SOCIETY

THE ANTI-ECKLER BLOGGERS HOST A ‘PARTY’

The guests seem to have little in common— except for hating me

REBECCA ECKLER February 4 2008
SOCIETY

THE ANTI-ECKLER BLOGGERS HOST A ‘PARTY’

The guests seem to have little in common— except for hating me

REBECCA ECKLER February 4 2008

THE ANTI-ECKLER BLOGGERS HOST A ‘PARTY’

The guests seem to have little in common— except for hating me

SOCIETY

REBECCA ECKLER

There’s a saying: “Never wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty and only the pig will enjoy it.” I think of this as I sip a vodka cranberry while spying on a gathering—in my honour—that took place one cold evening last week at a Toronto bar.

The guests at the “party” in my honour have only a few things in common as far as I can tell. They spend too much time on their computers. They have way too much time on their hands. They seem to experience joy only when trying to bring someone else down. And they hate me.

For months and months, they have described me as talentless, mentally ill, a sociopath and an idiot. They have discussed in minute detail every column, every story, every blog entry I

have ever written. They have debated about how many siblings I have, obsessed about the state of my relationship, my career, where I go grocery shopping, my friends, and have even discussed where my child goes to school. Sometimes they have bordered on cyberstalking: they even knew when I left my daughter’s school concert early. Along with trying to monitor what seems like every second of my life, they have posted lies (for example, that I have ghostwriters). Paranoid, they became convinced that every time someone posted something kind about me, it was me writing about myself (not true).

These “Coconuts,” as I’ve started calling them, do all this obsessing, and carry on all these vicious conversations, behind their computers, on a Rebecca Eckler parody blog, where they hide by posting fake names or by remaining anonymous. As far as I can tell, only one Coconut uses her real name, purely,

from what I can surmise, in an effort to restart her stalled career.

The Coconuts recently decided that hating me was enough of a reason for them to all meet up in person. Apparently, in the alternative universe that is cyberland, hating someone is a perfectly sane reason to meet strangers: “Damnit! I want to join the fun but I probably won’t be able to make it until 8ish,” one Coconut commented to the Coconut who was organizing the anti-Eckler party.

Not everyone was as gung-ho. At least one blogger seemed to realize that maybe the group’s creepy and cowardly anonymous cruelty should remain anonymous. “I can’t even tell you how tempting this idea of a meet-up is,” the blogger wrote. “But the thought of going somewhere to meet a bunch of folks who won’t even sign in with their actual blogger/gmail IDs (myself included) just seems scaaaary.”

When I heard about the party, I knew I had

to go and spy on who was there. I’m curious by nature, and besides I’d be writing a story. For me, this was a job. Unlike them, I’d be getting paid. Also, I have been shocked by the news of how cyberbullying and cyberharassment have affected other people.

Take Megan Meier, the 13-year-old girl who killed herself after a teenage boy flirted with her on MySpace in 2006. The boy ended their friendship, telling her that the world would be better off without her. After Megan’s suicide, it was revealed that there never was a boy. It was a vicious prank a mother in the girl’s Missouri neighbourhood had helped orchestrate. Megan’s name has been stuck in my head ever since I heard about her story.

I have been there, feeling insecure after reading vicious comments about me: “Doesn’t Icky realize that all that sunning is the reason she looks 45 years old, and not a good 45 either, but a wrinkly, haggard 45” Another time someone wrote, “Even when she smiles, the smile doesn’t show in her eyes.”

I’m 34, wise enough to know that people, especially strangers, who post anonymously and take enjoyment from tearing others down, aren’t worth me destroying my life over. They’re barely worth a minute of my time. It’s too easy to be cruel from the safety of your laptop. And yet these anonymous bloggers sometimes do get to me, especially when they post blatantly slanderous lies, or when they think I owe them answers to questions only good friends and my family have a right to ask, or when they criticize how I look. Sometimes the wild inaccuracies are humorous. Sometimes they are just hurtful.

Cyberbullies got to Ryan Patrick Halligan, another teenager who was cyberbullied relentlessly until the pain became so unbearable that he too committed suicide. According to a 2007 report, “Cyberbullying: Our Kids’ New Reality,” which drew from nearly 2,500 responses to a survey conducted by Kids Help Phone, cyberbullying is all too common among Canadian teens. More than 70 per cent admitted they have been bullied online, while 44 per cent said they have bullied someone online.

In the real world, I was convinced these Coconuts would never have the courage to say to my face what they have written about me online. “I’ve been called a bitch, a hack, a wannabe, a fake and a freak, but never once to my face,” writes Jessica Coen in a recent issue of Glamour, about her time blogging for Gawker, a media and gossip website. “In fact, I doubt that even half the people insulting me even uttered their words out loud—the jabs were all served up online, where acting like an outraged lunatic is de rigueur.”

Would these Coconuts, I wondered, dare show up? Were they even adults? And if they

were, were they as vicious and threatening in person as they seemed in their posts? I knew that last year a tech blogger named Kathy Sierra cancelled all her speaking engagements after she received threatening comments on her site. One anonymous poster wrote, “I hope someone slits your throat.”

A bit nervous, I organized two friends to come along with me, one who would stay with me, and one who would join the “party” as a mole. One of the Coconuts had written that she would be wearing a blue beret to the party, and that’s how people would recognize her. I thought it was a joke until my confidante

called me on my cellphone—I was at a bar next door with my other friend at that point—to tell me she had found the Coconut, wearing a blue beret, and was going to sit with her.

I would find out later that this Coconut hates me because, apparently, I’ve met her at parties where I didn’t remember who she was. (And these Coconuts say I’m stuck in high school.) I would find out that this Coconut is 46 (!) years old, has two children and lives in Michigan. When my confidante asked her if she knew what I looked like, she eerily pulled out a photo of me from a magazine. It is still not clear to me whether or not I have actually met her, as she once wrote she had only been in the “same room” as me. Truth in cyberland is apparently not the same as truth in real life.

Well after the called-upon gathering time,

I walked in the front door of the party venue, and sat by the bar to observe. Only one other Coconut showed up—this for a party that had been discussed for weeks. This Coconut admitted to my confidante that she had posted rants about me under several false names. (It suddenly made sense to me why there was so much discussion over this party and then only two people showed up.) She admitted she’d never met me. She had driven 45 minutes to get to the bar, from a town outside Toronto, leaving behind two small children. (And this from the poster who once wrote, “Unlike Icky I actually give a damn about my kids.” I can tell you this much. I would never leave my child to drive 45 minutes to meet a perfect stranger, all to bitch about another perfect stranger.)

“They were socially inept,” my confidante told me later. “If I hadn’t been there I have no idea how they would have talked to each other.” She also told me that for 90 minutes they talked about nothing but me. “But you were sitting with them for so long,” I pressed. “You don’t have to tell me,” she said. “It seemed like forever.”

THEY’RE OBSESSED: THEY EVEN KNEW WHEN I LEFT MY DAUGHTER’S CONCERT EARLY

My confidante got the two Coconuts’ names, and their email addresses, as I watched from my bar stool. The two looked quite harmless in person. In fact, they were entirely forgettable.

“They blame you for everything,” my confidante told me. “They blame you for their bad marriages, the fact that neither of them is successful, that they’ll never be successful, that they don’t have a lot of money. They probably blame you for the bad weather.”

The anti-Eckler gathering had proved at least one thing, which parents of teens should pass on. Anonymous posters do have multiple personality disorder, at least while blogging. Bloggers can, if they have the time—and clearly these Coconuts do—post hundreds of comments to make it look as though a ton of people hate you.

For example, the following day one of them wrote, “I loved meeting you all tonight,” as if one other person amounts to “all of you.” As I’ve said, and this proves it, truth in the virtual world is warped. The night also proved that cruel bloggers have too few friends and too much time. (Most of us in the real world don’t have time to meet up with our real friends, let alone find the time to blog all day and night, let alone meet strangers so far away from home.)

“Honestly,” my confidante told me later, “I think they really wanted to meet you.” She explained that they had been hoping I’d come to the party. “They wanted you to come and sit with them.” But what, in the (real) world, would I possibly have to say to people like them? M