My Social Network Stalker Review: No New Messages

TRUE STORIES – MY SOCIAL NETWORK STALKER: Monday 20th February, C4, 10pm

It is testament to the nature of the bullying she was subjected to that Ruth Jeffery, haunted by a relentless cyber stalker for three years who turned out to be her long-term boyfriend, that the final resolution of her ordeal was to delete him on Facebook. An act at once trivial and painfully telling.

Although Ruth’s story is a shocking revelation of human torment of unnatural proportions, the message of this documentary is nothing new. If you join a social network like MSN or Facebook, you are precariously placing your identity in the hands of the virtual ether, which can be inscrutable, and occasionally cruel; if the compromising images of yourself that only your boyfriend possesses are all over adult websites, then he has put them there; if a supposed stranger harasses you online, ignore and then report them.

Essentially, don’t talk to strangers, and the internet has the potential for social evil as well as social networking fun.

The documentary’s story-telling skills – all Google Earth graphics, Facebook typeface, pixelated lurid images, unsettling electronica music, and candid close-ups of red and wringing hands – are predictably gripping, but its investigation into the deranged culprit’s motives, and the victim’s innermost thoughts is bafflingly lacking. It even opens with the comment that cyber abuse is the “most common form of harassment in the UKâ€?, but does little to understand why. Perhaps it is apt that a story so based on a virtual life has a rather sparse human element.

We are taken on the disturbing journey of Ruth’s relationship with childhood sweetheart, Shane Webber – the love, and eventually the bane, of her life. During their time together, she is subjected to such online abuse that she develops OCD and eating problems, obsessively staying up all night in an attempt to cleanse the web of naked pictures of herself.

We are not immediately informed that Shane is the mystery stalker, who sends images of Ruth around adult websites and even to her parents, calling her incessantly in the early hours, which adds an unsettling dramatic irony to the piece.

The nonplussed Jefferys only explain this realisation 30 minutes in. Her bewildered father sits in front of a shelf crammed with Penguin Classics, satisfyingly barking “gotchaâ€? in his Queen’s English, when he traces the images back to an account opened by Shane; her mother inexplicably seen pruning trees in a forest throughout (along with the equally as perplexing presence of a lop-eared rabbit that seems to be given more airtime than Ruth herself), confessing that she could not remember the pain she felt when she told her. Ruth insisted that it could not be him, because he “swore on his uncle’s graveâ€?.

This is simply one alarming story, and is unfortunately not investigated as potentially symptomatic of an emerging trend, so we can leave Shane’s ex-best friend Lee, who was erroneously accused of the bullying, to have the last words: “what a nutter.â€?

Follow Anoosh on Twitter @anooshchakelian

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