Not long after joining Twitter a few years ago, TV personality Liz McClarnon – who shot to fame alongside Natasha Hamilton and Kerry Katona in girl group Atomic Kitten – was subjected to a seemingly never-ending stream of threats and abuse. The man responsible recently pleaded guilty to stalking Liz and four other women, and has been given 3 years’ probation, 100 hours community service and is prevented from ever contacting his victims again, with a 3 year-long ban on him posting on social networking sites.
It was hearing about others’ experiences of stalking – both on- and offline – that made Liz wanted to take part in this documentary, as part of the My Secret Past series, and raise awareness for a crime which is all too often brushed under the carpet.
Following the recent tragedy of Hannah Smith, who was found hanged aged 14 after receiving a torrent of abuse on social media, and the discussions about online safety and so-called ‘cyber trolls’, My Cyberstalking Hell could not have been more aptly timed. The responsibility of social networking sites and dangers of using them are hot topics at the moment, and Liz’s ordeal added another dimension to this.
A lot of focus is put on the critical, confidence-diminishing comments which are aimed at people on such sites – those which Hannah Smith received, for example, sickeningly mocked her appearance and destroyed her confidence to the point that she took her own life. What is less widely reported is the kind of abuse that Liz was subjected to. Up until just last year, she was receiving sexually explicit messages which I cannot bring myself to repeat here, but have stuck in my mind since the documentary aired. There were even messages which threatened rape.
I had no idea that Liz had been stalked at all, but she really has been through the mill and I admire her, and the people who she spoke to, tremendously for having the courage to tell their stories and not let their tormentors win.
‘JUST IGNORE IT’?
My Cyberstalking Hell revealed the shocking statistic that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men will experience stalking at some point in their lives. So why isn’t that taken more seriously? As a psychologist and cyberstalking expert pointed out in the programme, many people stupidly think that someone like Liz should be flattered that someone should think so much of them. A lot of people are under the illusion that it must somehow be a sign of affection to taunt someone – be they famous or not – by tweeting what you have just done while looking at a picture of them or threatening to chain them up and rape them. How idiotic. I honestly hope that some of the people who subscribed to this way of thinking watched Liz’s programme and really paid attention to what her and the other participants said, and how their lives were blighted by their stalkers. And I can only hope that their views were changed drastically as a result.
The thing is, it’s so easy for people to say, ‘Well just ignore it,’ or, ‘Just block them or delete your account.’ Liz tried that! She blocked the man in question numerous times, but he simply created a different account and stalked her again. Plus, ignoring, blocking or deleting don’t wipe away from your memory your tormentor’s words and the graphic images that seep into your brain as a result. Once they’re there, they’re not going to vanish simply by pressing that little X in the top corner of the screen. If anyone proved that, it was Elle, who was stalked for five years and received around 20 to 30 death threats a day. Each comment chipped away at her self-esteem until she began to believe what they were saying: that she was ugly, talentless and did not deserve to live. It even put an end to her dream of becoming a musician. Liz, however, managed to reignite Elle’s passion for music by booking her into a recording studio and singing a duet with her. And thank God she did, because not only did it inject some of that long-lost confidence back into Elle, it also showed that she really is beautiful and talented – contrary to what those jealous, heartless bastards made her believe.
It was clearly difficult for Liz to make this programme, and at times she really struggled, revisiting the messages she was sent and hearing about how her abuse affected others, such as Atomic Kitten superfan, Lauren, who was taunted by exactly the same man as Liz, but I bet she’s glad she went ahead with it. I’ll say it again: I admire her for, despite what her head was telling her, sticking two fingers up to her bully and helping others, rather than staying silent and giving him some sort of satisfaction. She admitted to Elle that she knew there was light at the end of the tunnel, but was still very deep inside it, and I’m sure that, by making this programme, she has helped others take a step closer to that light.
My Cyberstalking Hell: Liz McClarnon is still available to watch via Demand 5
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