BY TREVOR BEAUFORT
The Internet has brought poets from across the globe together via online forums and poetry chatrooms to create something of a renaissance in poetry in the Western World.
There are tens of thousands of these poets and poetesses. These include many retiree wordsmiths with Twitter and blog followings who, before the Worldwide Web was born, might have sat in their homes suffering from loneliness. They now partake in this virtual community; exercising their brains and making often long-lasting friendships with like-minded people.
How the world has changed. The Internet has had so many positive effects.
But this new world of stanza and sonnets is not quite as rosy as it might first seem.
Meet Georgina – a 41-year-old mother of two from Hull who turned to poetry as a means of getting over a messy divorce when she was 34. Georgie, as she prefers to be called, has a Twitter following of over 20,000 and describes her poetry friends as her closest pals. For years she exchanged pleasantries and poems with them on a regular basis every day.
Yet Georgie was bullied into depression online by Poetry Bullies who stole her lines, set friends against friends and used sock-puppets to troll her to the point where last summer she took an overdose; only to be rescued by one of her two teenage children.
The world of poetry online is a creative crucible but, like so many artistic spaces, it’s full of backbiting, bullying and blatant attacks. And the poets know full well who’s behind the trolling and bullying. The main culprits seem to be US & Canada based. They vary between the sexes but tend mostly to be women. The plagiarists almost always seem to be women.
But the victims of harassment aren’t always women. Take for example the case of Thomas Snow. Thomas was a highly popular Twitter poet with over 60,000 followers, a published author of several books and plays and ran an online magazine. Earlier this year Thomas was harassed so badly by sock puppet accounts that he chose to leave social media altogether. The sock puppets invaded every aspect of his personal life, posted private photos, made fun of his appearance, mocked and insulted his family, and attacked his friends by bombarding them with the photos and sick abuse.
The harassment went on for weeks before Snow deleted his two Twitter accounts, Facebook and Instagram. Links to his books, t-shirts and other merchandise have consequently vanished. Due to this abuse his wife deleted all social media too. All due to harassment by one party.
And the bullying gets complicated and devious, as well it might between bright, creative people:
Poets have faked their own deaths to hear what others really thought about their work once they were gone, there are poets who have set up accounts in the name of poets they sought to bully and used them to catfish young girls and boys. And one infamous Canadian troll has even gone so far as to video fake sexual relationships between her sock-puppets and poet victims.
There is evidently no shortage of acid about; no lack of poison pens in the online poetry communities. And often the poetry trolls are leading double lives – working in serious professions as architects or as lawyers. One of the worst trolls teaches tots – one wonders if the tots’ parents know about her double life? The poet trolls and plagiarists seem oblivious to just how much their anti-social behaviour could cost them when they are exposed and caught.
The problem between online poets is currently rife. Look at this note posted just this week from online poet and bullying victim, Cam:
There are dozens of online poets who have recently shut up shop – closed twitter accounts and removed blogs.
But is leaving the answer? Others have chosen to stay and weather the constant attacks and abuse. Some fight back, during months of extensive attacks back and forth.
What’s the solution?
In the UK, stalking laws have only just recently caught up with technology. Only this week Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced a whole suite of new harassment and stalking legislation including asbo-style orders for stalkers designed to counteract this kind of online bullying and harassment. However cross-national stalking prosecutions are few and far between.
The US has strong first amendment legislation in place where the line between freedom of speech and harassment is greater; similarly, Canada prosecutions for anti-social behaviour are common within Canada, even within North America, but few get prosecuted across the Atlantic by foreign-based victims. There’s a definite lack of coordination – even between European police forces.
In the meantime, while police forces co-ordinate the first prosecutions, blocking and muting seem the best tools these poets have got. Along with the true friendships they have built up over the years with bona fide poets and poetesses in the belief that, eventually, hope always trumps hate.
Trevor Beaufort is a policeman based in County Donegal. He is a Guest Writer for Country Squire Magazine.