Jessica Davey-Quantick, a burlesque dancer and University of King's College graduate, received abusive messages after she posted pictures of herself from a recent photo shoot — insults about her weight, demands that she kill herself.
So the Yellowknife resident hit back.
She and her burlesque buddies — Davey-Quantick calls them her Glitter Army — did a little online sleuthing and discovered the alleged 15-year-old abuser's Facebook page, his father and his school in London, England. As she told CBC's Mainstreet in Halifax, she emailed the father and the school's headmaster to set things right.
The business journalist said her story shows the need to fight back against internet trolls so that people can use the public online space free of fear or shame.
"I am over the idea that we have to somehow protect the individuals [involved]," she said.
Her story begins with a burlesque show in Yellowknife in late January that attracted 600 people over five performances. Davey-Quantick posted a photo from the show as well as a related boudoir-style photo.
She received the typical supportive comments from friends and performers, but on Wednesday afternoon she saw a post from somebody she didn't know that said, "Obesity kills."
Davey-Quantick said when she gets inappropriate comments or photos she typically highlights it publicly. Usually, the person retreats, often apologizing profusely. But this poster didn't.
'We're giving them the power'
On Thursday she woke up to dozens of comments on photos dating back as far as October, telling her she was a whale and disgusting and unlovable. "He ended it by posting that I should slit my own wrists and eat my own blubber," she said. Other people had joined in with the insults.
Friends of Davey-Quantick's helped her find the initial poster's father and his headmaster.
She said the boy's father was initially apologetic, but later said his son wasn't involved and that she and her friends should be ashamed for going after his son. He finished by saying that she should keep her Instagram account locked to avoid abuse.
"That's the advice you always get to internet bullying.... Turn the other cheek. Don't respond. Ignore it. Turn off the computer. Delete your account. Or keep your account private. Or don't post those things.
"I can definitely tell people are going to say, well, I shouldn't have posted a burlesque photo if I didn't want this kind of commentary. And for me that's troubling. Because what we're doing then is we're ceding public spaces to trolls.
"We're giving over public autonomy and the ability to be in a public space to other people. We're giving them the power."
Davey-Quantick said she posted the father's business email to her Facebook page — a decision she said was "tricky" because attacking somebody by releasing their private information is a real problem. She said she decided to post his work email because it was already public and she wanted her friends to have an avenue for response because the trolls had begun attacking them, too.
The headmaster, meanwhile, asked her to forward screenshots of the insults to the school's head of discipline, which she did.
"They were appalled that any of their students could be involved," Davey-Quantick said.
Suspension and apologies
The headmaster of Westminster School, an exclusive private school that traces its history back to the 1300s, said it takes the matter very seriously.
Patrick Derham confirmed that three boys who were involved in posting the abusive messages have been suspended, and told to write handwritten letters of apology that the school will review with them and send to Davey-Quantick.
"In our personal, social and health education lessons, we stress that internet bullying and trolling is utterly unacceptable and can have devastating effects," Derham wrote in an email to CBC News.
"We have apologized for the distress caused to Ms. Davey-Quantick and we anticipate that the boys will have learnt a stern lesson from this sorry episode."
No shame in using a public space
Davey-Quantick said she has also received a message from the teen that he and his friends had been suspended and their phones had been taken away.
"More importantly, he was so apologetic. And I got this email from him basically telling me he is so ashamed of himself. He is so ashamed that he has done this to his parents, to his friends, that he doesn't do this normally, and that he's learned his lesson."
Davey-Quantick said she will continue to respond strongly to trolls because it's about more than Instagram insults. She said it's about not feeling afraid or ashamed to use a public space, and to live life as people see fit.
"What happens when he tells a 15-year-old girl to kill herself?" she said.
"What happens when he tells somebody that they're disgusting? What is the end result of that? Is that going to lead to somebody in the bathroom putting their fingers down their throat? Is that going to lead to someone committing suicide? It's dangerous."
'Glittery wave of retribution'
She said she hopes the kid has learned his lesson, "if for nothing else, the army of feminist flying monkeys who descended upon him like a glittery wave of retribution."
"We have to start opening up, because these people who do it generally have private pages and you can't imagine them sitting down at dinner with their parents and their spouses or their girlfriends and saying, 'Well, what did you do today honey?' 'Well, today I told someone to kill themselves on the internet. Pass the peas, please.' So we need to take it to their world. We need to make it something they have to own. Not just us.
"I'm probably going to keep getting [abusive messages], and I'm probably going to keep posting and I'm probably going to keep finding their mothers."