Coming Face To Face With Madness: A Warning About Social Media
“If I want to see my second cousin’s new baby, I will call her to arrange a visit,” wrote some celebrity or other recently, in answer to a question about why she wasn’t on Facebook. Much fuss has been made about the so-called “social” media which are increasingly the cause of very anti-social behaviour. If used properly, they can indeed enhance our private and professional lives, but we need to protect ourselves against possible malign influences out there in cyberspace. I have recently had a bitter reminder of this.
Early last year, while searching desperately for work in Melbourne, I began to follow one of the professional Linked In discussions in my area of work – the teaching of English. Having too much time on my hands, I became absorbed in the contributions of a certain American woman who was working in Istanbul. Clearly she spent a lot of time on the internet, and I noticed that her responses seemed very warm-hearted and considered. I looked up her profile which was impressive. I wrote to her to say as much. Before I realised it, an intense correspondence had begun; I told her I had been unemployed for over a year and she was extremely eager to help. She was leaving her job at a language school to take up a position at a university which was far more to her liking. She felt rather bad about breaking her contract and letting her students down, but the university was where someone of her calibre and education belonged.
Not long afterwards, she asked if we could share Facebook and Skype. For some reason she never wanted to talk, but only to write. I began to find that every time I went online I would find it difficult to do any work because she would begin a “chat” which would go on endlessly. It seemed rude not to respond as she was going to such lengths to put me in touch with all sorts of useful people. Within a month I had an offer of a job in Istanbul. Why, I wondered to myself, was a complete stranger being so nice to me? Why was she so concerned?
After an interview on Skype, I was on a plane bound for Turkey, a country I knew absolutely nothing about, though I had seen pictures of Istanbul which made it look very alluring. Family and friends were aghast at my decision to go off into the wilderness yet again. “Are you sure? What if you don’t like it?” I didn’t have a choice. For both my sanity and my bank balance, I needed a job. If Turkey wanted me, to Turkey I would go. Kwisha.
I met Carol (not her real name) a few days after I arrived. She was a bit younger than me, petite, and with dyed blonde hair. I could tell that she cared greatly about her appearance. She was my only human contact in a strange country where no-one spoke English. Once she had my phone number she could text or phone me at will. “Now we can be really good friends,” she wrote.
The first sign that something was really wrong was when she posted a comment on my Facebook page about how negative I was after a trivial comment I had made. My friends rallied to my side. Then, on another occasion, I mentioned to her something in passing about a conversation with two male students I had taken over from her in which differences between American and Australian pronunciation arose. A week later, I received an abusive email claiming that I had laughed at her behind her back with them. At that point I realised I wasn’t dealing with a rational person: I blocked her from everything - FB, Skype, Linked In, the lot.
It didn’t stop there. She wrote to my director of studies inventing nasty things I was purported to have said about her; she wrote to her former students, now mine, making the same claim as well as other, wilder ones. Fortunately these people know both of us and discredited her remarks. Frustrated, she has now gone onto a public forum to make inappropriate remarks about my personal and professional qualities, using some of the information I had foolishly told her in confidence. I don’t know where this will end. She exhibits signs of paranoid schizophrenia; another friend of mine encountered someone like this who eventually followed her home and stabbed her in the chest. Fortunately she wasn’t seriously wounded and survived. At the end of all her poisonous missives Carol always utters the mantra “peace.”
This cautionary tale should warn others of the dangers of cyberspace; fantasies float all too easily there without having to confront reality. Lonely, isolated people find companionship there which eludes them in daily life. Vulnerable myself, I had unwittingly fallen into a trap like a fly targeted by a voracious spider. I’ve learned my lesson and will be more careful. But I refuse to allow something like this to stop me from connecting with new people as well as students I taught 20 and more years ago. Be warned.