Every Thursday on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:
I am a woman in my mid-20s who, back in 2019, had a major falling out with a person I had called a best friend. It was a hard decision to cut her out of my life as we had gone to school together from preschool through high school, and I had shared a lot of vulnerable information with her regarding past mental health struggles and my sexuality. I won’t go into the details of why the friendship had to come to an end, but I will say that I was having nightmares for months because of how badly she treated me. She went on to harass me in the weeks following our friendship breakup, texting my mother(!) to try to arrange a time and location she could ambush me, leaving me 10-minute-long voicemails sobbing (blocking a number doesn’t prevent them from being able to leave you voicemails, who knew), and more.
Prudie, she was an awful friend and a truly toxic person. At a therapist’s advice and for my own sanity, I blocked her on all social media platforms I had at the time. A year or so later, I was so much happier for having chosen to prioritize friends who respect me! Around then, I happened to create a TikTok account where I learned she had been frequently posting videos about me (which she continues to this day, a full two years later)! She never explicitly uses my name but reveals details that make it very obvious who I am, such as using a popular audio clip that includes my first name and remarking in the comments that it is ironic how that is my name, or writing my name in the video but blurring out two letters in the middle, etc. (For reference, I’d estimate she has posted a video about me about once a month ever since fall of 2019.)
She claims to be a mental health advocacy account, and her followers comment about how brave she is for having dealt with an awful friend like me for so many years. I don’t know how on earth she spins this stuff to make her look like the good guy, but she manages to gain tons of sympathy from internet strangers. I don’t check her account often, but occasionally when I am feeling down about myself, I look her up to see if she is still doing it, and she always is. I know I should just block her on TikTok too, but it’s easier said than done. I don’t think she’s aware I have seen her account, as I would never follow her and my profile does not include name or anything that would identify myself.
At this point, I feel the videos are getting more targeted, and though she is still not directly using my name, she is revealing very sensitive, specific details I shared with her many years ago. I fear she could still share yet more embarrassing information. Casual friends from high school have told me they know she is making these videos about me and that they’re sorry she’s being so crazy, so when she reveals information, these people I know in real life are learning things about me that I really wish they hadn’t. Should I contact her to tell her to knock it off? Send a fake cease-and-desist letter? Let it go and hope she doesn’t continue her trend of getting more specific or reveal my identity?
— Wish I Could Just Move On
So, I don’t think you should take legal action or send a fake (or real) cease-and-desist letter. It’s unlikely to be effective and will just give your ex-friend more ammunition. As @marceregist put it, “You can always send a letter but (a) the next tiktok will be waving that letter around saying she’s being threatened by her evil abuser and (b) even if she did name her, defamation cases are expensive, messy and never guaranteed winners.”
That’s more material than you want to give her, and more time and money than you want to dedicate to this. When I asked readers for help figuring out a solution to your letter, the consensus was that the best approach would be block her — and, I would add, have the discipline to stop these occasional checks. This is how you protect yourself from having to absorb these attacks. Even if she doesn’t know you’ve watched her content, it’s affecting you.
But that doesn’t mean you are powerless here. Have a frank conversation with mutual friends about what’s happening and request that they don’t engage either (if I were your friend, I would block her too, in solidarity!):
“Oof. I’d reach out to any mutual connections and say something like ‘obviously it’s mortifying that Jennica has made up this fictional version of me. Could you help me by not talking to me about her or vice versa? Thanks.’ Then block her. She can embarrass herself without you!” — @Rose_Szabo_
“1. Block her. 2. The internet randos won’t ever know it’s her so stop worrying about them. 3. Explain to the common friends the posts are retaliation and they’ll assume any secretive info revealed are lies, and be clear you don’t want any updates on her posts in the future.” — @mboehm214
A few people suggested that you nominate someone to keep an eye on her and let you know if the behavior escalates to something more disturbing, like content that identifies or doxxes you, or rises to a level that would be a clear violation of TikTok’s policies or the law. I think that’s a good idea, if one of your friends is up for it.
“4. Maybe entrust one good friend to follow the ex-friend to make sure the posts don’t cross the line into explicitly identifying her.” — @mboehm214
“Having to police this herself is not healthy. I’d block her and elect someone I trust to help me with this if she can’t get her account suspended. 2 years of harassment videos is excessive and obsessive.” — @SandhyaSunset23
@Kara_woo made a good point, too: The people who know you are well aware that these allegations are untrue and that she’s acting out in a way that is concerning. It’s very unlikely that anyone who’s familiar with the two of you in real life — or understands what constitutes reasonable social media conduct — is going to think less of you because of what she’s sharing.
Your friends seem to know that her posts say more about her than they do about you, so while it sucks that she’s revealing info you don’t want out there, it seems like you can trust that the people who really matter see her actions for what they are. — @kara_woo
Keep that in mind and maybe find some inspiration in what a reader (who responded via DM because they wanted to remain anonymous) said about how they handled a similar situation:
“So the thing that I learned when I had a friend like that…was that there is literally NO WAY to get them to stop doing what they’re doing. You literally cannot do a thing to stop them. Nothing. It ALL has to come from within yourself …What I found — and it’s been 10 years — was that by being the person who didn’t gossip, who didn’t say bad things about my friend, who didn’t do attention-seeking things, everyone whose opinions I cared about saw her for who she was. I hate to say ‘rise above’ … maybe it’s more ‘know your enemy’ and know that feeding her need for attention will only make her more intense.”
It’s terrible that this is happening to you, but it’s also an opportunity to remind yourself and your friends of the kind of person you actually are — which of course, is very different from the way you’re being portrayed. Call it being the bigger person, protecting your energy, or whatever feels right. You signed your letter “Wish I could move on,” and the good news is that you really can.
My friend “June” and I have been close since college. She is a wonderful, kind, generous person. In our 20s, we both made bad financial decisions, which meant we both racked up considerable credit card debt. In the past few years, I have started to get serious about getting out of debt permanently by the time I am 40. I have made some significant headway, and I am eager to continue my success. In November, we both got engaged to wonderful people—yay! For a variety of reasons including financial, I had initially planned to elope and a month later have a casual dinner party at my house to celebrate. My fiancé has since gotten laid off, and as a result, we decided to cancel the dinner party. In contrast, June is having an extravagant, large wedding. I am in the wedding and spending thousands of dollars—more than on my own wedding! I am getting increasingly stressed about the cost of her wedding as I am now the sole provider for my family. I also just learned that she is planning on filing for bankruptcy, even while she keeps badgering me to be romantic and have the wedding of my dreams.