Breaking the silence
I’ve been a little absent from social media for several weeks and now is the right time to share why. I received a letter at my home address on July 26th 2022 that was shoved through my letterbox with a resounding thump, with my name, business name and address in large font printed to a sheet of paper which had been stuck to the front. This letter was from a person who you’ll either know straight away, or you’ll be lucky that you’ve never encountered him before. For simplicity through this I’ll refer to him as D. The letter itself was a Cease and Desist template from the Which? website which anyone can download and use if they wish to send a letter before action if they have some grievance with another party for whatever reason. Now this letter wasn’t entirely unexpected as I had been aware for several months that D had been making multiple wildly inflammatory and libellous statements on twitter, closed groups on Facebook and within private messages to who knows how many individuals, not to mention a tweet he put out a little over a week before the letter landed
Some of the more outlandish ones we heard from people he had contacted was how he was looking at getting a 100k payout, was going to destroy 7 businesses, or how MTV had been in touch wanting exclusive rights to his story. I was not alone in this, as his statements and accusations were not aimed at me directly, but the directory I am one of 6 admin for. 4 admin received these letters within the same week, some on the same day and others days later. All 4 admin are female led businesses (one has a male partner who does the social media side) So this letter landed. Two pages of template with what was supposed to be the criteria filled in and some ludicrous demands, and 22 pages of printed sheets of content that was almost entirely unrelated to me. The only relevant, and I use that word loosely, parts pertaining to me were a screenshot of a reply to a tweet I’d made, praising another business from which I had purchased return address labels from previously, and a screenshot of a Twitter DM conversation between this man and myself; the online version of a cold call where he was trying to gauge my interest (of which I had none) in a regional badge design.
It's important to note from the above conversation made via Twitter direct message, that I was approached with this design, I did not request it or show any previous interest in it. I was polite in my exchange but I sell online; where I reside is of little importance, to me at least. This is how D operates to generate awareness in the hope of people taking up on his offer of a free digital design, firstly to help advertise his services and secondly with the possibilty that it will lead to a sale of physical marketing items. It's important to note because of his claims that another party 'stole' his image by searching for it on Google; there is no need when he gives this design freely via email. The rest of the “evidence” included multiple screenshots of stickers, multiple private social media conversations with a lot of different people who were not me, obviously one private twitter direct message with me, emails complete with addresses showing with people I don’t even know, one email conversation with a person I do know, a screenshot of two “troll accounts” and a description with a crime reference number attached. I won’t provide screenshots of any of the other “evidence” for the simple reason it contains a lot of information about other people that I shouldn’t have been sent, let alone put in in the public domain. Someone clearly missed the GDPR memo. The letter itself is absolute nonsense. The accusations , of which there were two, are for “aiding in the use of Made in Manchester badge design without consent” and “aiding in the use of Made in Manchester badge design in the creation of stickers for packaging without the consent of [D] and [Business name which D operates as]. Now to explain *this* part briefly for some context… yes I do know what it’s about but it has nothing to do with me. As aforementioned, I’m one of 6 admin for My Helpful Hints Small Business Directory or MHHSBD for short. In January 2022, one of the directory members had been given a Made in Manchester badge design from D, who then used another supplier, also a directory member to provide stickers using this design. It’s not my story so I won’t ponder the implications of not stipulating restrictions on use beforehand but the short version was D contacted both businesses January 26th 2022 first stating it should be made clear to their supplier the badge was designed by him, then saying marketing was exclusively through him and only the digital badge was free. The business apologized, not realizing it was exclusive and asked about getting stickers made from D but instead of moving forward, this was met with multiple short separate statements from D. Screenshot below was from page 16 of the "evidence" received; I have blanked out any identifying information.
The conversation was going nowhere , an apology had been made, the £2.70 stickers were destroyed and D was subsequently blocked. When D contacted the supplier that same day, his initial message was in a very different tone, stating he knew they had produced stickers for another business, sadly all materials were to be exclusively through him and if anyone else contacted them, he’d appreciate if they were sent his way and the reply was no problem, of course. 4th February, he contacted the supplier again, asking for a postal address as he wished to send some information through the post following on from the last message but would not say what or why or explain further. Supplier declined and subsequently blocked. Both businesses were aware of each others conversation with D, as were admin at this point. This is all part of the “evidence” I was sent which was actually useful to provide some context and timelines otherwise I’d still be sitting scratching my head wondering why the hell this letter landed on my doorstep. And now to the demands to redress this crime of the century that I didn’t commit. £1000, payment to be made in full Copies of communications with any directory members with regards to [Business name D operates under] contacting [directory member] and [sticker maker] about the Made in Manchester badge design An apology to [Business name D operates under] for aiding in the use of design work without written consent which I was to post across my social media platforms and pin for a minimum of 6 months No further negative comments about [D / business name D goes under] being said across social media by any directory member I did of course seek legal advice because it was implied that this letter had written on advice from a law firm, and one that D had tagged in Twitter posts during a weekly networking hour from May 31st 2022 to July 26th 2022 thanking them for their legal support.
I had my doubts that this was done under any legal advisement however for me it was the final straw in a long line of red flag behavior that I’d found myself the subject of from D, his personal vendetta against MHHSBD and the creator and host Darren being just part of it. I wanted to double check it was ok to ignore it as is advised when you have someone stalking you online and keeps making repeated unwanted contact. On that note I also contacted the police and made an official report of harassment, stalking and intimidation. It is now on record, crime number CRI/06JJ/0017113/22. Legally speaking, the letter did not meet the criteria in any way to be a cease and desist and there was a great deal of confusion as to why I was sent it. I was advised I could reply or ignore so I chose the latter. As stated, the letter landed on the 26th July. I posted in a closed networking group on Facebook on July 28th to query their stance as an announcement had been made just a few weeks prior to this, that under no circumstances were they or their sponsors to be named or brought into any business disputes. I had responded to that particular post with my thoughts at the time [screenshot below] but it has since been removed, presumably in the spirit of keeping the group positive.
I'll say it now; there is such a thing as toxic positivity and it happens when uncomfortable situations and feelings are dismissed, ignored and not addressed as existing.
The letter named sponsors, the creator, and several associated hashtags. I was asked by the Facebook group admin to email over details, which I did. While my post was up, I was contacted by several women in that group who had all guessed or suspected who was harassing me. Some posted in reply to the post but most contacted me privately and I was overwhelmed at what I was being told. Behaviour from D consisting of constant phone calls resulting in having to block his number, suggestive comments, online stalking, inappropriate remarks making them feel uncomfortable, asking about their relationship status and so on. They ended up avoiding groups or networking hours because of him. His unwanted attentions are apparently widely known about in networking circles. My own background checks on this proved this information to be correct, and I have seen enough to have a detailed picture, much of it made my skin crawl. I will not comment on what I found publicly but I will say it was all information I found easily looking on Twitter. The fact that someone would use their business account to conduct themselves in this way is telling in itself. I blocked D in December last year after several months of him constantly undermining and bad mouthing the directory. I personally believe he was doing it through jealousy; Darren had created this community of all different kinds of small businesses and for a lot of people, it changed the way we used Twitter. I’m fairly sporadic when it comes to posting online and with caring responsibilities, I can’t always commit to networking hours. I often don’t have the energy for them either but this was a great alternative. We started hearing rumours about how MHHSBD was being run, how members were being told what hashtags they could or couldn’t use, that kind of thing. We did laugh it off to start with because that’s the opposite of what it’s about and accounts are as autonomous as they want to be; join in, tweet or use whatever # they want. It was becoming tiresome though, trying to dispel this negativity and false information being flung around. It affected members and non members alike who heard these rumours and a lot of time was starting to be spent in management and damage control, allaying any fears about what people had heard. We know it affected some people’s decision to join up.
In one sense it was so ridiculous it was almost funny because it was so childish but we concluded if we just carried on doing what we do and ignored it, eventually they’d get bored, seeing it was going nowhere. This did not happen. D contacted Darren on November 26th 2021 [screenshots below] claiming that 5 businesses belonging to two networks had contacted them, allegedly claiming they were troubled by directory “policy of networking hashtags and members” . D later claimed it was 20 people who had messaged. It was further claimed D had spoken with @MarketMe about this and if things didn’t change, previous networking awards would be withdrawn and they would both (D and @MarketMe) speak with [name redacted].
2nd December 2021 a tweet was put out from the @SmartSocialUK account
3rd December 2021 a tweet was put out from the @MarketMe account
“Want to get involved with something that’s better than @MHHSBD @CelebsForBiz @elevenseshour_? Look no further than one of the hardest working competitions on Twitter @ADG_IQ #QueenOf #KingOf #MonarchOf day every Thursday 9am – 9pm theroyalconnection . co . uk” with a Sesame Street gif. It was deleted shortly after 3rd December 2021 Darren responded in humourous way, mirroring the tweet without the use of account names and using the same gif in an “I see what you did there” to show it hadn’t gone unnoticed.
3rd December 2021 @MarketMe replied to a tweet, claiming they were simply an SBS winner and nothing to do with D
5th December 2021 @TwystedRoots, (me!) was chosen as a @SmartSocialUK winner despite not having participated since being chosen the first time in 2018. Queried this with D who at the time ran this account, and was told it was random now. [screenshot]
7th December 2021 Darren received a direct message on Twitter from @MarketMe threatening legal action
On 7th December 2021 D made a particularly accusatory Facebook post in his closed group [screenshot] which backfired spectacularly when 99% of responses disagreed, D shut off comments then later deleted the post. I replied to this (have reply on file) hoping hearing it from another side might make D realise he had it wrong, but I was naïve. He was all too happy and willing to listen to anyone who would back up his own viewpoint.
8th December 2021 Darren received another direct message from @MarketMe from the owner, stating his account had nothing to do with the previous message and that it was 100% D who had been managing both accounts on Twitter for over two years, tweeting out self promo and self congratulatory tweets.
Darren responded, expressing concern over account access and who would be reading further messages. Reassurance was given that passwords had been changed for both @MarketMe and @SmartSocialUK, apologising for not realising what was going on and confirming the only posts they themselves put out would be articles released from the @MarketMe website. The rest, including DM’s sent as well as tweets would have been by D.
It was decided that it was fair to let D explain his side once he realised he no longer had account access. After running the accounts for at least two years, it’s fair to assume a person would ask why the passwords had been changed and access revoked. The expectation was this would happen, then a public apology tweet would be made for fraudulent representation of the company as well as for the messages sent. It was never acknowledged by D, and he lost control of both @MarketMe and @SmartSocialUK 8th December 2021 12th December 2021 I contacted D and requested to be removed from his website and networking circles due to his unprofessional behaviour that I had no wish to have any association with [screenshot]. No reply was received but I was removed without fanfare.
Later that same day, some of my business posts were shared by D on Facebook. This struck me as odd, as if they were carrying on with the public persona of supportiveness which did not sit right given what they were continuing to do in the background. Subsequently I unfollowed and blocked all his known aliases on all social media platforms I was on. I did not want any involvement with this person and it was a huge relief. 17th December 2021 I was followed and retweeted by a recently resurfaced Twitter account [screenshot] and it was immediately obvious it was D using yet another account, presumably because he’d just lost two established ones to tweet his self promo from.
I blocked it straight away. It was a known pattern for him; conversations with himself from different accounts to pretend it was separate people, or tweeting as if it was not him. I can only surmise reasons why someone would feel the need to set up multiple accounts, pretending to be different people; I’m not a psychologist. There are many instances of this through D’s time on Twitter.
February 2022 this account was deactivated by D which was odd as the networking hour associated with it continues, only under his main account. A suspicious person might ponder reasons why someone would delete an account if they still intended carrying on with the networking hour but of course we already had people messaging us with screenshots they had received from that now deleted account. Who knows what else was sent from there that we weren’t aware of. 24th June 2022 I received email notification of a google review left on my business page. It was 5 star review from D with the comment “A veritable forest of creativity. Be it for a piece of statement decor for the home or for a gift for a loved one. It's well worthwile seeing what Twysted Roots can create for you.” I replied and also reported it to google as a false review, which it was. This person has never purchased from me. This person has been blocked on every avenue possible and has blocked me in return but left a google review for my business? It is still up for anyone who cares to look. I posted about it on my personal Facebook profile as it really unsettled me. I’ve had to deal with a stalker in the past and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. The only saving grace from it was I’ve learned to keep receipts and gather evidence. Several people commented, some of them with their own experiences with him advising to avoid, others who were unaware of his behaviour until reading the post advised police or at least having a word with the networking group he's so fond of mentioning. Shame I have on more than one occasion but he still remains as part of it.
Then the letter landed a month later and that’s us come full circle. So now you know why I’ve been quiet on social media.
I would advise anyone who has been made to feel uncomfortable, harassed or intimidated by anyone online or otherwise to not do what I did and wait. Report it when it happens. Seek support, which thankfully I had. If it wasn’t for the other admin and a lot of business friends who have either been targeted themselves or have friends who were, I probably would have been another in a long line of women feeling too scared or too isolated to speak out. Hell one woman I know did speak out and her life was still made a living hell. Don’t get me wrong, this makes me sick to my stomach and I’ll probably vanish off social media for a wee while again but not saying anything would have been so much worse. I just hope if you’ve also been affected then you’ll feel comfortable enough coming forward too. Peace out… and thanks for reading. Update 13 April 2023 On the 6th of April 2023 following suspension and subsequent investigation into claims of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour, D was asked to step away from the online networking community he had been part of as a winner "with immediate effect" and his win was withdrawn. He is no longer listed on the winners website but to date still has his win displayed on his social media profiles and websites.