This story starts at the end of 2012. At home, an almost 13 year old Dutch boy, Freek wants to open a Twitter account and his mother Linda is helping him to set it up. She makes sure his account is secure by activating the 'protect my Tweets' setting because he will only be tweeting with close friends and family. Freek has 20 followers and he's more than happy with that. He's also really happy with his You Tube account; he uses it to collect athletics videos, as he is passionate about his sport.
A few weeks later, Linda opens a Facebook message from her second cousin, asking her if she is aware of the fact that Freeks' profile picture is leading a life of its own, showing up on Tumblr for example, under a different name? Linda immediately checks and she does find her sons' picture, albeit under a foreign sounding name. Linda does not understand how this is at all possible; his Twitter account was supposed to be protected!
Then it starts to escalate. She gets an email from a cousin. And one from a friend. And another one from a colleague. More and more people tell Linda they came across that same profile picture of her son. Not just on Facebook and Tumblr, but on all kinds of foreign websites Linda had never even heard of. His unwanted alter ego seems to pop up just about everywhere! And the rubbish this 'Fake Freek' posts is nasty and offensive. They mock his appearance; Freek is a squinting boy with lots of freckles, exactly the type of features that bullies have been targeting for centuries.
If that isn't bad enough already, Linda also discovers that Freeks' face has been mounted into all sorts of pictures and videos. Sometimes it's rather innocent, but more often they are repulsive in nature, like the one featuring naked woman, one of them wearing Freeks' face. It's clear by now that someone stole her son's picture and is using it in some kind of troll attack. And it also becomes increasingly clear that this cyber bully knows exactly what he's doing. Because 'Fake Freek' soon has a large group of followers from around the globe: tens of thousands of friends 'like' his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter and watch the YouTube videos featuring this cartoonish figure. More fake accounts keep popping up. Linda panics. She goes to the police to press charges for defamation and slander. All they are able to tell her is 'press charges online, 'cause it happens on the internet'.
Linda cries all the way home. She tries to contact Facebook to get them to remove the fake accounts, but she struggles to understand the indecipherable replies they email. Freeks' dad then decides to post some messages on the timeline of the fake account, urging them to remove the picture of his son. To his horror, it only makes matters worse. Following his posts, the cyber bully's next act it to disclose Freeks' full real name. So now everyone knows this is not some caricature but a real child and they know his name too. 'OMG you're real', is what Fake-Freeks' followers post. The bullying intensifies and new pictures surface; one of Freek with his mother, and one of him with his cat.
This time, the pictures have been taken off Linda's Facebook account, following a Facebook update that, unbeknownst to her, changed her settings from 'friends only' to 'public'. And he even rips pictures from the website of Freeks' athletics team. It feels like the whole world is watching Linda and her family, and she feels increasingly unsafe.
Once it becomes clear that this caricature is actually a case of Cyber Bullying using pictures of a real child, some 'fans' are put off. They post apologetic messages and then unfollow the account. But Linda also receives a lot of insulting, and even threatening messages, like the one from a German man who invites Freek to come and live with him. A new addition is an ominous video clip of all the photoshopped pictures with Freeks' face on it. By now, Freek also receives nasty posts on his own, real, account and his parents decide he has to deactivate both his Twitter and his YouTube accounts. Freek is not aware of all the nastiness that can be found on the internet in his name; his parents try to keep that as far away from him as possible. They do explain to him what has been happening, and that it might be better not to discuss it with friends and classmates. Freek does not realise the full extent of what is going on, and does not oversee the potential future damage; at this point he is just very upset that he had to deactivate his accounts.
Through friends, Linda gets in touch with Solange Jacobsen, project leader at the My Child Online Foundation. Thanks to the contacts Solange is able to get through KPN Telecom at Facebook and You Tube in the US, she finally manages to have the majority of pages, pictures and videos removed. Following advice of the local law enforcement, Mrs Jacobsen waited until the official investigation was concluded. The police have their eye on an instigator minor from the Netherlands, who never thought anyone would ever find him.
We're talking end of 2013, exactly one year later. A case has been made against an instigator minor, and the public prosecutor will have to decide on the sentencing. Linda would prefer an alternative punishment, forcing him to undo much of the damage he has inflicted. But the reality is, she is very concerned about Freeks future. Removing pictures and videos is fighting a losing battle. As soon as she turns her back on one account, another one appears with fresh pictures. Meanwhile there are followers worldwide and some copycats emerge. They miss their 'bit of fun' and start their own accounts. And when you Google Freeks' real name, it is still his German alter ego that will show up. So, what will happen when he starts to develop his online identity in school next year? He will not be able to open any account under his own name, not without Fake-Freeks 'fans' finding out about it. What if his classmates discover this smear campaign? What will happen when he starts applying for jobs and his potential employers Google him and stumble upon all these awful texts and pictures? How will Freek be able to prove that it wasn't him? Linda is seriously considering going to court to officially change her sons' name. An extreme measure to solve an extreme problem, yes she knows, but is there any other way?
For privacy reasons the names of the people concerned and some all too recognisable details have been altered.