One of the most common questions I receive as a blogger is, “why did you start?”. This is always such a hard question for me to answer. There were so many events and twists of fate that lead me to where I am today. Very broadly: I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make a difference in my own life and the lives of others. My love for the Internet and all it can offer stems from a very negative experience; the first time I really felt like I encountered “evil” in a way that was too to home.
Cyberstalking and the Internet
In June of 2011, I received a series of text messages that, simply put, scared me. They were sexual and gross in nature, eerie, made me uncomfortable. Being 18 and a recent high school graduate, I attributed the weird texts to an immature classmate playing a prank. After threatening to go to the police, I saved the number in my phone as “creep” in case it ever happened again.
Six months later in December, I discovered that someone had been using my entire life to create their own life on the Internet. Her name was “Lauren.” Think: catfish BEFORE “catfishing” was everyday terminology. To make a very long story short, I found years and years worth of my photos on social media sites and blogs.. all the way back to age 14 (I was approaching 19 at the time I found the sites). Scrolling through, I was seeing “real people” talk to Lauren as if they were friends, sometimes more. In an effort to gain control of the situation, I reached out to “Lauren’s boyfriend” to tell him that Lauren wasn’t Lauren at all: that her photos were of me, Allyssa, and whoever he was talking to was a fraud.
Things got even more scary when I spoke with this male. I won’t name him, but he was open and honest with me. Him and Lauren had been dating for a year. He described her in detail to me, telling me about her family, friends, hobbies, life.. he truly knew her. However, everything he was telling me was about, well, me. Lauren not only was using my photos, but all the details of my life to create this relationship. I started to wonder if this was someone I knew, maybe even someone I trusted. How else would they know so much about me?
I asked this man if him and Lauren texted. When he said yes, I asked for the phone number she used. Alone, in my room at 2am, I started typing the number into my phone. CREEP popped up on my phone after the first six digits. My mind instantly flashed back to the night I received the texts six months earlier that sent chills up my spine. I felt like the walls were closing in on me, and my attempt to gain control of the situation only exposed how much I really didn’t have control over.
I started crying, trying to understanding how and why this person not only felt the need to steal my identity, but also text me at the same time to scare me. Growing up, I learned that predators come in the form of the man standing on the street corner and I had to protect myself physically. I thought I was safe. However, I was very wrong. For five years, someone had been watching me.. yet I never saw them. It was terrifying and I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and hide. I felt stupid for somehow allowing this person access to my life, angry that someone had done this, resentful that the laws were not on my side, and scared that this person may actually come after me at some point. I was going through so many different emotions that I really started losing myself. I wasn’t sure where to go, what to do, or how to move forward.
After telling me that I was giving them a headache with my story, the police advised that I “get off the Internet.” Not quite sure what to do, I contemplated the options. Sure, I could get off the Internet – but that meant giving up an important part of our culture and being a college student. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I should move forward. One day I would deactivate every account I had, and the next I would wake up thinking, “why in the world am I being punished for this? Why should I have to get off the Internet? This OTHER person is the one abusing it.” Some days I felt empowered, and others powerless. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, but I knew I needed to choose a path.
Two years later, I wrote the first publication about my experience for Her Campus. Following that article, I spoke with local news and radio stations in hopes of sharing my mistakes and helping other young adults. I started speaking with sororities, classrooms, and facilitating speaking events for freshman students. I found that the easiest way to heal from everything was the “thank you’s” I received after sharing my story. I couldn’t make sense of what happened in 2011 until hundreds of students were able to benefit – that’s when I realized why this happened and what I should’ve been doing all along. This Thursday, I will be sitting on two panels at the Kent State Media Ethics Workshop. The Internet is a HUGE and sometimes intimidating place. Years ago, I felt the devastating effects of using social media. Today, I feel the amazing effects and I can say in 100% confidence that my life would not be what it is today without it. Reflecting on my experience a lot lately in light of the conference on Thursday, I wanted to share some of the very real things I’ve learned the past five years: the good and the bad.
My major takeaways:
Every negative experience has a silver lining; keep your spirits high.
In the darkest of moments, especially in 2011-2013, I had a very hard time believing that anything good would come out of this situation. It was easy to fall into the “why me?” attitude. Thankfully, I have very supporting, empathetic, and sometimes brutally honest people in my corner who snapped me back into reality. I remember one instance in particular that I called my mom sobbing hysterically. Despite my current state, she told me: “Allyssa, get it together. You need to get over it and move on.” Was that what I wanted to hear? No. I wanted someone to listen, to talk to, to understand – but her push to get me back on my feet was what I needed. I needed to change my attitude before anything else would change for me. That’s when I turned my attitude around, and amazing things started to happen.
Don’t always follow aimlessly; listen to your head.
I think back to when I was told, “get off the Internet.” Coming from the police, it would’ve been easy to accept that I needed to listen. However, in the back of my head, I knew this wasn’t what was best for me. I left the station feeling more lectured than understood. Guys… if I would’ve stayed off the Internet, I can’t even begin to explain what I wouldn’t have in my life right now. First, my blog. Second, all the relationships that have come from my blog. And don’t even get me started on all the internship interviews, networking opportunities, and professional growth that has come this from corner of the Internet. If I would have cut myself off from this part of the world, I wouldn’t have my job, my dog, my friends.. I just can’t describe what life would be like. At the end of the day, you know what’s best for you. Always listen to others, and take their thoughts into consideration, but know you have to follow your head and make your own decisions.
Create your path and be proud.
Own your past and make your path. Embrace your mistakes along the way. Help others learn from them. Have a vision for yourself. Always look forward. Take care of yourself mentally and physically, don’t let other people dominate your emotions. Most importantly, don’t hold grudges and focus all your energy on bettering yourself. I was only able to let go of what was done “to me” when I started focusing on what I could do. I can’t control how other people use the Internet or what they choose to do in their free time; I can only control my actions. Embrace every tool available to you and don’t be afraid to take risks. Make your path.