From top: Bloggers Unveiled logo; Áine Carroll
Áine Carrolll writes:
On July 29, The Sunday Times ran an article about ‘Bloggers Unveiled’, where a beautician named Ramona Tracey from Offaly denied being behind the controversial Instagram account.
By way of response, I reached out to a number of people who were involved in Ms Tracey’s alleged exposé.
This is their story.
“I don’t remember a lot of the detail of what happened, but I remember the feeling – the feeling of being worthless. She told me to kill myself.”
Christine Hanley is speaking from her apartment in Toronto. Last weekend she paid close attention as the Irish online scene buzzed to the sound of another big hitter takedown.
The identity of the person behind the controversial Bloggers Unveiled Instagram account had allegedly been revealed and a name was circulating online.
It was a name Hanley had been familiar with for the best part of a decade.
In 2010, Hanley lived here with her Irish husband. By that time she was a long term member of now-deleted internet message board, a place where the members joined as teenagers and grew to be friends by their early 20’s.
One person who joined later, Jess, stood out. Her pictures featured a very beautiful woman – but she was domineering, posted a lot and was always online.
Christine says that Jess soon started picking on her publicly, using details Christine had previously shared with the group to convince everyone that she was, basically, a loser. “All of the threads she was on descended into abuse,” Christine recalls.
This all happened around the time that Facebook started to become popular. Knowing how small Ireland is, Hanley only added people after checking to see if they had a beautiful friend named Jess.
This woman was starting to make her feel uneasy. Christine’s blog reads “the vitriol she spewed was astounding. I was one of her favourite targets.”
Hanley wanted to block Jess from connecting with her on Facebook, to contain the abuse she was getting in the message board.
And then one day, after some careful snooping, she found it, the face of her bully, on Facebook. Except this person’s life was completely different – and her name wasn’t even Jess.
It turned out this girl – whoever she was – had gone on to compete in the Rose of Tralee. When Hanley saw the interview with Ray D’Arcy she knew immediately that the ‘Jess’ she knew from the message board had stolen this person’s pictures.
The woman who had gotten inside her head had been using a mask all along.
Hanley explains how she was relieved when the mask finally slipped. She went on to write a blog, jessisfake.blogspot.com, where she called “Jess” out as a fake and shared it with her real friends in the group. It turned out that “Jess” had hurt a lot of the other members.
Ten years ago on that blog, Hanley published a name: Ramona Tracey.
Recently, a number of people who have achieved success in their social media following and online careers have been publishing what they believe to be proof of a sustained and sophisticated campaign of online abuse against them.
While only a handful of people would come forward to be interviewed, sources inside the beauty and blogging world confirm that many have been dealing with targeted abuse for years now, well before the controversial Bloggers Unveiled account was created.
For a long time, many of the people receiving the abuse suffered, in the true sense of the word, in silence. Eventually, the abuse tipped some so far over the edge that they started sharing details with their followers.
Patterns in the abusive messages, sent from every social media platform, raised suspicions that a lot of it may have come from one person, who was hiding behind the mask of potentially hundreds of fake accounts.
A crowd-sourced investigation by scores of users on social media eventually made enough connections to narrow the abusive accounts to a handful. Some claimed to have evidence to support their suspicions that these accounts were connected to Bloggers Unveiled.
Last weekend a woman featured in the Irish print media, claiming to have been wrongly identified as the person behind Bloggers Unveiled. That woman’s name is Ramona Tracy.
She alleges that she has been wrongfully targeted by people online, and that she is being harassed and claims to have received threatening mail to her home.
But this story isn’t even really about Bloggers Unveiled – it starts way before that account was created.
The real story here is the psychological damage that can be inflicted when one person believes they have a right to dehumanise others from behind the safety of an anonymous social media account.
Aoife Dooley is an illustrator, author and comedian based in Dublin. She started receiving nasty comments on her YouTube videos towards the end of 2017, the week after her father had unexpectedly passed away.
The comments were public and made outrageous reference to Dooley’s appearance and personality. She started receiving similar hate-filled messages to her other social media accounts around the same time.
The amount of abuse led her to believe that a large number of people not only disliked her, but hated her.
“It made me feel like what I was doing was shit and that nobody was interested in me. I just didn’t understand why so many people were coming on to message me, saying all these nasty things, because I’d never done anything on anyone.
I believed that there was a whole bunch of people out there who hated me for no reason and because I was getting the same thing from so many different accounts, I didn’t feel safe. I cancelled gigs,
I didn’t want to go outside the door I was so nervous. I was looking over my shoulder and wouldn’t play music in my ears when I was walking around town in case someone came up behind me.
I wouldn’t go out late at night – my friends would make plans and I’d come up with some stupid excuse because I was afraid to go out and of who would be there.
This wasn’t just someone on Twitter giving their opinion and saying if they didn’t like my work, this was different: this made me feel unsafe.”
Aoife says the guards have “opened a full investigation” into the harassment she received.
Rosemary MacCabe is a blogger and social media personality. She tells me by email that she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore: she is “done”.
Sources told me that MacCabe has been receiving hate mail about her blog for years, and one of the worst accounts was under the username ‘Lexie’.
A post from MacCabe’s Instagram reads:
“I’m really tired of wasting my precious energy on a woman I don’t know and hopefully will never meet, who has spent years of her own life trying to ruin mine (among countless others). I’m tired of thinking I wasn’t good enough because anonymous Internet trolls declared it; I am so sad that I started thinking my face was horrible because they said so.
I left my career behind because I was too scared to stay standing and I stayed in my house for months because I was too paranoid to leave.
I cancelled plans and I let people down…And now I’m so angry that I let someone so small feel so big…I need to get back to trusting what I believe about myself. I need to get back to doing what I love, when for so long I felt I wasn’t good enough for it.
I need to get all that back, because I should never have let anyone take it from me in the first place…We all made enough waves to be targeted by someone with nothing better in their lives, but her suffering is possibly greater than ours.”
“I would go on my laptop or my phone and I would be just enveloped in a huge amount of hate, and you can’t really talk to anyone about how you feel when that mob mentality hits. I was crying, Jenny was crying, it was awful.
There was so much public hate in the aftermath of [that episode] that we were getting private messages from people saying they were afraid to say publicly they had sympathy for us.”
Hamilton gives more background to a now-removed podcast episode, telling how one of her followers started to get friendly last year, just when the show was really taking off.
Hamilton, thinking this person genuinely appreciated what she was doing, was friendly back and the two women struck up a rapport.
She explains how later on the woman started to pursue her, on multiple platforms, by tweeting her, emailing the podcast, and sending posts through to Hamilton’s popular Facebook group.
The communications came regularly, were worded very exactly, and the repeated interactions were causing Hamilton to feel that this person was in distress.
They repeatedly said they had been the victim of an act of extreme violence, and kept referencing a blog post from a popular Irish influencer – Rosemary MacCabe.
Against their better judgment, Hamilton and Claffey recorded and published an episode about sexual consent, and frankly, the whole thing blew up in their faces.
Amid the torrent of abuse they received, a message came in claiming someone was in hospital because they had hurt themselves after listening to the podcast.
The message told Hamilton and Claffey that their names had been passed to the guards. These were then screenshotted and posted online by an unknown user.
The onslaught of abuse towards the two women ratcheted up again, this time with even more ferocity, because now someone in hospital.
Despite repeated offers to help this person, the co-hosts were denied access or information of any kind about the alleged patient.
Hamilton was later contacted by relatives of the girl on Facebook, from accounts with no pictures and no friends, that looked like they had been set up only days beforehand.
Hamilton says she now believes that the person who kept contacting her, repeating what had happened to her, was the same person who caused all the nuisance about a fake girl in hospital.
“She left comments like two days ago, slagging me off. It’s left me really really scared, and I can tell that is irrational but it just has made me fearful. I don’t really sleep very well now. I wasn’t an anxious person before, but it got me wondering if [my social media] was all worth it.
Now though, in the last few weeks with all that has come out, where everybody has come together to figure out that it’s all been from the same person, it’s frightening because it’s like what’s the end – what’s the point of it all?”
Claffey says she believes whoever was behind the messages to Hamilton got a kick out of watching all the drama unfold.
“That’s the whole point: they win when they get a reaction. She terrifies me – I do think she is dangerous.”
Claffey and Hamilton own their decisions around that episode of the podcast, but claim that the username of the person who kept messaging them was ‘Lexie’.
When Aoife Dooley started to recover from the stress of losing her father and dealing with the online abuse, she started digging around online.
Some of the accounts that were sending her hate seemed to be repeating themselves, and were abusing her with similarly worded and similarly structured language, often putting her name, Aoife, at the end of a sentence, after a comma.
More investigation led to similarly abusive comments on other Irish bloggers accounts, from usernames she recognised, also written in a similar style.
When Dooley realised it might be just one person sending abuse, she says her fear escalated into wondering what this person was capable of.
Dooley doesn’t use Snapchat anymore, because of everything that happened, but before she deleted it she decided to set some traps for her abuser, telling followers back in April that she had been to the gards due to targeted harassment.
Suddenly the profiles that had been sending her messages started to disappear or change and she felt like she was making progress.
One day, after setting a trap, a message popped up. It was from the popular new Instagram page, Bloggers Unveiled, an account where an anonymous admin posted pictures supposedly calling out unethical behaviour and practices in the beauty and blogging world.
Dooley feels foolish now, because she told Bloggers Unveiled everything. All the person behind that account wanted to know was – what did the guards say?
A lot of people were speculating about who Bloggers Unveiled could be, and the page might not have drawn as much scrutiny had the person behind it not revealed some nasty character traits.
The page started to increasingly divert away from its earlier purpose, which had initially been to call out beauty bloggers on what some people believe to be unethical business practices.
Each time the page posted up an exposé, its gained thousands of followers, and at times Bloggers Unveiled even made the news, at one point triggering a statement from the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI).
By the time it was removed by the person who created it, the page had amassed 223,000 followers, a huge number for the Irish social media scene.
Even though the posts were very carefully worded, they often contained a veiled implication, and the real damage was done in the comments.
A Dublin-based clothing company has reportedly begun legal proceedings to try to find out who was behind the page, in order to sue them for damages.
Despite its ratcheting success, Kidd says he didn’t pay much attention to Bloggers Unveiled in the early days. “Initially I agreed with the concept behind it because I thought the industry needed to be more transparent. It was good in the beginning.”
Kidd and Stenson however quickly came to the conclusion that whoever was behind it was shady.
“The first time I became aware of it was during the very bad snow. On the Wednesday night you could still drive so I drove Jason home and on the way he was snapchatting the snowy roads. Bloggers Unveiled posted that video 24 hours later, during the red weather warning, to make it look like we’d been driving dangerously. Some of our friends were harassed incessantly.”
At this point, Kidd and Stenson say they knew it had strayed away from someone performing a civic duty into something more sinister. They decided to look deeper into who was behind the account and soon, Aoife Dooley had an ally.
Someone approached Kidd and Stenson, telling them she had been receiving abuse to her online business, and after snooping through enough threads, accounts and comments, she had eventually come up with a name.
She told an old friend of hers, now living in Toronto, what was going on. That friend’s name was Christine Hanley. Turns out Ireland really is a small place.
The person declined to give Kidd and Stenson a name, but instead directed them to an Instagram account, and it happened to be a certain beauty business in Tullamore, County Offaly.
The guys were surprised when the account was set to private, meaning users had to send a request in order to access the shared content.
They sent a follow request from their White Moose account, which is famous in the microcosm of Irish social media – and almost immediately got a message.
Despite the fact they had simply followed the account – and had not sent any messages – the beauty business launched straight into a denial, and it included the following:
“I know you have been told I am behind the bloggers unveiled page, but I’m not…I’m doing my best to prove that it isn’t.”
Not long after that, the cafe received another message, this time directly from the Bloggers Unveiled account;
“It has come to my attention that you are following innocent people in an attempt to intimidate them…The young girl you have set your sights on this week lives on her own and has been receiving prank calls and random adds to her business account, all motivated by someone who has an agenda against her for years.”
Ramona Tracey, the person who was in the papers last week, is the owner of that business. There are screenshots linking her to some very questionable comments, and others where she admits she is scared to be outed as the person behind Bloggers Unveiled.
There are more screenshots available linking the person behind Bloggers Unveiled to a Reddit account, where she is known to her friends as ‘Lexie.’
There is no smoking gun to prove that any one person was behind a lengthy and damaging campaign of harassment against Irish social media personalities, and there is no definitive, publishable proof that the same person capped it off with an episode of super-trolling when they allegedly created the Bloggers Unveiled page.
But how can there be proof, when it was all done anonymously, behind a digital interface? Until an IP address is produced, these are nothing but allegations, backed up by reams of screenshots.
The demise of Bloggers Unveiled might to a lot of people seem frivolous, and maybe it is. But Bloggers Unveiled isn’t really what this story is about.
It’s about how dark web users feel completely impervious to the standards of common decency that hold the fabric of society together.
The mask of anonymity brings a thrilling sense of power and from behind it, strange people can create untold mayhem and sadness in other people’s lives, without ever meeting or laying a finger on them. It begs the question, for what?
Some people have suggested that this is a style of professional trolling, whereby the assailant always ‘punches up’ and looks for reaction from people with a lot of followers.
Any reaction is enough, but seeing people crying and miserable is the ultimate goal. Essentially, dark web users take pleasure in witnessing the physical and mental torture of others. One can only speculate about the inside of these people’s minds and the quality of their face-to-face relationships.
As much as technology is creating distances between people that didn’t before exist, we share some of our most intimate details online, and most of it is lost in binary code soup of the self-affirming masses.
It’s not really that risky, unless you have enemies or someone is out to shame you. But this is the currency that the catfish troll trades in: shame, lots of it, and always someone else’s.
In time, they learn how to manufacture shame, and bank what they learn so they can do it all again, next time on a bigger scale, all the while increasing their own feeling of power.
When they have enough shame in the bank, and when they get powerful enough, real damage is done, and from behind a digital interface the internet is their playground.
They brag about these exploits in groups of similarly minded people and climb the ranks to become the biggest troll.
There are screenshots doing the rounds where a Facebook user named Santa Paws admits to
“being on this website (since deleted) called brawl hall since I was 15 which was basically a training ground for trolling. I spent 7 years learning the art of trolling and getting into flame war battles with other equally as good users and winners of those would move up in the trolling ranks.”
A follow up message reads,
“she is literally fucking with the wrong person.”
The Santa Paws account only recently changed its name. Up until a few months ago, Santa Paws was called Ramona Tracy.
We hold the uncertainties of life together by policing ourselves; we save each other from our deepest insecurities by being kind.
We support each other to overcome vulnerability by filtering our thoughts, and by biting our tongues, and decent people at least make an effort to live their lives to the fullest without stepping on the souls of others.
The alternative is chaos, and that’s when evil wins. We each have a responsibility to monitor this delicate arrangement for cracks, because it only takes one loose screw to undermine the careful scaffolding that stops the whole world from falling apart.
We may not ever fully understand internet trolls, but the least we can do is teach each other how to recognise their unique depravity, so that ultimately they disappear without the oxygen of acknowledgment.
Áine Carroll is a journalist and freelance writer who lives in Dublin. You can follow Áine on Twitter here