Baby Reindeer review – a real-life account of digital abuse

Without technology, many of us would be lost. But tech can also bring out the worst in us. It allows us to engage with things we never would in a casual setting while also enabling those who exhibit darker behaviors to act out.

The hit Netflix series ‘Baby Reindeer,’ written and created by Richard Gadd, has caught the attention of many – in part due to its harrowing themes.

Technology isn’t at the forefront of Baby Reindeer, but without it, much of the drama couldn’t unfold.

The series follows the character Donny Dunn (Richard Gadd) as he chases his dreams of becoming a professional comedian. Along the way, he is repeatedly traumatized by different people. One of these people is his stalker, Martha.

Martha’s main form of communication with Donny is email. The character sends hundreds of emails to the protagonist daily, some sexual in nature, some slightly threatening, but most harmless (for now).

She eventually finds his Facebook and comments on every post he’s ever made. Martha threatens or insults people close to Donny via Facebook and repeatedly sends him explicit private messages.

Although stalking isn’t limited to online threats, a lot of the action takes place online, which adds to the unsettling nature of the show as the stalking is so pervasive.

This is a textbook example of cyberstalking, a theme prevalent throughout the series. Each episode often begins with texts or emails from Martha, who hounds Donny with hundreds of emails.

Many would think that cyberstalking isn’t a problem because we can easily detach ourselves from the online world. But this shocking true story demonstrates just how much of a problem cyberstalking and online harassment are in the real world.

A shocking true story

The series is based on a true story, which reflects the shocking statistic that approximately 7.5 million people experience stalking every year. Over 80% of stalking victims are tracked using technology.

The series is based on Richard Gadd’s one-man show, which reached such heights that it was produced for television.

In the series, Donny experiences a range of abuse, some of which takes place in online spaces.

This is based on true events that Gadd experienced, where an older woman stalked him for six years and supposedly left him over 40,000 emails, 700 tweets, and 350 hours of voicemails, according to ABC News.

What Gadd didn’t predict was that this series would lead amateur investigators (people who watched the show) on a witch hunt to locate the woman who stalked Gadd.

Gadd recently responded to the amateur sleuths attempting to uncover the truth about “Martha’s” identity.

Gadd wrote:

“Hi everyone, people I love, have worked with, and admire (including Sean Foley) are unfairly caught up in speculation. Please don’t speculate on who any of the real-life people could be. That’s not the point of our show. Lots of love, Richard x X.”

Although the series doesn’t use the real names of the people who hurt Gadd, a witch hunt ensued as the show inspired its own wave of speculation surrounding the real identities of these characters.

To reveal a person's information and try to expose them to the whole world, in itself, is a form of digital harassment. It certainly wasn’t Gadd’s intention to make a show a digital harassment and stalking to incite digital harassment in the real world – but it seems to have ended that way.

The series has its good and bad guys, but the show isn’t black and white. Baby Reindeer is an introspective view of humanity, how we can obscure our identities online, and how we can reinvent ourselves when we are unhappy with our immediate reality.

That’s why Baby Reindeer is an excellent portrayal of the online world. Even though it’s not the focal point of the show, we are confronted with the idea of online identity versus real-world identity and how easy it is to fall victim to online stalking.

Cyberstalking – just block them?

One of the most frustrating elements of the narrative is that Donny doesn’t go to the police until six months after the stalking has taken place.

“Six months?” the policeman asked. Why did it take you so long to report this? This may be due to cyberstalking's seemingly innocuous nature. At first, the communication might not seem nefarious, but then it gets worse.

The reason why Donny gets chatting to Martha in the first place, is because he feels pity for her. When she eventually asks for his phone number, he sneakily finds a way around the situation. But Martha finds his email address through his website – the one he uses to promote himself as a comedian.

Then, the emails begin.

The amount of emails Donny claims Martha sends him is in the hundreds per day, every day, which is a shocking reflection of the real-life situation Gadd found himself in. This is not only stalking but also cyberstalking and online harassment.

The definition of cyberstalking is “the repeated use of electronic communication to harass or frighten someone.” One example given when typing in that definition is “sending threatening emails.”

So, the emails weren’t threatening at first, but slowly, they became more sexual in nature, and the protagonist becomes visibly uncomfortable as these “exchanges” progress.

Yes, Donny is being stalked, both online and in person. But he is no angel.

Obscured online identity

We learn throughout the series why Donny is the way he is. One of the more telling moments in the show is when he falsifies an online identity to engage with individuals on a transgender dating app.

He goes by the name of Tony. He claims to be in construction and meets a woman via a dating website.

Tony must fabricate lies to keep his identity hidden. The reason for this exploration of sexuality and the ambiguity surrounding his relationships is revealed later in the show.

The idea of digital identities is a challenging topic as we blur the line between deception and the need for privacy in online spaces. This is evidenced throughout the entire show, that privacy is a necessary component of our online identity unless you are willing to be stalked.

Cyberstalking is incredibly common. It might be your ex, former colleague, or anyone who knows you. Seeing as most of our lives are online, someone can form a parasocial relationship with you – even if you haven’t met them in person.

In the series, Martha wants to advance the relationship, and she does so by infecting Donny’s life and using technology to insert herself into his world.

How to avoid cyberstalking

It is unknown to us whether Donny could have avoided the digital harassment, cyberstalking, and abuse he experienced.

By keeping your personal life private and off the internet, avoiding interactions with people you don’t know, and securing your devices so that no information about you can be leaked – you may never have to experience cyberstalking.

However, the internet is just like the wild west. You are likely to encounter abuse and digital harassment online as everyone has a feeling that they’re anonymous, so it’s easier to engage in these activities.

So remember, when you’re next sharing your social media, email address, or phone number with anyone – make sure it’s someone you know.

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