As a video game reviewer with a big presence on social media, Alanah Pearce is used to all sorts of comments from her fans.
But when some of her followers began leaving vile, disturbing online messages — including threats of sexual assault — she complained to a higher authority: their mothers.
Pearce, who lives in Brisbane, Australia, always assumed adult men were the ones leaving the sexually explicit comments on her Facebook page. But when she took a closer look at the offenders’ profile pictures and ages listed on their social media accounts, she realized that they were all actually young boys.
“I suppose it’s a little sad in a way, but I’ve become quite desensitized to it all, where things like rape threats tend to make me feel a little ill or disgusted, but I learned a long time ago not to let these things affect me as soon as I step away from the computer,” Pearce, 21, told TODAY Parents.
She receives about five such sickening messages a month, a tiny fraction of all the comments left on her sites, she estimates.
Still, Pearce didn’t want to just ignore the threats or reply to them, so she decided the best approach would be to tell the boys’ mothers.
Pearce discovered it was very easy to find the women’s contact information, either because they were listed under “family” or were tagged in various profile pictures, with comments referencing their relationship, she said.
So Pearce reached out to four moms, forwarding the offensive comments and asking the women if they would be interested in discussing them with their sons. One of the moms has replied so far, telling Pearce she was “so sorry” and promising she would talk to her son (after responding with a shocked “omg little sh*t”).
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A screen grab of the online conversation, which Pearce posted on her Twitter page last week, has been retweeted more than 40,000 times.
Pearce said she’ll keep contacting the families and perhaps even schools of the boys who leave threatening messages. Parents need to remind kids that the things they say online can and do have real world consequences, and everything can be recorded, she added.
“I think the biggest issue with children effectively being ‘raised’ by social media is that they don’t realize the people they talk to are real people,” Pearce said.
“The Internet de-humanizes people, and you may not be familiar with someone’s mental health at the time, or their circumstances, so effectively invading the safety of their homes via the Internet is far too easy to do.”
Disturbingly, Pearce has received more threats from strangers since speaking out about the problem, she said. But she’s happy most of the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.