A British model who confronted a hacker who took over her Snapchat account and sent rude messages to male followers says he expressed remorse after being challenged by her.
But while her social media pages were initially overwhelmingly positive spaces, as her following grew, so did the instances and severity of the abusive comments she began to receive.
Since becoming an increasingly prominent figure, Lawrence has received disturbing rape and death threats and is now calling for a meeting with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to discuss what more the social networks could be doing to tackle cyber abuse.
Lawrence, from Kidderminster, Worcestershire, started a Facebook page to boost her profile and engagement with her fans, which is managed by her father. She now has more than 670,000 followers on that page alone.
Lawrence’s father showed her some of the most disturbing rape threats he has previously hidden from her, including death threats, for a BBC film led by Lawrence investigating online trolls. In one particularly unsettling video, someone dressed as The Joker is shown speaking directly to the camera and saying “I will kill you”.
In July, Lawrence says she confronted a troll who hacked her Snapchat and sent messages impersonating her from her account. She told The Independent her challenging him resulted in a “heart-to-heart” between the pair. “I kind of started talking to him and I said, you do realise I have very young fragile followers and you could have said something that could have really damaged them? You could have also ruined my personal relationship with my boyfriend - because he sent rude messages to other guys. All that I’ve worked really hard for you could’ve ruined just because you wanted to get a kick of it.
"And he was actually really embarrassed. He said this was just something he did because he was bored and he didn’t have friends.
"I told him this is really sad: clearly you’re intelligent, you have computer skills and you’re not going to get any friends if you keep being negative and doing nasty hurtful things. I asked him, why don't you use your talent and your skills in a positive way and try and help people? Then you’re going to meet a nice creative group of people online, and then you’re going to feel better about yourself, you’re going to have friends, it’s going to be positive, and we haven’t spoken since. At the end [of our conversation], he said thank you and said he was never going to hack again."
Lawrence, who is based in New York, expressed concern young people are increasingly facing online abuse without enough measures in place to protect them.
Describing the abuse she herself has received so far, she said: “It’s daily; anything from little comments like ‘fat cow’ or ‘whore’ or those kind of derogatory comments.
“The worst one for me personally was when someone said ‘people like you, plus size - WTF, you’re disgusting, people like you are why the NHS is f’ed up’ and 'put down your crisps and your McDonalds’. I read it because a fan on a page of mine had DM’d me saying she’d been so upset by it and she was crying - it had really ruined her day. I just thought wow, this is not ok.
“I’ve also had rape threats. I always delete them because I have such young female followers - that’s like my main audience. I delete them off my account immediately because I just can’t even believe people would write that word."
The 26-year-old said one of the most worrying aspects of the online abuse is the anonymity afforded to the troll who can hide behind a profile. “They’re always private profiles, always. I’ve no idea who these people are, where they live, that’s the scary thing and why I have to be careful. I try to post the day after something now just in case - what if they are following you or know where you live?”
Lawrence said some of the images she has shared on social media in order to empower her followers have also been removed. “I posted a beautiful cartoon illustration of different types of women that were nude; some had a mastectomy, some were transgender, they were different sizes - it was the most beautiful image I’ve ever seen. Just a cartoon and it got taken down. It’s so disappointing.”
She said she would “love” to speak to the heads of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter about her concerns.
“I think that’d be great to sit down with them. Imagine if there was some sort of panel where once or twice a year they would be like ‘ok, how can we work on this together, what can we do?’ They should be thinking outside the box about how they can improve this.”
In response to her concerns, Facebook said it could not comment on specific cases but said there is no place for trolling, bullying or harassment on the network. A spokesperson told The Independent: “We have spent over a decade innovating to keep people safe, continuously introducing new features and tools to help people have a positive experience on the site. We urge people to use our reporting tools if they find content that makes them uncomfortable and that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate and take swift action.”
Instagram said the network aims to promote a culture "where everyone feels safe to be themselves without criticism or harassment". A spokesperson added: "Any form of online abuse is completely counter to this culture. That’s why we’re committed to continuing to build features that safeguard the community from this kind of behavior.
“Over the summer we launched a comment moderation tool that anyone can use, which gives people the ability to filter out keywords they may find offensive. This is in addition to our other in-app tools which let you swipe to delete comments, report inappropriate comments or block accounts. We know that tools aren’t the only solution, which is why we will continue to work with experts and the community to keep Instagram a positive place for self-expression.”
A spokesperson for Twitter said there is no place for hateful conduct on the platform.
“People must feel safe in order to speak freely and there is a clear distinction between freedom of expression and conduct that incites violence and hate.
“In tandem with actioning hateful conduct that breaches Twitter’s Rules, we also leverage the platform’s incredible capabilities to empower positive voices, to challenge prejudice and to tackle the deeper root causes of intolerance. We look forward to further constructive dialogue between government, our partners in civil society and our peers in the technology sector on this issue.”
Additional reporting by James Smith
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