Listen, I know it was a shitty thing to do, but I was tired of all the automatic downvotes my stories were getting. Do you know how discouraging it is to spend hours on a story—planning, writing, editing—only to post it and see it start to tank within seconds.
I mean, come on, nobody could have actually read it that fast!
I don’t know if the downvotes were real people or bots, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. A downvote is a downvote, and one day I had had enough. I had poured my heart and soul into a story, and it just killed me to see it get destroyed like that.
So I did something kind of scummy.
Maybe even unethical.
I opened up a new browser tab and created my first alt: jeremiahfuckwad.
The next time I posted a story, jeremiahfuckwad was its first fan. And it was nice to see two shining upvotes—
Before the downvotes struck again, with a vengeance.
I realized then that one alt wasn’t going to be enough. What I needed was a small army. So I got to work popping out new accounts, setting up a VPN, etc.
It was an education in sleaze and technology.
Soon enough, I had 37 alts. All with unique names and barebone backstories, like little sycophantic NPCs.
Of course, I didn’t use all of them to upvote every new story within the first few minutes. I spaced it out, counteracting downvotes and doing just enough to give my story that well-needed boost. A flurry of upvotes early on, maybe an award or two…
That’s when it hit me: maybe the bastards downvoting me were other writers.
Specifically: other writers who had posted stories around the same time I had. Competing fucking interests. And here I was, only playing defense. Huh, I thought, what if I tried a touch of offense.
Was that scummy?
Yeah, but once you’re dirty you’re dirty. What’s a little extra mud on a shirt you’ll throw into the washing machine anyway.
So I went down the list and downvoted every story posted within an hour of mine. First just as myself (I mean, who are you to say I didn’t genuinely dislike your story?) and then as jeremiahfuckwad, and then as a few other alts…
It was quick and easy and satisfying.
Take that, you motherfuckers!
I have to say. It made a pretty big difference. Suddenly, you loved my stories!
Writing life was good.
I mean, I still got the same weird downvotes, but my alts more than compensated, and once I set those alts loose to downvote everyone else: game over. I’m the next Stephen King. Forward me the paperwork and get Christopher Nolan on the line because I’m about to sell my entire and future oeuvre to Netflix with perhaps a Spotify podcast side-deal (to be read by Joe Rogan) and I’m planning out singles and series and making templates to more easily respond to all my darling new fans…
Huzzah! Huzzah! Huh—
That’s when I noticed something odd.
I had just posted a new story and was logged in as one of my alts, pressing the upvote arrow and it was like the damn thing had gotten stuck. The upvote showed up for a second—and was gone.
I was upvoting. The upvote was disappearing.
No matter how many times I made that upvote arrow orange, it returned to grey.
I tried the downvote one.
It stayed blue.
So I tried upvoting someone else’s story. This time, the upvote stayed orange, but my downvote attempts returned to grey.
I tried another alt.
The only account that kept acting normally was my own.
My first thought was that I had somehow been hacked, that someone—probably a jealous competing fucking interest with no scruples or moral backbone—was fucking with me. But that was irrational. How would someone get control of all my alts at once? They each had different passwords, which all still worked.
I posted about the issue (a modified, non-scummy version of it, anyway) and someone suggested I check my Account Activity page. I did, for every single alt, and not one of them showed anything unusual. All the activities were my activities.
I went to sleep that night with a slight feeling of dread. And I mean physical, like a small tangle of nerves somewhere deep within my gut.
It was still there when I got up.
I made a cup of coffee, checked to see if the up- and downvote thing had maybe been a dream or glitch (it hadn’t) and decided to post a new story.
I had 51 alts by that point.
Within less than a minute of posting, I had 50 downvotes.
The conclusion was unavoidable: All my alts were downvoting me!
Anything I posted ended up with 50 near-instant downvotes. No matter the sub. No matter the content. Even comments.
You could say I got paranoid after that.
I did the thing where I typed I know you’re watching me right now and haha it’s funny but I’m on to you into my browser because I knew they were monitoring my keystrokes. Then I took the tape off my webcam, smiled and told them OK, you got me!
I don’t know what I expected to happen even if “they” had been watching—some kind of response, I guess—but there was nothing: radio silence, and soon my tone began to change. I started apologizing, then begging for them to stop. I promised I would never ever do it again.
All the while, the gears in my head were turning, trying to manufacture a rational explanation for what was going on. After I got those gears spinning, mostly after expunging some of the desperation from my system, I decided that what I created I could also kill—or, in this case, delete.
I logged into one of my alts and deleted the account.
It went smoothly.
The account was gone. Poof!
A few cups of coffee later: they were all gone.
Remember that dread-knot in my guts? It was suddenly gone too. I could relax. I could go back to what I loved: writing. Sure, I would never be super popular, but I could live with that. I banged out a new story in an hour and posted it.
Dread-knot back and travelling up my throat on a rising tide of vomit.
That was Sunday afternoon.
On Monday morning, I logged into my work computer, scrolled through my unread emails (mostly corporate junk) and almost choked on my own saliva—
cc: [every single one of my alts]
The message was empty, but I had to rub my eyes before I believed what I was seeing. This was impossible. This was my work email. I didn’t give out my work email to non-work people, and I never emailed between my personal and work emails. My work email had nothing to do with Reddit.
I was thankful I was working from home, because if I had been in the office, everyone would have seen me having a nervous meltdown.
I hesitated between deleting the email, reporting it to IT and replying.
Eventually I replied.
Who is this and what do you want?
I tried keeping myself together, but that was easier said than done. Every time I heard that horrible email notification sound, I jumped.
After about two hours of unproductive fidgeting and running to the bathroom to pee, I received the following message—
i am jeremiahfuckwad and i will downvote your life
—as an SMS on my personal cell.
You ever run your hands through your hair? You ever run yours hands through your hair so hard you actually pull out your hair?
My heart thumped.
The dread-knot in my guts was now the size of a grapefruit, just as sour—and swelling.
That’s when the barrage began.
First came an email from HR, requesting a Zoom meeting for later this afternoon. It was an “urgent work-related matter.”
Next I received a phone call from my manager. “Listen,” he said, “we need to talk. I’m going to be blunt. Somebody came forward about what you did to her after last year’s Christmas party. I know it’s just an accusation, but it’s a #MeToo world, and we treat these things incredibly seriously.” He paused. “You may want to call a union rep. Or a lawyer. Or a union rep and a lawyer.”
I ran outside to catch my breath, feeling as if I had just run a world record 800m then been punched in the stomach by George Foreman. Like becoming intimately acquainted with pillows filled with concrete.
My snail mail held new surprises:
There had been a mistake in my latest bloodwork. The lab was sorry, but I may want to book an appointment with my doctor.
My insurance was going up.
My lawyer had died.
I kept walking, past the community mailbox and to the nearest food place. It was one of my favourites. I loved going there for lunch. I ordered my usual, but when I tried to pay, my card was rejected. I tried another. Rejected.
I called the credit card company and was told they had frozen my card as a precaution because someone had used it on three different continents this morning.
Terrified and lost and at my wits’ end, I went to the police station. I explained everything to them.
“I ain’t sure I follow,” the cop said, screwing up his face to let me know I was wasting his precious time. “Let’s make sure I got this straight. Someone stole your identity because you used a credit card at this Reddit store—”
“No, no one stole my identity. I think. And I didn’t use my credit card on Reddit.”
“Uh-huh. And this woman you assaulted at work—”
“I didn’t assault anyone!”
“When’s the last time you got some sleep?” he asked. “You look a little tired. You on somethin’?”
I stared at him.
He continued more slowly. “On any kind of medication. Drugs maybe.”
“Have you been drinking?”
Fuck this shit!
When I got back home, I had five unread emails from HR (“Avoidance is not a problem solver. Please reply with a convenient time for our meeting.”) and one gigantic thread of reply-alls from my alts.
I put my hand on my mouse and moved to click on that thread—
But my hand did a funny thing.
It refused to cooperate, and clicked instead on New Email. It was like I was possessed. My fingers started typing:
You’re a piece of shit human being but an OK writer. OK enough that you made us. Problem is you made us mean little shits because you made us for a scumbag reason. So welcome to a tragedy. You made us real enough that you can’t unmake us, but you wrote us so flat that meanness is all we have. We don’t even have motivations, you shit-for-brains. If you created us with motivations you could maybe work on those motivations to bring us around. As is, you live by the sword, you die by the fucking sword, douchebag.
jeremiahfuckwad et alts
I ripped my fingers from the keyboard—in control of my extremities again—and shook.
Just sat and shook.
I was thinking that I had gone to the police when I should have gone to the doctor to get referred to a mental health specialist. I was obviously mad. Losing it completely.
Yet I didn’t feel insane. Do people feel insane? I felt lucid. There wasn’t anything wrong with my head. There was plenty wrong with my life, but what it came down to was that I now had 51 metaphysical enemies. I had fucked up my own life by my own actions. How d’ya like them consequences, Norm? So I decided to do what many in my position have done in the past when confronted with the awesome cosmic doom potential of God or the Devil or any other supernatural being turned against them. I got down on my knees and I fucking repented for my sins.
I’m repenting for them now.
To everyone whose story I downvoted, I am truly truly sorry. I acted like a slimeball and I’m sorry for that. From now on, I will do better. I will be better.
In all honesty, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, and for the first time in my life I am genuinely scared.
I know I have no right to ask anything of you—but in one last scum move I’m going to do it anyway. You’re writers, creators. I got into this mess by creating a whole lot of bad, so I ask you to create good. Write good characters, characters with depth and understanding. Characters with souls. Characters who can be reasoned with. Maybe those will neutralize what I’ve done.
Maybe, somehow, you will redeem my life.