update: recovering professionally after an internet hate campaign

Remember the letter-writer who had been the target of an internet hate campaign after she spoke out about sexism in her industry? Here’s the update.

Last we talked, I’d left my company and gone back to freelancing. I found a lot of support in that area and the majority of employers were sympathetic to what had happened to me. I even made a few contacts from companies that reached out specifically because they’d heard my story and wanted someone with my point of view on a project! So that was great to hear.

Last year I applied to be a guest speaker at a prestigious convention in the industry and was accepted. I was nervous about making a public appearance, but I really wanted to do it and had a lot of support from friends and colleagues. A few people from the group that harassed me complained to the organization when the guest lineup was announced, but the convention ignored them. I worried someone might show up at my panels and confront me, but no one did–it was a really positive and wonderful experience!

This year I made the decision to get away from freelancing for totally unrelated reasons. I was feeling a lack of growth and wanted to pursue my own projects instead of working for other people. I stopped taking freelance contracts and wrote a novel that I’m currently sending out to agents. I’m excited about it!

While working on my novel, I applied for a marketing coordinator position for a professional company that’s unrelated to my old industry. I wasn’t sure whether to mention my experience during the interview process, so I decided to play it by ear. During the interview, the owner asked me about my previous industry, with very specific questions like “did you find it a welcoming industry for women?” and “did you encounter any sexism?” I suspected she had Googled me and so I said, well yes actually, and told her the whole story. She admitted she *had* Googled me and admired how I had dealt with the harassment. I wound up getting the job!

Every now and then I still get upset over what happened. A few weeks ago I was trying to remember the name of a project I worked on and Googled myself and a whole bunch of horrible old articles came up. So there’s still some personal fallout I have to deal with, but most of the time I pick myself up and carry on. Still, it’s a bad feeling to know all the lies and slurs written about me are still out there “somewhere” and if I went digging I could find them.

To summarize: working to publish a novel in the field I love, plus a day job with great hours and good pay, and getting tons of experience in the professional marketing field. Take that, trolls!

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. LoV*

    Great to hear. Also, a great general reminder out there to people to not believe everything they read on the internet :)

  2. henrietta*

    Good for the LW! (On the other hand, it’s frustrating that another woman was driven from her former industry.)

    1. Original LW*

      Thank you! I don’t feel as though I was driven from the industry, though. I did go from corporate to freelance, but I had a lot of success there. I moved on because of limited growth opportunities (which is an industry reality, not something related to the harassment).

      I’m still involved in mentoring other people in my former field and take the occasional freelance assignment, but I’m really excited about my new job. I think the knowledge I’m gaining will help a lot when I eventually go back to my industry. Especially since I’m confident now that I can take a lot of what the Internet can throw at me. :)

        1. Original LW*

          I’m not going to lie, there were really tough times, and I don’t work at the same level as I used to. But nothing will kill the enjoyment I get from my work, and I know I still have a lot to offer. Get knocked down, get back up, that’s all I can do! :)

      1. animaniactoo*

        Mad props to you. It can be really demoralizing to have to deal with all of this, but you’ve found a path forward and that’s so awesome.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP, you are a freaking champ. I’m so impressed with how you weathered a really difficult experience, and it sounds like you’re getting to follow your heart. It’s so cool to hear how you’re still challenging yourself and not letting this experience slow down your momentum.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        The MeToo movement is showing that sexism etc. is a lot more pervasive than people think. Regular folks are beginnng to understand how bad it is. I’m starting to see the most hard core redneck admit how bad it is! I think with slowly shifting attitudes your response will gain more and more support with time. Conversely, the trolls will look worse and worse across time. In a sense, all those awful posts will become a memorial to adversity overcome.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Glad to hear that things are going well!

    I would love to read your novel if/when it’s published, but I understand that you wouldn’t want to out yourself here.

    1. Original LW*

      Thank you! I wouldn’t want to impose more on Alison’s goodwill, but I might sneak into the comments and let people know if/when I land a publishing deal. The support I got here meant so much when I was first going through the harassment, though I was too shellshocked to respond much. And Alison does such an amazing job moderating the comments and making sure this site is a positive place.

      1. AngelicGamer, the Visually Impaired Peep*

        Do it in a Friday thread when you land a deal! I’m another who wants to read your book and you can just write a quick summary so people remember who you are.

        1. Maolin*

          I’d love to see it on Alison’s book recommendations!

          So wonderful to hear this update. Keep fighting the good fight! I love that you’re mentoring others in that industry, OP – what a great way to Be the change you wish to see.

          I feel like there was an update between the original post and this one – and I saw OP mention an update up-thread. Was that update in a comment, or was there another letter?

  4. WellRed*

    Excellent update! Not so excellent: that in 2016 (when letter was published) this crap was still going on. (and still is).

  5. Miss Mouse*

    This update is AWESOME. You sound like an amazing and super strong person, a true inspiration. Good for you for keeping your head high and your eyes on the horizon.

  6. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I’m so happy for you, OP – irritated that you have to see those nastygrams, but happy for you. You rose above it all!

  7. Lady Phoenix*

    Ugh, I forgot if she mentioned it, but the thing reminds me so much of G4m3rG473 so much with how many women were thrown under the bus or made into punching bags for douchebros and their “journalistic integrity”.

    Unfortunately, the internet never forgets, but we can move on and those moments become fossils of times forgottwn, Like “Numa Numa” and “Taking thw Hobbits to Isengard.”

    1. Jasnah*

      The silver lining of so many issues like this is there’s always a new thing for trolls to direct their hate at (giving people like OP a reprieve) and now that it’s so common, maybe fewer people will think the victims did something to deserve it.

      That said I hope all the people who harassed OP get a swift kick in the groin.

  8. Elizabeth West*

    Ha! Great update. Trolls, suck it!

    Most trolls are too chicken to get in your face IRL; that’s why they do it online. But I think people are getting more savvy at recognizing it. Congratulations on your progress, OP!

    1. Original LW*

      Thank you! I do think we’re moving to a place where people are better at spotting trolls and approaching social media with healthy skepticism. Which is great! I know this sort of thing still happens with sad frequency, but I like to think it’s getting better overall.

  9. Southern Ladybug*

    OP – you keep on rocking on. You are awesome and an inspiration. I hope you can come here for the internet love to counteract the horribleness.

  10. ENFP in Texas*

    “I worried someone might show up at my panels and confront me, but no one did–it was a really positive and wonderful experience!”

    That’s because people are really brave when they can hide behind the anonymity of the internet and are basically cowards who would never have the balls to say it to someone’s face.

    1. seller of teapots*

      Right? It’s amazing how cruel people can be when they are anonymous! Way to go, OP. I really, really admire you.

      (Also, hello fellow ENFP! Funny story, my husband recently took a Meyers-Briggs and is opposite me in all the categories.)

  11. learnedthehardway*

    Congratulations on your success and thanks for your bravery.

    Try to keep in mind that most people really DO consider the source when they evaluate feedback about a candidate, and that most people aren’t quite as good at keeping their true personalities (AKA character flaws) to themselves when working with others day in and day out. ie. anyone who would really try to stand in the way of your career because you pointed out the reality of discrimination against women, and then went out of their way to prove it definitely exists in your industry is probably a well-known quantity to their employer, and probably has limited credibility.

    My experience is that it’s always the people who aren’t successful who are the most vocal about misogyny, racism, etc. etc. etc. – they have to have something to blame their own failures on. (There are plenty of others who are quietly misognistic, racist, etc., but those tend to at least pay lip service to progressiveness. And the majority of people are somewhat oblivious / comfortable in their privilege but generally positively disposed towards fairness and egalitarianism, and so will be supportive – at least in principle – of people who are out there fighting the good fight. Plus, everyone likes an underdog, and there’s nothing like an internet hate campaign against someone struggling against injustice for the average person to say “THAT’s someone I support.”)

    1. your favorite person*

      “My experience is that it’s always the people who aren’t successful who are the most vocal about misogyny, racism, etc. etc. etc. – they have to have something to blame their own failures on.”

      That is… incredibly close-minded and not at all true. I hope you re-consider this in the future because you are pretty clearly biased and it likely hurt you in future endeavors.

      1. Red Wheelbarrow*

        “My experience is that it’s always the people who aren’t successful who are the most vocal about misogyny, racism, etc. etc. etc. – they have to have something to blame their own failures on.”

        I initially read that sentence the way you (Your Favorite Person) did, thinking it meant that people (women, POCs, etc.) who complain about being discriminated against are unsuccessful and excuse-making. But rereading it in the context of the whole comment, I’m pretty sure that what it meant was “It’s always the people who aren’t successful who are the most vocal in their misogyny, racism, etc. etc. etc.”

        1. your favorite person*

          Are you sure? Because I re-read that three times, thinking I missed something. I hope I’m wrong…

          1. Red Wheelbarrow*

            Well, the next sentence is “There are plenty of others who are quietly misognistic, racist, etc., but those tend to at least pay lip service to progressiveness.” That only makes sense to me if the previous sentence is about openly bigoted people.

          2. Shamy*

            I’m fairly certain you misinterpreted as well. I read it the same as Red Wheelbarrow. They seem to be referring to openly bigoted people.

          3. Delphine*

            In the context of the entire comment, I think that sentence should read: “My experience is that it’s always the people who aren’t successful who are the most [vocally misogynistic, racist], etc. etc. etc. – they have to have something to blame their own failures on.”

        2. Gerald*

          Someone once gave me the insight that the people with the most to lose in a more equal society are the below-average white men. They are also the ones who are most misogynist, racist, etc. Bright, competent men welcome strong, competent women. Weak and lazy white men have a lot to lose, because they have a lot more competition when companies start to hire more diversely, and this makes them more likely to be bitter and ‘ist’ to as many other groups as possible. They feel that they ‘deserve’ to do better than people of other genders and race and (dis)ability.

          When I read learnedthehardway’s comment, this is what I expected it meant.

        3. Cathy Gale*

          I assumed it meant that it’s less successful people who fault the attempts to rectify racism, as far as complaining about “SJWs” “being on a crusade” … perhaps respondent can clear this up.

          1. Liz T*

            I agree that in context learnedthehardway seems to be talking about racists and misogynists, not callers-out of same. (But I initially read it the way your favorite person did.)

    2. Peridot*

      And the majority of people are somewhat oblivious / comfortable in their privilege but generally positively disposed towards fairness and egalitarianism, and so will be supportive – at least in principle – of people who are out there fighting the good fight.

      Um. There’s a lot to unpack there, but someone else’s principles don’t do anything to protect someone fighting the good fight unless they act on those principles.

  12. Tata*

    Thank you for the update. I’m glad to hear you’ve done very well. It’s a “take that trolls” moment. But it sucks that women are still harassed for speaking and working to even the playing field. You are a strong person and good luck to you.

  13. Tata*

    Thank you for the update! I’m happy to hear you are stronger and it’s a great “take that trolls” moment. It’s sad though that women are penalized for trying to even the playing field. But I’m happy to hear and would love to read your novel as well.

  14. MissDisplaced*

    “A few people from the group that harassed me complained to the organization when the guest lineup was announced, but the convention ignored them.”

    This just made me so mad. They were the ones harassing you. Just Ugh!
    I’m glad you’re beginning to put this behind you.

  15. Arctic*

    “I worried someone might show up at my panels and confront me, but no one did–it was a really positive and wonderful experience!”
    You mean these people who feel so comfortable trying to sabotage you from behind screens were too chicken to show up and do so in person?! I’m shocked!!
    I’m thrilled you had a wonderful experience and didn’t have this jerks hounding you. But I’m not surprised they didn’t.
    It’s funny how the world has changed since 2016. People are much more suspicious and aware of this kind of troll activity.

  16. WinethetimeKat*

    LW you are my hero!!! I did indeed finally give up and file with EEOC right after I was Fired (my wuss boss got his boss to listen so I wouldn’t say anything) I WON the EEOC complaint and promptly got driven out of my profession. Made me look at myself and realize that worked out. So like you it ended well. I did not sue (I don’t care that much). I just got on with my life. You are my hero for doing what you did!!!

    1. Seattle Writer Gal*

      I’ll add my voice to what I’m hoping will be a chorus of those who have pursued legal action against their employer for discrimination. I, too, was de-moralized by the whole ordeal and burned a lot of bridges in the process (even though the final investigation found that discrimination had occurred). I am using my settlement money to go back to graduate school in hopes of changing fields entirely.
      I’m proud of you OP. Good for you for standing up for yourself. Personally, I chose to reframe the whole incident as a net positive (though it certainly did not feel that way for a long time). If that employer had not been so undeniably horrible, I would have never spent the time examining my life and ultimately finding a new career path I find much more rewarding. Best of luck to you!
      TL;DR: When the universe closes a door, sometimes it opens a window.

  17. Leafy*

    This is a wonderful update. I am glad things worked out and am impressed with how you navigated this situation.

    1. Original LW*

      Thank you! I couldn’t have done it without the support of my original company, my networking group of women professionals, and the staff at Crash Override. Well, maybe I could have done it, but I wouldn’t want to try. They really came through for me.

      1. ToS*

        You have my admiration, and, as a voracious reader with a few book clubs – I look forward to your book! Sorry you had such a deep dive on the dark side of human behavior!

        Crash Override is a TREMENDOUS resource when anyone is subjected to internet-based aggression. Glad to know they are so solid!

      2. ArtsNerd*

        Ooh, thanks for this heads up. I knew of the book title but didn’t realize there was an organization around this issue. I’m about to release a project that might attract a of negative attention from trolls, so it’s directly helpful for me to know about this.

        I’m so sorry you had to go through this, and you are awesome.

        I’m sure this has already crossed your mind, but therapy is a tool I can’t recommend enough for navigating the long-term emotional effects of this experience. Either way, I hope that one day soon you can see those google results and just eyeroll, without wincing.

        Thanks so much for updating us, and I want to second the request for Alison to consider your novel in her book recommendations. I find the Friday threads overwhelming so I might miss it when you post there!

  18. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Yay!!

    Also, I’m intrigued by the idea of a “novel in the field that I love” because I can’t imagine what a novel in a professional field would be (unless the industry was publishing in the first place?). Like, it’s set in your field? Or what am I not understanding?

    LW, if you’re willing to share more about your novel I’d love to hear it!

    1. Original LW*

      Er, yes, that doesn’t make a lot of sense without knowing my industry. I don’t think it will be a big surprise to say I work/ed in a nerd-friendly business, and so my novel (science fiction) should have appeal among former colleagues and clients. :)

  19. LaDeeDa*

    I was recently asked to facilitate a D&I in tech discussion, and a person in the group started questioning the studies, the research and results, I was presenting. So I asked, “are you saying that you know more than the experts at Harvard Business School, Thomas Reuters, etc?” The person then back-tracked and started asking me how I was qualified to assess if a study was valid or not. UGGGG.

  20. LisaD*

    I haven’t been here in a while but glad I stopped by today! I have been through this (before it was trendy – I was one of the first women in the social media age to face organized hate-group backlash for speaking out on behalf of women… in 2009, before the social media site where it happened even had a community guideline prohibiting doxxing and targeted harassment). It is really hard to get past it in the short-term but 10 years out from the incident I can confidently say I think about it at most a couple times a year, and it’s been years since someone mentioned it to me without me having told the story first. It feels like this will be a source of grief and anger forever, but your Google results will recover, as will your heart.

    Glad to hear you are already well on the road to getting completely past this! Keep trucking, it gets better.

  21. Owler*

    Cheers on the final summary. I do wish you well with the novel and hope we see a mention of it here on the future!

  22. StellaBella*

    Well done and congratulations for being so resilient. You are strong and confident and am so glad you are still mentoring others, that helps so much, too. Happy new year!

  23. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Yesssss living your best life while the miserable trolls are waddling around in puddles of their own tears. My favorite storybook ending.

  24. EmmaBird*

    Yay! This is awesome to hear. I just left a job in a male-dominated industry (also left the industry altogether) recently and it’s been a relief all around so I hope you continue to feel that. I appreciate your bravery in taking on the trolls– I’d speak out more about the sexism I encountered if I thought it’d be at all productive but I’m not prepared to deal with the way trolls would rewrite my story.

  25. Cheekily Read AAM during Work Hours*

    Trail blazers often end up with a few scratches as they forge the path to new territories. Standing up for oneself and speaking honestly from the heart is one of the hardest thing humans can do – and millions of women thank you for it.

  26. SaffyTaffy*

    Original LW, I have thought about you over the years and I genuinely believe that your story will be remembered for decades. I am so, so proud of you and so happy that you’re continuing to kick ass. You’re wonderful.

  27. Tom*

    I would argue this is the ultimate “revenge” against those trolls.
    You weathered the storm, came out better. While they still live in their basement trying to find new targets to harass.

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