A journalist writes about being savagely cybersmeared

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Folks who work in the public eye — writers, creative types, media personalities, public officials, etc. — face the special risk of bullying, mobbing, harassment, defamation, violence, and stalking from members of the public, who may include readers, customers, and others affected by their work.

If you’d like to understand more about the impact of these behaviors, then journalist Dune Lawrence’s (Bloomberg Businessweek) bracing first-person account is worth your while. Lawrence experienced a two-year ordeal of defamatory trolling at the hands of a man named Benjamin Wey, who currently awaits trial on federal securities fraud charges. Here is Lawrence’s lede:

I saw the photo first, me in a bloody wash of red with “RACIST” pulsing over my face. A couple of clicks brought me to this:

“In the darkest shadow of Bloomberg’s glossy office building in Manhattan, you may find a woman by the name of Dune Lawrence—a ‘journalist’ who has built a career on writing salacious articles about China.”

Lawrence had interviewed Wey on his business dealings for pieces she wrote for the magazine, and when her coverage raised uncomfortable questions, he retaliated by attempting to destroy her reputation via online means.

We often think of cyberbullying and related behaviors in the context of school kids, but they are hardly limited to such settings. Furthermore, they are often very destructive. As I wrote in 2012:

A new study of British university employees concludes that targets of workplace cyberbullying often fare worse than those who experience traditional bullying. Victoria Revay reports for Global News…:

In three separate surveys, 320 British university employees were asked to document their experiences with cyberbullying. The study results showed that victims of cyberbullying tended to have “higher mental strain and lower job satisfaction” as compared to traditional bullying.

According to Revay, human resources professor Aaron Schat of McMaster University in Canada, interpreted the results this way:

He says the challenge with cyberbullying in the workplace may be that it lacks a so-called safe haven, or a physical area where the victim can take refuge to avoid the bully. He says this may also be the reason why victims feel more emotionally distressed.

I have kept my summary of Lawrence’s experiences to a minimum, because her story should be read in its entirety in order to be fully grasped. This is a frightening tale of one person’s extraordinary efforts to use the Internet for spreading baseless lies and rumors about another, in ways that created significant difficulties and embarrassment for the target of his behavior. 

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Related posts

The trolls in the “cheap seats” (2016)

8 responses

  1. Targets depend on journalists and the media to bring issues into the homes, minds, and; therefore, conversations of the public. As targets get bullied for taking a stand, so do journalists. Perhaps it is something in our moral fabric that makes some of us feel we have no choice, the issue or behavior feels so violating and wrong. We need brave journalists, but moreover; we need heroic editors that protect journalists and allow the stories to be published.

  2. You don’t even have to be a journalist to have this happen. I got cyber bullied because I was a union elected official and folks who didn’t win election took to cyberspace with defamatory material about me and several others. Because the recipients of this e mail were not listed and came from every level all over the country, it was totally impossible to do anything to refute the allegations. I was being bullied in my office by management, on the internet by other union folks and got little to no support from anyone but the others who were treated similarly. Because of my commitment to the members, I tried to ignore it and go on to do the job I was elected to do. It was painful and made my retirement even more sweet. That part of my life is now over except for the training that I do for other workers. Every time I train, it comes back to me in a visceral way. I balance that with the joy I have in retirement.

    What is most difficult is that these folks bully but behind your back and communicate with many unknown people who may not know you. It is insidious and mean. So far we have found no effective way to combat cyber bullying.

  3. Typically, the harasser has been found guilty of — or has been charged with — crimes that he claims were perpetrated by the investigative reporter! (In Wey’s case: adultery; business fraud.) Hang in there, Dune! It sounds as if Wey is going to be very busy attempting to defend himself from the very serious business fraud charges outlined in your article. If convicted, he probably won’t have access to the internet to harass you from prison! He is probably the same Benjamin Wey about whom the Panama Papers has considerable information. If so, the offshore companies through which he engaged in his “business transactions” were set up by — you guessed it — Mossack Fonseca.

  4. Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
    ICYMI ~ Precarious Faculty on Facebook subscribed to Minding the Workplace after this post appeared. Although not specifically about bullying in the higher ed workplace, this post goes to online group dynamics and mobbing there. David Yamada writes, “We often think of cyberbullying and related behaviors in the context of school kids, but they are hardly limited to such settings. Furthermore, they are often very destructive[, a]s I wrote in 2012.

    These posts also resonate strongly with my own personal experience.

  5. It makes sense that workplace bullying is even more stressful: it almost certainly entails your true identity (can’t protect yourself the way you might on more casual forums), and has a huge potential for derailing your employment if not your career. It’s truly ugly.

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