Lifestyle

Neville Otuki: How my girlfriend ruined my social media presence

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My ex-girlfriend became the cyberbully I never saw coming. She was this beautiful, smart and hardworking young woman. Then without warning she transformed into this unrelenting keyboard warrior whose cyber-attacks on me left my head spinning.

The height of her machinations came when she recently created a pseudo Facebook account in my sister’s name, claiming I had died in a road accident. Word of my ‘death’ travelled fast.

Phone calls and messages arrived. What was strange, though, was the fact that the calls came even from people I hardly spoke to. It was only later that some callers saw their folly in placing a call to a ‘dead person’.

A month earlier, my ex-girlfriend had peddled a similar falsehood — that my sister was no more. Before that, she had hacked into my Facebook account and broken the news to the public in quick succession: first, that I was engaged, then married immediately after. In the posts, the two events happened inside five minutes. I woke up that Sunday morning, having slept in, to warm messages of congratulations that poured in by the bucketload. I wondered whether I had received the President’s commendation without my knowledge. Some unsuspecting colleagues who fell for it held that given the tough economic climate, the low-key event was indeed a wise move to save a penny.

While these incidents made my blood boil with rage, never once did I confront my tormentor directly. I instead enlisted the help of professionals like cyber security experts, lawyers and people close to her to somehow defang the threats.

At some point I even reported the matter at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters.

I came to understand that the psychology of a cyber-bully is to drag you to hell with them. It’s a tactic mirrored across all kinds of bullies. You don’t fight fire with fire, I was told. Keep your cool, I was reminded.

How it all started

The whole harassment ordeal started late May, five months ago, and nearly a year after our break-up. My ex-girlfriend struck from nowhere, just when I thought each one of us had moved on. A nasty comment on one of my Instagram posts was her first salvo. In the comment, she had sworn to destroy me; that I would regret meeting her. What a way to announce a comeback! And thus began my anguish with my sweetheart-turned-cyberbully.

I met my ex-girlfriend on social media and I guess it was all coming full circle. Having blocked her on all communications platforms, including social media, she had proceeded to build a pseudo account, complete with her picture and name.

I guess she never suspected that I still had her mother’s phone number. Figuring she would look at the whole issue objectively, I shared a screenshot of the post with her mother and she promised to get to the bottom of it. As expected, her daughter denied any wrongdoing and flipped the story against me. Case closed. Her father was less diplomatic; he threatened me.

Though she didn’t admit it, I guess this forced my tormentor to change tack in her playbook. She disappeared for about a month, only to resurface with a more devious tactic.

Instead of opening fake social media accounts, she would simply impersonate people close to me. While Facebook would pull down the fake accounts upon flagging them, she quickly opened new ones. More than 20 accounts were opened, according to a cyber-security maven I engaged. She impersonated me and slid into the inboxes of my female friends demanding sexual favours.

I had to edit my pages’ privacy settings, stop posting new posts, and archive several pictures. But the attacks kept coming.

Not wanting to jump to conclusion too soon since it could be anyone, I had separately reached out to two cyberbullying busters. They separately tracked the fake accounts to one of her two phone numbers. One of the busters gave her a call, asking she stops the harassment since her cover had been blown. She went ballistic on the other end of the phone. It didn’t take long before she recruited some attack dogs who threatened the said cyber security expert. Fearing for his life, he swiftly filed a case with the DCI.

I thought now that we had smoked her out, it would be the end of the bullying. How mistaken I was! The cyber-attacks grew even more intense and more personal. At this point, I was forced to conclude my ex-lover had gone psycho. She was a cyberpath.

Busted, she again changed strategy. Instead of opening the fake accounts from her phone, which would make it easy to track her down, she engaged a third person at some cyber café. The cyber web was getting bigger and more tangled.

With the cyber operative now in the picture, tracking down the fake social media accounts became a wild goose chase. What could possibly make someone so sweet suddenly step into the character of a hardcore underground cyberbully? Rejection, it appears. At least in my case.

Break-up

For my peace of mind, I had decided to end my relationship with my girlfriend last year. I felt the whole thing had become toxic, wobbly and beyond repair. The only option I had left, I reasoned, was to amicably exit the scene while my dignity was still intact.

A number of things made me question the health of our relationship. I felt our union stood on shaky ground. While she was faithful as I was, she would get maniacally territorial over me. For instance, she demanded to manage my social media pages, to which I agreed. I saw it as a non-issue.

Next, she started posting herself on my pages with syrupy captions of a love-struck teenager. Of course I would pull the posts down. I reminded her that even though I had handed her the keys to my pages, she was obliged to respect my space. I had a professional image to keep. Tantrums would ensue and I would be served a storm in a teacup. Some nights she would dash to the kitchen, grab a kitchen knife and lock herself in the bedroom. I would find myself sweet-talking her not to do anything stupid. I would remind her how beautiful, smart and hardworking she was. It often worked.

Thankfully, not once did she ever turn the knife on me. The worst I suffered was a hot slap, once. Of course I answered back, something I’m not quite proud of. My clothes were twice dumped at the door, and I was locked out of the house once.

That’s not all. As the self-imposed manager of my social media enterprise, she decided who would comment on my posts. She stalked every single woman who commented on my posts and told off whoever she felt may be a threat. Having received the memo, many kept off and I lost friends.

I was even made to delete and block phone contacts of female colleagues and friends who she felt were talking or chatting with me more than they should. My phone became her phone. She audited my spending on my family members. Hanging out with friends became an issue and whenever I did, I would be inundated with a dozen calls and messages from her. When I went shopping for my first car, she wanted the logbook in her name. I was a man on a short leash. But that wasn’t the deal-breaker.

The deal-breaker for me came when she demanded that none of my family members could pay me a visit at my place. And if they were to do so, then I should find them accommodation in hotels. Make no mistake. I was the one paying rent for the spacious apartment that could comfortably accommodate more people. I wasn’t a kept boyfriend. Yet, it almost felt like it was her mission to box me in.

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After dating for nearly three years on and off, we had finally decided to move in together. I had introduced her to my parents and she had done likewise. What remained was a bride price ceremony, soon to be followed by a wedding.

Now, when I finally pulled the plug on our romantic affair after six months of living together, I opted to be the one to move out. Long story short, my ex-lover kicked up a perfect storm, forcing me to flee minus my belongings. All I could rescue were a few clothes and a laptop. I had to start from scratch; it reminded me of my last day at university, stepping out into unfamiliar territory.

For two nights, I slept in a hotel before furnishing my new house. Thankfully, I had a flexible work schedule that allowed me to work remotely.

Though circumstances had thrown me off balance, I forced myself to act normally in my work engagements as if nothing had happened.

At some point, however, I toyed with the idea of pulling a Houdini. Just disappear to some remote place, go off-the-grid and lie low. Finally, I chose to hang in there, summoning my inner willpower, a decision I can say was the best under the circumstances.

Did I miss her? Oh yes. I genuinely loved this woman and the heartbreak did a number on me. You can, therefore, imagine my shock when a week later after moving out, a familiar voice called from outside my door.

My ex-girlfriend had somehow tracked me and located my new physical address, begging for a reconciliation. I refused. Given that I had taken her back after previous break-ups, this time round I didn’t want to tempt fate any further. I had to cut bait.

With me at my new place were two men fixing my Wi-Fi. They couldn’t help cracking up at the manner in which she made her grand entrance. The way she conducted herself was almost as if she was the owner of the place. Upon answering the door, she stormed in and shuffled straight to the bedroom. Perhaps she expected to find another woman there.

To discourage her from swinging by again, I lied that I had moved in with the said men. Explaining the situation to the caretaker of the premises, I instructed him not to allow her past the main gate.

“That’s a live wire, my man,” one of the men joked after she was long gone. I didn’t hear from her again. Little did I know it was calm before the storm. Then came May, and the drama began.

Personal transformation

Meanwhile, I took the breakup period to self-reflect. While I may have occasionally reached for a stiff drink to still my mind, it never got out of hand. I took up hiking, enrolled in a gym and even made changes to my look. I grew a beard. I suspect my transformation, whose images I would share on social media, is what stirred my ex-lover out of the woodwork.

Her harassment machine, like a well-oiled wagon, traversed every inch of the social media landscape, taking aim at her target: me. From parenting groups, thriving couples to groups of lost persons, she paraded me and gleefully watched from her underworld as I took the walk of shame, frantically trying to clear my name.

In the parenting group, for instance, she plastered my picture, my name and my phone number. Impersonating me, she claimed that my ex had left me with a one-year-old baby and that I was out to find a mature lady. My phone blew up with calls and messages from potential candidates. I had to explain the situation to every single last one of them. To be clear, I don’t have a child yet.

Silence and inaction only emboldens the bully

Initially I had brushed my aggressor off, believing she would grow tired and stop. I was dead wrong! It seemed as though my silence gave her the impression she had me on the ropes, gasping for air. And that the more she attacked, the closer she was to finishing me off. And so she came down hard at me.

I woke up every morning not sure which site I had been posted on. Or what kinds of fires I would be putting out later in the day.

My aggressor’s game-plan was simple. Soil my name and reputation among my friends and professional network and rob me of peace of mind. Then watch me sink into depression and hopefully do something stupid.

At some point I felt hopelessly inadequate. This came when she pointed her harassment machinery at my mother and fired. I must admit the shot hit me harder than it did my mother. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than watching helplessly as your family members come under attack because of your choices. Her shot at my mother hit a raw nerve. I remember screaming and cursing and seething with rage. I might have punched a few items around the house. She really got me there.

What she did is that she created a fake Facebook account with my mother’s picture and phone number.

She then proceeded to put out a post asking people to send money to that number in exchange for nudes. You can imagine the kinds of calls and messages mama received. And what that can do to your sanity.

Good times

Every story has more than one side, and my love enterprise is no different. We had our sweet moments, too. Against my ex-girlfriend’s whetstone, I came to sharpen my cooking skills. It was from her that I borrowed a few kitchen hacks, like preparing grilled pork chops. It was also from her that I came to understand different types of cakes, their flavours, and how to prepare them.

For all these perks, of course I had to part with a monthly girlfriend allowance. She gifted me, and I gifted her a lot more. Turns out I was living in a fool’s paradise.

Occasionally, she would joke that I wanted to steal her kitchen magic to enchant other women and that I better be warned. I often laughed it off. That seemingly innocent little joke wasn’t so innocent, after all. In hindsight, it was a red flag among many others.

A giant red flag I unwittingly overlooked was when in 2019 I decided to treat my old folks to a trip to the coast.

Having never boarded a train nor a plane, I figured flying them over to Mombasa for a three-day staycation would somehow gladden their hearts.

As a kind gentleman, I tagged along my fair lady for the sun, sea and sand treat on the beach. Of course we had been there before, just the two of us. And so I made it clear that this trip was for the old folks to enjoy, then we would similarly pamper her folks soon after.

Turns out the whole arrangement was a bitter pill for her to swallow. She wanted it the other way around: her parents first despite the fact they had flown many times before.

Long story short, two days after journeying back upcountry, my old man phoned me. He paused briefly as if undecided whether or not to say whatever was lingering on his mind. Finally, he muttered: “Thank you my son for the treat. Your mother and I really enjoyed it. But just one thing. I didn’t like the way my daughter (my ex-girlfriend) treated us. That’s all I wanted to tell you.”

And with that he hang up. BY DAILY NATION


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