Cyberbullying: How anonymous attacks changed me for ever

Caught in the web: Ellie Nudd was 17 when she joined a social networking site. She made a profile, and then her torment began

Ellie Nudd was a typical teenager, studying for A-levels in English, sociology and business in her hometown of Colchester. Now aged 21, she describes her younger self as “open and trusting”, someone who found it easy to make friends.

Soon after joining the social networking site Formspring at the age of 17, she recalls, all that changed: “At the time, it was the latest site; everyone at my school had it. It was one of those sites where you can make your profile public or private, and comments can be made anonymously or you can leave your name.”

She made a profile, which anyone could see. It was, she says, the start of a period of bullying that would scar her life for ever. “In the beginning, it was comments about my appearance. These were public comments that everyone could see: they wrote about how I looked, where I worked. They knew what car I drove, they knew everything about me.”

The scariest part, she reflects four years later, was “this was clearly [being done by] someone I knew, but I knew nothing about them”.

Video: 'The landscape of bullying has completely changed'

With the anonymity the site gave her abuser or abusers, Ellie had no way of knowing if it was a so-called friend or people she worked with. “It could have been anyone; it was obvious it was someone I was seeing every day.”

Over a period of months, Ellie adds, “it escalated to death threats. Towards the end, the messages were very aggressive and personal. They were kind of stalkerish too, pointing to other comments I’d made on a different networking site, or for instance if I drove over a bridge one day they would write, ‘Next time you cross that bridge, you’re going to crash.’ ”

Read more: Internet is 'lawless jungle too dangerous for children to use’, former government adviser warns

The impact on her life was devastating. “It followed me everywhere. I’m not saying [online bullying] is worse than any other kind of bullying, but if you’re being bullied face to face, you can at least get away from it at home.”

At the time, Ellie was “too embarrassed” to tell her family what was happening. “It sounds silly, but I felt like I must have done something wrong to deserve it. It is hard to say to someone, ‘I’m being bullied and I need help.’

“I didn’t tell my family for a long time, but my friends obviously saw the comments with their own eyes. It was difficult for them; at first, they would say ‘it’s just words’. But it’s not as simple as that. That was the most frustrating thing that everyone around me didn’t seem to understand.”

Ellie says the whole time this was going on she never engaged with the bullies, and yet they carried on. Why did she not just stop looking at the comments? Or leave the site altogether? “Because it was a public site, others could still see the messages being left. I had to keep looking at the site, I couldn’t stop. To tell a 17-year-old to stop using a social network, it’s not going to happen. For me, it was impossible. Weird as it sounds, I wanted to see it. Everyone else could read it; I wanted to see it, too.”

The reverberations of the abuse, Ellie recalls, were widely felt: “It really affected my concentration; there were times in class when I was very emotional and couldn’t focus. I couldn’t trust anyone.” She felt “frustrated” and “angry” that these people thought they could harass her with total impunity. “They knew they could get away with it.”

Finally, after several months of fearing for her life, Ellie went to the police. “They took over my profile, and for my own wellbeing they told me to stop using the site. Since then my account has been shut down.” Yet the police were never able to find out who was responsible. “In the site’s terms and conditions, it said [the owners] would release the names [of anyone making salacious comments], but because it was a foreign company [who owned the site], the British police couldn’t get any response from them.”

Even now, Ellie says, not knowing who was behind the cyberbullying “still influences the way I look at the world and how I view new people who come into my life”.

“Four years ago, I was very open to meeting new people, and I found it easy to talk to people and get to know them. Now I’m very closed off and guarded. I’ve got a very close circle of people around me, but I find it hard to trust and open up to new people.”

Ellie has just finished a degree in criminology and is about to start her master’s. She still uses social networking sites, but has learnt to keep them “really private”.

“Now I know exactly who is in my network. It is not something you ever really get over. It takes only seconds to type something on a computer, but for those on the other side it sticks with you for the rest of your life.”

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Web Developer - C# / ASP.NET - London - £55K

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Web Deve...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Support Analyst

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises in providing best-in-...

    Recruitment Genius: Test Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower