
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22.
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