(A scary story about social media.)
I started up a Tumblr blog last November so I could get better exposure for my writing. I was surprised by how quickly it took off. There’s a big horror subculture that seems to enjoy the type of stuff I write, so it didn’t take long before I’d gotten well over 10,000 followers and was cruising along pretty well. As the blog got more established, though, some frightening things started to happen.
Before I go on, I need to give a little background info. For those who don’t know how Tumblr works, they have something called “reblogging,” which just means you repost something that someone else had put on their blog. It shows up in your own blog with the creator’s name linked to it. It basically can allow content to go viral very quickly. Like, you can post something and then someone with a large and established blog might reblog it to all their hundreds of thousands or millions of followers, who can then do the same, and over and over and over until it eventually dies down.
Obviously, wanting to spread my stories and “brand” as far and wide as I possibly could, I sought out opportunities to get my content reblogged by one of those well-established bloggers. After a month or so, it happened. A story of mine got shared well over a thousand times. I gained hundreds of followers. That type of thing happened on many occasions over the following months, leading me to where I was late this April.
In April, after one story did particularly well, I started getting weird messages in my inbox. All of them said something similar. Something along the lines of, “hey I reblogged your story and started getting really personal messages from you – can you please not?”
I was shocked. I thought someone had hacked my account and was spreading harassing messages around. The prospect of someone ruining my reputation before I ever got a chance to really get my writing out there terrified me. As the days went on, more and more people started telling me that I’d sent them unsettling messages.
On April 22nd, when the influx of notifications had slowed and I’d changed my password about 100 times, I was starting to think it had all blown over. I’d posted another story that was met with surprising success. As I watched the reblogs fly and the new followers accumulate, I got a message from a woman named Beverly. All it said was, “I never told anyone about that abortion. Get the f**k out of my head.”
Five minutes later, from a man named Arjay: “But my mom swore she never told anyone about my accident with my cousin.”
Then more came.
Dana: “F**k you! I couldn’t have stopped that car from killing him!”
Janelle: “Who are you? My father never so much as spanked me. Message me again and I’ll call the police.”
Muhammad: “I didn’t expect him to join and now he’s dead and you’re harassing me about it? Who the hell do you think you are?”
Vivian: “STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!”
Martin: “She was just lying there. I couldn’t help myself. Please don’t tell.”
I was terrified. I wrote a frantic email to Tumblr staff begging them to see if they could track what was going on and stop it. They never replied. More and more and more notes flooded my inbox. Every single message was from someone who’d reblogged one of my stories. Every single message claimed I’d brought up something to them that was deeply personal; something they’d never told anyone before; sometimes things they never even knew themselves.
I stopped visiting Tumblr for few days and deleted all the email notifications I had about new messages. I tried to keep myself from panicking. It had to be some sort of joke or the work of an extremely determined hacker. My therapist, who only knew I was getting unwanted messages, got me to calm down. He got me agree to give it a month before I visited the site again, and I could figure out a plan of action to either get the messages to stop or to be able to ignore them without panicking.
I took his advice. A little over month later, which was just last week, I went back. I discovered my number of followers had gone from 13,000 to 4,000. So much of what I’d worked to build was gone. The fear of what had happened coupled with the immense frustration I felt from losing what I’d dedicated so much time to. My decades-vanquished anxiety and depression returned with a vengeance.
As I went through my page stats, I saw no one had reblogged one of my stories in three weeks. Part of me knew I had to try to get a handle on the situation and take whatever steps were necessary to get back to where I had been. I waited for a time when it looked like the site was getting a lot of traffic, and then I reblogged one of my older, more popular stories. I prayed it would attract some new followers. Followers that hadn’t heard about my ruined reputation.
No one bit. There wasn’t any indication anyone had read it whatsoever. It was like I’d just thrown the story into interstellar space, never to be seen again. An hour or two passed. I checked the stats. Still just one reblog – my own. I glanced up at the toolbar and saw there was a message waiting for me. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention and my hand shook as I moved the cursor to click the icon.
“I watched you eat your little sister. Your little twin sister. Consumed in utero. Before she even knew what pain was, it was the only sensation she ever felt in her short life.”
The message was from me.