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Preyed Online

Cyber Bullied

The time when a girl is about to bloom into a young lady should be exciting and special. Sadly, Susan lived in fear of a nameless, faceless threat. Somebody abused the anonymity of the internet to bully Susan. Only when that evil mask was stripped away could Susan be freed from her prison of fear.

I received this SMS from my friend, “Did you create a new MySpace account? It doesn’t sound like your style…” I followed the link my friend forward to me and opened a page that had all my particulars – including my telephone number and work address. It was obviously the work of a prankster. But it was a prankster who knew me well. I don’t give out my mobile number easily.

The photos looked familiar. I opened my own Friendster account. Yes. The photos had been copied from there. The pictures were easy to download. That was the whole point of the account, to make it easy for me to share pictures with my friends. I had never dreamed that they would be used maliciously.

Scrolling through the comments column, I was even more shocked. There were messages like “Lonely and bored. Call me.” My face flamed in anger and humiliation. The commends made me look like a loose lady!

I quickly switched my computer off. I felt so sick that I couldn’t bring myself to examine the fake page. Somehow, I could not be as easygoing with my friends and colleagues after that. I caught myself wondering if one of them might be the prankster.

My mobile phone buzzed and I checked my message. The message, from an unknown number, said, “Honey, heard you needed some company. Call me.” Shocked and disgusted, I deleted the message immediately. Then, I regretted my hasty action. Should I have at least tried to check how the person got my number?

I didn’t know it at that time, but that SMS was only the first of many to come. If only it had stopped with the SMSes. Not long after that, a middle-aged man came to my office and said that he had an appointment with me.

Confused, I told him that I did not know him. He said that he had responded to my MySpace email and had been told to come to my office to meet up. During the conversation, I was extremely conscious of the colleagues around me.

Are they laughing at me? If one of them was the prankster, would she be having the time of her life? It was difficult to keep my cool, but I told the disgusting old man to leave. I was afriad he would cause a scene.

I emailed the MySpace help desk administrator, anybody I could think of. I felt like I was going in circles for days and days. At the end of the whole frustrating exercise, they said they could only “monitor the site”.

To make matters worse, I found that another fake page had been started, this time in Friendster. Again, my telephone number and other private information had been posted up.

The SMSes and phone calls from strangers increased. It got to a point where I had to change my phone number. It cost cost me some inconvenience but I was hoping it would buy me peace of mind. Imagine my shock when, just days later, my new number was posted on the fake accounts!

Around this time, some acquaintances started giving me the cold shoulder. I later learned that they believed I posted the false and offensive information on those fake accounts. More and more, I found myself apologising and making up for the prankster’s malice.

One wise and good friend finally told me, “If these people believe that you posted all that stuff, they must not know you very well. They are not true friends. So you should not lose sleep over it.” It was sad but true. Through this nasty incident, I was learning who my real friends were.

I continued my campaign to get the fake accounts shut down. Some would be closed by the administrators, but as soon as one was closed, another fake account would be launched, with vicious messages and attacks on my friends and colleagues. I was so afraid that I would be fired from my job.

I wasn’t aware of it, but my behaviour towards others had changed after all that had happened. I became defensive and easily angered. I was suspicious of everybody and became very withdrawn. My first action every day was to power up my computer and check the fake accounts. I fumed and worried about the contents the rest of the day.

All this while, I did not talk much about the problem with my parents as I did not want them to worry. However, they noticed my depressed state and advised me to make a police report. I didn’t think that the police would concern themselves with such a trivial case. Had a crime ever been committed?

However, my parents were very supportive and accompanied my to the station to lodge a report. I showed the policemen all the information I had on the prankster. The police did take the case seriously. They followed the SMS and email trails and located the person. Her identity did not come as a surprise to me. It was indeed a person within my circle of acquaintances. The crime was serious enough that the case was brought to the juvenile court.

The mother of the prankster personally appealed to me not to press charges. Although I was touched by her request, I decided that it was best to file a Police Protection Order. The mystery of how she obtained my mobile phone number every time I changed it was cleared up. We had a mutual friend, and she would look through his friend’s mobile phone whenever my friend left it unattended.

Through this incident, I realised that criminals have no second thoughts about using information we may consider private and untouchable – for example, friends’ mobile phone numbers, emails and photos – for their own malicious plans.

I have learnt to think carefully about consequences before posting personal information and phots of myself and my friends online or even sending them via email.