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Katy Burns

Katy Burns: Cyber bullies

Deborah Lielasus is a 54-year-old freelance grant writer from Portsmouth who has spent much of her adult life working in the nonprofit sector, particularly the arts.

She is also – take your pick – a “parasite,” a “useful idiot,” a “professional beggar,” a “scammer,” a “phony,” a “leech,” a “government hack,” a “panhandler,” a “big scab on society” and – bizarrely – “a crack whore from Toledo.” She’s an “Obama minion” and “a dupe.” She has had “a long and pathetic career in bilking others out of their hard-earned money.”

She is – gasp! – as big a blight on society as a community organizer.

So say a motley group of anonymous commenters on various websites, folks who bravely face the world under such names as Nerditarian, chaga, buzzsawmonkey and The Patriot. They ply their trade not only on dubious websites such as weaselzippers.us (“Scouring the Bowels of the Internet”) but at such perfectly respectable places as the Concord Monitor.

What on earth did Lielasus do to merit such opprobrium from a bunch of seemingly total strangers?

Simple. The Portsmouth woman successfully navigated healthcare.gov, the website set up to enable uninsured and under-insured Americans to purchase affordable health insurance. It is part of the Affordable Care Act – the dread Obamacare – and its rollout has been, to say the least, rocky, the object of scathing public criticism and a gold mine for late-night comedians.

She was able to purchase insurance that will save her family hundreds of dollar a month. She has a pre-existing medical condition that meant her only recourse has been to the state’s high-risk pool with its high premiums and high deductibles. Now she will have normal insurance and is eligible for a tax credit.

If this isn’t bad enough, Lielasus allowed the Obama administration to cite her success in an ad. And she penned a column for the Nov. 3 Sunday Monitor urging folks needing insurance to persist until they get it.

Well! The dark side of the internet exploded in fury. Within hours of her column’s publication in the Monitor several of the paper’s website’s habitual offenders were off to the races, competing to see which one could most imaginatively insult Lielasus and pry into her life. Along with an army of other anonymous bullies on other websites, they searched the internet for information – and misinformation – about the grant writer, her circumstances, her family. They blithely attributed nefarious motives to her. They were deeply offended that she had the temerity to have an “expensive” pre-existing medical condition.

They engaged in speculation – wildly inaccurate – about her and her likely income based solely on a website somewhere that said the average hourly income for grant writers is $96. Which I’m sure will be news to a lot of freelance grant (and other) writers.

They, along with others, darkly implied that she was somehow the beneficiary of some sort of government favoritism, given because she has written applications for, among other things, government grants.

For a few days, all sorts of unhappy souls in sad places sat at their computers and did their best to vilify Deborah Lielasus. No tidbit was too petty to post – including details about a husband who turned out to be an ex-husband. Everything online isn’t necessarily reliable. Who knew?

Disquieting picture

Lielasus is tough, and she isn’t intimidated even if she did remove her résumé from LinkedIn because, she told me, her clients “do not deserve to be brought into the bully fest.” She does admit that when one especially vile web harasser, Dapandico, posted the picture of a pistol as a “cure” for liberals, it was, to put it mildly, disquieting.

But, she vowed, she’d do it again.

Which I’m sure her detractors do not want to hear. Cyberspace is full of bullies, and what they want more than anything is to harass, to intimidate, to make participation in a public forum painful. And they also want more than anything to do their dirty work anonymously, from the shadows. Go to nearly every news organization – including this one – that has a website and you can find them lurking, spitting out accusations and judgments they’d never dream of voicing publicly to their chosen victims.

Website policing

Virtually all news outfits try to police their websites, with varying success. Of those I check from time to time, the New York Times site is closely monitored and, as a result, hosts genuine discussions, often complete with clever poetry. One of the worst is that of the Washington Post. Despite alleged improvements it remains a verbal sewer.

The Monitor’s valiant site moderators try to uphold standards. It’s a far cry from the Wild West it once was. But there’s only so much a small staff at a small paper can do if a few determined people, mostly anonymous cowards themselves, are hell-bent on imposing a bully culture online.

And I’ve no doubt that the relentless flood of insults spewed by online commenters does, in fact, deter others from engaging in discussions or in making their positions public. Even writers of letters to the editor, who must sign their names, aren’t spared scorn. Online commenters, almost all anonymous, quickly suss out their personal information and try to use it to mock them. It’s contemptible.

This internet can be an ugly, ugly place.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The internet, it was predicted, would lead to a glorious era of great public discussions. But in too many ways, it hasn’t. Like the real, material world, cyberworld is flawed, sometimes grievously. It is a place partly populated by thieves, spies, vandals – and odious bullies.

What a waste.

(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

Legacy Comments33

Itsa: I would say that calling you a racist or a bigot or selfish, to your face, at a public meeting, is certainly not “dangerous” -- inflammatory maybe, but those are not threats. (Without knowing what your critics were responding to I cannot say for certain I would not have been right there with them.) But as to the “threats” you say you received by mail, can you please tell us what happened after you reported them to the police, FBI and postmaster? (Which you did, right?) By the way, what was the “name” you think I called you? Hypocrite? (Right.)

I would say that standing up against people who want to make your town a "sanctuary" for illegals or standing against a new community center or town office building in the middle of the great recession were neither extreme, bigoted or selfish. Yes I did report it to the postmaster to no avail. Not able to trace.

Katy Burns makes several good points. I would add that one way that websites could help curb cyber-bullying is to insist that people who file comments MUST use their real names. Writers should have the courage to own their statements. No anonymous or fake name comments should be allowed. I expect that would reduce some of the worse remarks. –Rick Watrous

Hmmmm, interesting idea but when I have used my own names I received threats in the mail, by phone and in stores. Now those were not conservative Republicans making those threats. I once received one of those letters with words cut out of magazines. In fact if you speak up at town halls about local issues, people boo and call you "racist", " bigot", "selfish", etc. to your face at the meeting. So you need to ask exactly who is more dangerous and nasty? Note one poster below who agrees with you, once again being the chief name caller.

Many folks on the Left side of politics should practice what they preach, in fact, Katy should as well. I laughed when I read the post about "usual suspects" as that poster constantly brands anyone with a different opinion as "car per diem" posters, "right wingers", "tea baggers" and has even implied that such posters are traitors at at the very least seditous or wanting to overthrow the government. It is constant personal attacks followed by complaints that others attack people personally....stunning hypocrisy. I can tell you that what most people want is some self responsibility on the part of a few and to abandon the notion that people with ability to pay more should to subsidize others. There are many options that are far fairer to the populace than Obamacare. Progressives won't have it. Charity starts at home and then if you have the ability, in a free society, it is your choice on who you might help and when you might help them. Until and unless people start taking more responsibility for themselves and until and unless they are willing to do whatever it takes to get to where they need to be, there will always be friction and in-fighting amongst different sides. 50 million people get some kind of government check, 20% of the population are on food stamps and we just learned that the IRS sent multiple refunds for millions of dollars to fake recipients all over the world. If we managed the government properly, all of that wasted money would certainly have gone to good use paying for health care for some of the folks struggling. The Obama's take vacations for $5 million, how many people with pre-existing conditions could be treated with that wasted money. The IRS, HUD, GSA junkets and amateur videos spent millions while progressives who find no issue with that kind of thing (after all they allow it to go on and they are in power), cry for more money for social programs and in essence, Obamacare.

Everyone is entitled to his opinion--but not his own facts. As usual, you make sweeping claims, such as branding the nation into 'makers' and 'takers', that play fast and loose with the truth. That claim didn't hold up when Mitt Romney made it, and it's no more accurate now. Instead, it exemplifies a continuing effort to divide the nation and both blame and demonize the victims of 30 years of conservative supply-side and neo-liberal economic policies. You spout cliche after cliche: "charity begins at home", "personal responsibility", that no one can argue with, but that amount to blaming the victims of job loss and poverty for their plight. You take issue with being called a right-winger, and with being labeled as one of the Carp Per Diems. What's your definition of 'moderate' then? You lauded those who shut down the government, and misplaced the blame for that. I don't think sedition is too strong a word for those who would risk the full faith and credit of the nation based on an ideology that in essence comes right out of the Confederate States of America. If you have a counter-argument to make-- feel free to state your case. You've expressed support for the "birther" movement in the past. You've perpetuated claims of 'death panels' in the ACA-- a serious distortion. You support voting 'reforms' based on scanty evidence that will likely disenfranchise millions. Your post above takes issue with the idea of a progressive tax system-- a fundamental principle of a capitalist democracy, and the result of hard-won experience. If memory serves, in the distant past, you've referred approvingly to an execrable anti-immigrant site named for Virginia Dare. If these aren't hallmarks of the far-right, what are they then? You confuse legitimate and accurate labels for personal attacks that have no basis in fact--like the attacks on Lielasus for writing her column. I've read little of moderation in the posts of the Carp Per Diem brigade since 2008. Instead, their posts are characterized by repeated cherry-picking of facts, by convoluted and incoherent arguments, by claims that are not supported by a full examination of the facts, and when that fails, a resort to name-calling and off-topic rants.

priceless Bruce quote: "claims that are not supported by a full examination of the facts, and when that fails, a resort to name-calling and off-topic rants. "...... it is priceless that this is coming from the cheif globull warming ALARMIST that wont admit the world has... not ... Not... NOT warmed in 17 years. And he calls us Carp Per Diem brigade climate deniers. Bruce is akin to the orchestra continuing to play as the Titanic sinks.

Thanks for helping to prove my point. Much obliged.

Bruce is very funny today with his hypercritical wording: play fast and loose with the truth. When his idol, Barack Obama play fast and loose with the truth all the time. If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, period. If you like your healthcare plan you can keep your healthcare plan, period. Well Bruce why are millions of people losing their doctor and losing their healthcare plan? The answer is liberals are liars.

Nice column on a difficult subject. One only needs to re-read the comments in response to the original column by Lielasus to see the number of ad-hominen posts from the usual suspects that attacked the writer and her motives for penning the column. They relied on 2nd and 3rd hand information that was irrelevant, off-topic, often personal--and inaccurate. They might have simply written: "This is one person's experience. Most other folks have had vastly different experience with the ACA website." And then gone on to rant once more about Obama or the ACA. But they couldn't help themselves by stopping there, and their posts here in response to Burns' column are little more than lame attempt to justify their earlier posts.

I agree with Katy that the internet is no place for honest, open, intelligent, respectful discussion of important issues. That being said, I agree with "the usual suspects" that this is one of the most hypocritical pieces in the Burns canon. Her analysis of the forces that combine to create this climate of bullying on the internet fails to take into account one glaring piece of information. She dances around it in the "Website policing" section but refuses to state that website policing is subjective based on the personal biases of the moderators. No matter how objective they try to be - if they even try - they cannot be fair 100% of the time. And since most of the print media skews liberal . . . well, you do the math. She also seems to think that this bullying only occurs in the form of right-wingers bashing the left. She conveniently forgets to include ANY of the MANY examples that are out there of liberals engaging in the same mean-spirited, hateful discourse. Heck, I've read some doozies in this very paper! And if memory serves, some of them had the same byline as this column!

Sorry, Dan, but I disagree with your claim, at least so far as this site goes. The preponderance of fact-free and distorted posts here comes from one side of the political spectrum only, as I think even a casual reading of the posts on any given thread shows.

Time to take your head out of the sand Bruce. Dan is right there are bullies on both sides.

Bravo Dan, the left wing is full of bullies and Barack Obama is one of the biggest bullies of all times.

When a person puts their opinion in the public light, they are open to examination, research and investigation. Readers want to know what makes a person tick, what credentials they have to be commenting on a subject as inflammatory as Obamacare and if they have some vested interest or benefit at stake. That's all. Heck, I want to know what makes you, Katy, qualified to comment on any subject and why we should read or listen to you. In the past, Katy, you have written many nasty things about people with whom you don't agree. There have been over 30 comments on Sarah Palin and this one about Ted Cruz, which if a Republican wrote it, they would be considered "racist": "But there’s something else about Cruz you might not know. Ted – or, more accurately, Rafael Edward Cruz – was born in Canada. To a Cuban father". Why is that valid? Is it not the same thing as posting: Barack "Hussein" Obama? I think so. I was the one who posted about the average hourly earnings of a grant writer. Gail Shapiro of writersweekly.com tells about the earnings of a self employed grant writer: "The standard for payment is one-half upon signing the contract, and the balance upon completion - unless it is a very long or complicated job (such as a Federal proposal) in which case you should request payment at specified benchmarks. The rates for a self-employed, experienced, successful proposal writer in large metropolitan areas is about $800 to $1000 a day, or $100 to $125 an hour - and we're worth it!" Yes, no one knows how much Liealasus earns, here resume was quite extensive though.

If you carefully consider your first sentence, “When a person puts their opinion in the public light, they are open to examination, research and investigation,” you may realize that, Hypocrisy, thine name is ItsaRepublic! You put YOUR opinion in the public light many times daily, apparently under a double standard, as you have yet to reveal any identifying information that might make you open to examination, research and investigation. Oh, I get it: If you claim your opinion is based on actually verifiable facts, you must be open to examination, research and investigation. If on the other hand you claim your opinion is based on delusional fantasy -- yours and/or others’ -- you are entitled to the cloak of anonymity and all the credibility that carries with it(?)

I find the hypocrisy of Katy's column stunning. Katy Burns' column is always negative, always accusatory, always cynical and always classifies people and places them into a box. Where always is heard, a discouraging word (if you are anything but a progressive) and the skies are just cloudy all day.......

ItsaRepublic is always accurate. Nice call!!!

Notice how Katy cites the NY Times as a publication that gets it right in regards to what they print. My guess is that Katy and many other Progressives here in NH would be thrilled if the CM dumped GB and limited the forum to posts that were only Democratic. We have seen this tactic now over and over. Anytime the opposing party has the nerve to discuss anything, they need to be shut down by name calling. Label them all kinds of vile names. The hope is that they will be intimidated and stop talking. Not to worry Katy, the CM forum has plenty of posters who agree with your politics. Dig into you stash of labels Katy. The ACA has just begun to reveal itself. It will take some heavy duty name calling to try and keep the negative information about the ACA from coming out. Oh wait, I forgot, you can always blame employers, Reps, insurance companies, etc for the ACA. If all else fails, you can always blame Bush or Sarah Palin.

Bullying? Only if you tell a fraction of the story a “trademark of the Monitor.” Lielasus was quoted as saying: The (ObamaKare) site was very easy to use” in an ObamaKare video made by the Department of Health and Human (HHS) leaving out the fact that she as a grant writer has a huge conflict of interest because she gets grants from HHS. Also because Lielasus is a grant writer she is a pro at milking taxpayers money and maneuvering through government red tape Was what Lielasus said a distortion, perhaps because according to the AP was only able to create an account before the website crashed on Oct. 2? What about Obama’s bullying? His repeated lies: If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, Period. If you like your Healthcare Plan you can keep your Healthcare Plan, Period. Obama used this lies to bully the plan through congress and then bully his way to reelection. What about the constant bulling that little range no talent CM cartoonist Mike Marland does on almost a daily basis? Today Cartoon Marland is bullying NH Republicans with the absurd notion that it was somehow NH Republicans’ fault that Obama’s federal government rollout is a huge failure. The real fact is that we were warning that this failure was going to happen all along and the biggest part of the failure has yet to come when it becomes clear that more people will be losing their Healthcare because of ObamaKare than getting healthcare.

So correct, Van, Marland is the bully supreme and the Monitor editors have the "bully pulpit" and Obama is not a "bully" refusing to speak, meet or compromise one iota with anyone who disagrees with him? And Katy never bullies? I read her columns and that seems to be all that she does. The issue here is not bullying, it is about ideology. It used to be principled to call a spade a spade but in today's politically incorrect world, it is somehow improper to speak the truth. This is not about Lielasus, it is about people losing healthcare, people with cancer who won't be able to keep their doctors, people with diabetes who will lose coverage, women who pregnant who lose coverage, etc. All of this so that 15% of people who have made different life choices (self employment, living a life of excess, etc) can get coverage and a break in that coverage; throwing many others into the abyss...most of whom were quite satisfied with the coverage and benefits that they worked hard to establish. Moreover the hypocrisy that Lielasus told Seacost Online earlier that the site was broken and how frustrated she was that the site did not work. Then a couple of weeks later she is a fan of the site. It sounded like and smelled like a free ad for Obamacare.

Absolutely ItsaRepublic. When Liberals are in trouble they try to change the subject. People losing their healthcare becaise of ObamaKare is what is all about and the libs will do everything possible to cover that up.

Politics is not for the thinned skinned. And, no side, left or right, is blameless. Look at Joe the Plumber, I'm sure all kinds of terrible things were written about him. Why? Because, its political. Joe was approached by Obama remember, and his life was never the same. In fact, Burns herself wrote this about private citizen Joe the Plumber: "We can finally turn on the TV without facing yet another lecture by the latest People's Prophet, Joe the Plumber. Somehow you knew he was past his sell-by date when he popped up on the Weather Channel predicting that a plague of locusts would be visited on the feckless New England states should their voters be so foolish as to elect that well-known Marxist agitator, Barack Obama." ....What a waste.

GWTW, you are right again in fact Lielasus was quoted as saying in the Monitor that : “Family members have said to me, ‘You don’t need this, don’t do this, because you’re just going to get hurt. Lielasus was warned and she did it anyway so Katy Burn's story is more typical liberal blather to give give the usual suspects something to howl at the moon about.

Hmm, sounds like you and GWTW are being thin skinned though you wren't mentioned by name you must have thought she was talking about you.

I didnt comment on the story in question...

and you posted that for what reason?

Tillie you are funny. Katy and I live in the same town. I get the leers but the Burns seem like good people and her Husband is a vet (thank-you for your service Sir.) So she is just someone with a very different opinion. When I write letters to the editor I expect a razzing from the other side. I think she expects it as well. As for describing me as thin skinned that is funny.

So the lies and smears her column engendered from the Carpers were her fault? That's turning the Republican mantra of personal responsibility on its head.

Bruce, lies and smears you must be talking about Obama again.

Joe the Plumber willingly embraced his celebrity. Moreover, facts emerged that indicated he was less than truthful about his income bracket at the time he first burst upon the scene, and about his real political leanings--"just plain Joe" he wasn't.

You're right...Just plain Joe's dont get a state sponsored illegal investigation done on them, or a law passed making said investigations subject to civil and criminal penalties.

Those investigations were wrong, no matter what the original motive for them, and were uncovered and well-covered by the press. As for plain old Joe, it's clear he's found his true calling, leading us forward into the past: "Wanting a white Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American." Read more at http://joeforamerica.com/2013/10/america-needs-white-republican-president/#DepI0tXfmriz0mJB.99 http://joeforamerica.com/2013/10/america-needs-white-republican-president/

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