The death threats in the virtual world meant that I had to worry about my safety in the real one.
A suspicious package was delivered with your name on it, I was told.
I received the call whilst sitting at my desk at work. My local Police Detective, with whom I’m regularly in contact, and whom I’m sure must be sick to death of hearing from me so frequently, said that the tenants living in my old apartment, who had been forewarned about possible threats, received a suspicious package.
The Bomb Squad was apparently contacted. The package was carefully opened – it had a rather unique odour, I am told.
In it, was bacon — yes, bacon — meticulously wrapped in Gladwrap. The tenants had been away on holidays and returned home only to be greeted with bacon in the mail. Oh, how they must have cursed me in that moment.
I sunk back into my seat at work, a sudden feeling of nausea came over me, the feeling you get just before you want to throw up. Everything around me, the noise, my colleagues, my computer screen faded into the distance. It suddenly went quiet – it dawned on me then. These guys weren’t just keyboard warriors. These were not mere empty threats.
Some imbecile had summoned up enough energy to wrap bacon in Gladwrap and send it in the mail. I mean, WHO does that, seriously?
Weeks before it, there had been internet chatter on right-wing websites – bigots based in the US and across the globe were discussing how they could mail bacon to my home address without getting caught (luckily they were under the impression that I still lived in my old unit).
But why, you ask?
Bigoted, and more recently Neo-Nazi and white supremacist, groups have been trolling me — on and off — for years. There’s been periods in which they closely monitor my online movements. They often take screenshots of what I say and some have even produced a YouTube video over-analysing my tweets (I’m honoured folks, really, you shouldn’t have). I’ve had at least five imposter accounts set up on Twitter and 2 on Facebook in the last year – each account would use almost identical versions of my name and photo.
The worst of the online cyber-bullying started after I weighed into the public debate about the notorious Woolworths T-shirt – which had an Australian flag and ‘Love it or Leave’ splashed across it.
Whilst I received some stock-standard vitriol following those series of tweets, the barrage of abuse really ramped up once the Australian Defence League (ADL) singled me out on their Facebook page, some three months later. They mischievously cropped a screenshot of my tweets suggesting that I was somehow against the Australian flag. Talk about delayed reaction or opportunistic fear mongering.
Cutting a long story short, the ADL post opened the floodgates to a torrent of online abuse. This was in fact a turning point. Hate, well and truly, begets hate.
A 22-year-old Queensland woman, seeing the inciting ADL post, sent me an absolute barrage of abuse.
After a lengthy police investigation, she was charged for using a ‘carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence’. She was sentenced in May to 180 hours community service. The sentence was considered to be groundbreaking. I have since lodged a compliant via the Australian Human Rights Commission, which is currently on foot, and have considered other legal options.
And so the saga continued, when the media attention generated by her case, then somehow made its way to a Neo-Nazi and White Supremacists group based in the US called the Daily Stormer.
They published an article, falsely claiming that I got a woman ‘arrested’ for ‘hurting my feelings’. They unashamedly urge their alleged ‘5000’+ strong followers to “flood” my twitter account with as “much racial and religious abuse as they possibly can.”
They have also published a great deal of my personal details online –prompting abusive phone calls, SMS, mail, emails and social media vitriol.
I didn’t know then what I know now – that the man behind the vile Daily Stormer campaign was allegedly US-based, Jewish-American troll named Joshua Ryne Goldberg. Goldberg was recently arrested by the FBI for distributing information relating to explosives and destructive devices to facilitate a possible terrorist act in the United States. He had been allegedly masquerading as a Neo-Nazi blogger called “Michael Slay” on the Daily Stormer site, publishing an incredibly vile and abhorrent piece on me.
Amongst his many online personas, he had also posed as “Australi Witness”, a fake ISIS-affiliated jihadist from Australia, who tried to claim a friendship with me, later admitting that he intended only to smear my reputation.
The death threats in the virtual world then meant that I had to worry about my safety in the real one. During the height of the social media vitriol and the ‘international’ cyber bullying campaign, I had police patrolling outside my house overnight – they were taking the death threats that I had received very seriously.
I didn’t know how to take the threats. The rational version of me, thought (rather unconvincingly) that these were just threats from ‘keyboard warriors’ – but the irrational, slightly deranged version of me was worried sick. I kept thinking, has my volunteer advocacy work put my family at risk? Needless to say, I cried myself to sleep that first night.
And the memes – my Lord, the memes have been creative!
Bigots-R-Us have created and posted memes of me on several anti-Muslim hate pages, including Reclaim Australia pages. It seems that I had become the Islamophobes’ favourite poster child.
Whether it was the images of me cuddling a decapitated pig’s head, with a message that they’d behead my mother and I and bury us all with pigs, or the one that depicted me being stoned to death, along with a cropped image of me lying dead on the floor, with rocks surrounding me and photo-shopped blood dripping down my cheeks, they were utterly sickening
Following the rise of the Reclaim Australia movement, my name, images and tweets were increasingly being used as propaganda. Suddenly I had becomes the unwilling sacrificial lamb (halal of course) of the anti-Islamic movement and the epitomic symbol of the Australian Muslim.
In the lead up to the second round of Reclaim Australia rallies across the country, a self declared Reclaim Australia supporter sent me death threats. By now, I had become accustomed to death threats (many of which would come from untraceable accounts).
The Police took out an AVO against her and she recently charged with using a carriage service to harass, menace and cause offence and also fined $1000. At the time, I had broken the story to a trusted journalist but I had insisted that the identify of the offender be not disclosed.
The 37-year-old woman, who clearly was not very tech-savvy, had some images of her children on her social media accounts and they were all publicly accessible. A simple Google search would have exposed her and her young, innocent, children to public scrutiny and my conscience couldn’t allow that.
My reasons for publicising the story was two-fold. 1) I felt that it served as an important deterrent for those who thought they could hide behind a veil of anonymity when it came to sending vicious threats and vitriol over social media (the more sophisticated trolls still do unfortunately) and 2) I wanted it to serve as an inspiration to others facing similar situations to speak out and take action and hold their perpetrators to account. Many still are unaware of their legal rights, albeit they are somewhat limited, when it comes to cyber-bullying offences.
This whole ordeal has been honestly exhausting. I know that I am stronger than the sum of all of the hate directed at me. I know this because I am my mother’s daughter – resilient, tenacious and strong. I am also human, vulnerable, sensitive and not immune to the physiological effects and mental strain that cyber-bullying has placed on me.
During the peak of the craziness, the experience was extremely harrowing and all consuming – the impact had extended to my family, my friends and on my work.
I suffered from prolonged anxiety, forcing me to take time off work. I had periods of dizziness and vertigo, which all in all, last about six weeks. In that period, I went to 5 different Doctors, including a neurologist. I had my ears test, my heart tested and my brain tested and in the end – it seemed the cause of my physical illness was ultimately anxiety.
Reflecting back on it now, it was by and large one of the most difficult experiences that I’ve had to endure. It’s difficult for me to reflect back on that period, without bursting into tears.
This ordeal has tested me in ways I never thought possible, but it has also strengthened my resolve to keep advocating for a more just world.
Originally published here: http://www.mamamia.com.au/lifestyle/the-online-abuse-mariam-endured-became-so-horrific-police-had-to-guard-her-home/#YmH5yrwBx5CTj6r9.99