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Smut Page Survivor
Destiny Smith
headshot

Names have been changed.

One day I was in school, on my way from math class to lunch, when I saw a group of students hovering quietly over something. Curious, I made my way to the front of the circle so that I could see what was fascinating everybody. As I got closer I realized that everyone was looking at Kendrick’s Blackberry. Kendrick was a popular boy at my school, so I knew whatever he had his hands on had to be exciting. I moved in for a closer look.

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When he passed me the phone I realized that they were all staring at a Facebook page called “Smuts Who Burnin.” Once I saw the title, I knew what was going on. These “smut pages” got started back in the Myspace days when someone would make an anonymous page for bashing people so that others would come to hate those people, too. As we scrolled down the page, I saw pictures of different people the page creator had chosen to bash.

The people seemed to have been randomly chosen; they weren’t all friends or people who had a connection with one another. A picture of a gay guy was posted first. His picture showed him in the mirror with a bikini on while his boyfriend hugged him. Under it, people had posted homophobic insults toward him and his boyfriend, “Peaches.”

Another picture showed a girl topless with only panties on. She seemed to have taken the picture herself, and it was clearly something she’d sent to someone privately, not expecting it to end up on a website where the whole world could see it. The comments belittled her for having a child in high school and not being with her baby’s father. One person posted that she was a whore.

There were a bunch of pictures like this and under them all were rude comments from the page author as well as other people. I felt uncomfortable looking at the pictures. There was no need for people to be saying these cruel things. They were taking it too far.

Why Do This?

Then it got personal: I noticed a picture of one of my friends on the page. When I first realized it was Jessica, I couldn’t believe it. In the photo, Jessica wasn’t dressed provocatively; she was just sitting in a chair in her house, smiling. The author of the page had written that my friend was a dirty whore who had abortions for fun. Others degraded her by saying that she had sex with everyone in her neighborhood, and that she was broke and needed to get her life together.

I was baffled. I had known Jessica for years and these accusations about her were totally false. Jessica was a calm, friendly person, the type who would randomly start talking to you about anything, even if she didn’t know you from a hole in the wall. She could start a party with the lights on, get everybody’s fists pumping like they were in a techno club. I couldn’t understand why someone would want to hurt her like that.

I felt Jessica had the right to know what was being said out there about her, so I called her at home later that day and revealed to her what I’d discovered on my way to lunch.

"Hey Jessica, can I talk to you for a minute?” I asked.

"Yeah, what is it?”

"Well, earlier I came across a Facebook page with you on it and people seemed to have some very strong opinions about you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she said, sounding exhausted.

“Well, it seems as if a mystery writer made a page bashing you and a few others, and it’s gotten around.”

Jessica didn’t easily embarrass, so I figured she would just brush it off. Instead, she hung up on me. I called her back five minutes later. When she picked up the phone I could hear her blowing her nose and sniffling.

“Are you OK?” I asked her, surprised to realize that she was crying.

image by Freddy Bruce

“Am I OK? Is that a serious question? My picture is all over the Internet with people talking about how I’m a whore. Do you think I am OK?”

“I understand that, Jessica, but things happen. You just going to have to get over it ’cause they already posted everything.”

“Who would do such a thing to me? What did I ever do to deserve this?”

As Jessica started to ask me these questions, I started to wonder: What does anybody do to deserve that kind of thing being published for the whole Internet to read? Even before this happened, I’d always wondered why people would bother to make those smut pages. I always found them to be immature and showing a lack of self-control.

But it wasn’t until I saw Jessica’s reaction that I realized that cyberbullying is indeed a serious matter. On Facebook, you can upload the picture in different albums, write a description about the picture, and receive “likes” and comments on the picture. That’s a lot of different ways to bash other people to a large audience.

‘I Feel Nasty’

For the first couple of days after I told her about the page, Jessica did not show up to school. When she did come back, she was not herself. Instead of wearing skirts and button-down shirts with her makeup done, she’d wear a black sweater zipped to the top with the hood over her face. Sullen and withdrawn, she secluded herself from our group of friends, not even sitting with us at lunch but instead going to the library or sitting by the window alone, reading a book.

I asked Jessica why she was staying away from us. She said she felt nasty. Everywhere she went, she felt like everybody was talking about her or looking at her funny.

At first I thought that maybe she was exaggerating, but then I walked her to her class. Sure enough, it seemed like everywhere I turned, somebody was looking at Jessica, whispering or shaking their head.

A Hug and a Smile

Then Jessica stopped coming to school. After a week, I decided to visit her at home. She answered the door in an oversized shirt, sweatpants, and hair that looked like it hadn’t been combed in days. I just looked at her and gave her a hug. My once friendly, outgoing friend had turned into a quiet hermit.

It turned out that there was more to her reaction than I knew. Jessica confided in me that she’d been sexually abused when she was younger. She hadn’t told many people about it. Unfortunately, the “smuts page” made the whole experience resurface, which added to her trauma.

I immediately assured her that the page was old news and that everybody had moved on to other things that week. She was not convinced, but after some persuading, she promised that she would return to school the following Monday.

When she returned to school she had on that same black sweater zipped to the top with the hood up around her face—not a good sign. I approached her with a smile to let her know that she was not going to endure the bashing by herself. For the next couple of days I walked her to all her classes and sat with her at lunch to get her back into the habit of being a productive student.

Think Before You Post

Jessica has fewer friends now, because she’s paranoid that everybody around her is judging her. I’m glad that she decided to return to school, but she’s never been the same since this happened.

Jessica never chose to be the talk of the school. Going through this with my friend made me not want to go online anymore, since the Internet was not the safe place I’d thought it was. I found myself logging on to Facebook less and less.

If people would think about the effects of what they write before they post, maybe things would not get so reckless and out of hand. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, but you still have to be responsible and compassionate toward others.

(NYC-2011-11-06)