Behind the headlines: Chronicling a bizarre e-dating relationship as it blows up onlineBehind the headlines: Chronicling a bizarre e-dating ...

THOMAS MANCH

10:35, Oct 28 2016

Supplied.

The woman at the centre of it all.

A New Zealand teenager. Bullied and abused men. International headlines. And a bizarre world most of us know nothing about. Thomas Manch reports.

The video shows him sobbing. On his forehead, he's scrawled the name "Hanna".

He cries: "Please, I'm so sorry for everything ... please forgive me ... I'm sorry I cheated on you."

--

The headlines from the week.

Stewart has never met Hanna. He plays Runescape - an "old school" online game where players assume characters in a medieval virtual world, complete quests and fight and trade with others - under the moniker "Trance Music".

So does Hanna, his online girlfriend.

E-dating is not an unusual phenomenon, especially within avid online gamers, who build long-standing relationships with each other in virtual spaces.

But there was something concerning enough about this relationship that loud headlines hit our virtual shores by Tuesday night.

"'I would consider suicide if she would take herself with me': Victim tells..." The Daily Mail wrote.

Another read: "A New Zealand teenager's online antics with men have hit headlines around the world but her supporters deny any sinister intentions".

"I bully the weak," The Sun headed in full capitals.

Under the Twitter handle "@PoisonIvyLul" the girl, only known as Hanna, didn't directly dispute the claims, but she posted the articles.

Her bio stated, "I treat all men like sh.. because they are weak and they deserve it."

Her Twitter features a series of images of men engaging in perceivably humiliating and sexually degrading acts. Most with her name scrawled on their head, some naked.

But who is Hanna? And why is she doing this?

"See what the police have to say," my editor says.

A police spokesperson confirmed they were aware of the media reports, but were unable to confirm whether this person was in New Zealand.

"If anyone recognises the image of 'Hanna' aka 'Poison Ivy' as being a person residing in New Zealand, we would encourage them to contact police," they said.

Whether this was coming from New Zealand, or not, it blares loud. Even in the noise of the online world.

Welcome to a trip down an internet rabbit hole, into the depths of a weird e-dating relationship and a blur of alter-egos, mean jokes, and human connection.

It's a saga that has been festering within a specific online community before it came into wider, public view.

Koen (last name withheld) posted his video on October 24 under the guise of MarsRPG.

Titled "Exposing Hannah/Poison Ivy", the young Dutchman compiled content from various online accounts and laid out the allegations.

"This is a girl who actively seeks out weak and socially inept guys, that never had a girlfriend or social life .... with the sole person of extracting wealth from them ... with the ultimate purpose of making them kill themselves."

It's that last line of the video's intro, the claimed "ultimate purpose", which made the headlines.Behind the headlines: Chronicling a bizarre e-dating ...

It comes from a couple of tweets from Hanna's account where she says: "Romance is stupid ... and the only way to do it properly is for a couple to suicide together."

Koen admits he was exaggerating somewhat - but he stands by the rest of the allegations.

"My video is a little bit of a tip of the iceberg ... there's a lot more footage.

"This has been going on for months and months."

Koen also plays Runescape, and while e-dating was not uncommon there was something about this relationship in particular that caught his eye.

Stewart is a top Runescape player, and well-known in the community. He's been active online for a long time, playing the game, streaming and posting related memes on Twitter.

In June that changed. It started with this post: "Hanna and I have been dating for over three months. Do people actually think I'm getting trolled like Dave?"

It escalated quickly. He publicly declared his love and lust, and posted drawings of Hanna.

And there's a video, the same one that featured in Koen's coverage, of him sobbing, with "Hanna" scrawled on his forehead.

"Please, I'm so sorry for everything ... please forgive me ... I'm sorry I cheated on you," he says.

It's distressing viewing. But what's more distressing is another video, found now on YouTube, that also emerged during this time.

As a high-profile gamer, Stewart would live stream - or broadcast - himself playing Runescape online to fans.

In this video Hanna can be heard as well, talking to him via Skype. In what sounds like an Australian accent she says, "do you have a razor?".

After considerable prompting, Stewart shaves his head, then his facial hair.

"Can you do you eyebrows?" she says. "Please?"

He does, and asks her what she thinks.

"I don't like it," she says.

In August, he's wearing a "My heart belongs to Hanna" printed T-shirt.

Hanna's postings are a little different. She retweets Stewart's posts but doesn't document her own feelings so extensively.

Most of her posts were retweets of images posted to her page, images of men with her name on their forehead.

Other posts include a video of one man repeated bashing his genitals with a shoe, toilet brush jammed in his mouth, with "Hanna" stickered on his forehead.

It's important to note that the full context is often missing on social media. Without the conversations which occur in the background, in chat rooms or in person, the true nature of this behaviour is difficult to assess. It could all be consensual.

But there is a little to be discovered yet.

Hanna purports to be a 17-year-old girl from New Zealand in her Twitter comments, and was reported as such. Her account was created only in March.

Digging into a Runescape forum finds her applying to join a particular "clan", or team, in April 2016.

She posts some basic information about herself. She's 21 years old, female and based in New Zealand.

Under the question "What are you looking for?", she writes, "People to write Hanna on their body."

Other posts in more obscure forums where self-described lonely souls congregate to meet up are much the same. Her location changes, to both the US and Australia, but she writes that she is looking for men who will write her name on them.

Bouncing around forum Reddit is a screenshot of a series of Skype messages between her and someone unknown.

That chat has been held up by some commentators as evidence of her true intentions - there's discussion about creating a video of "cringe" things Stewart has said and done, in order to shame him.Behind the headlines: Chronicling a bizarre e-dating ...

There are murmurs in forums, dating back to July, that a similar thing happened to someone called Dave. There's also a compilation video, titled "Cringecomp", with messages and videos between Hanna and a young man is posted on a YouTube-esque website.

And then there's another live stream, the straw that broke the camel's back for Koen.

A man - called Wardawg online - broadcast himself, naked, forcing objects up his bottom.

He was yelling, "Hanna, I love you".

"That was not a fun livestream to watch, that was very disgusting to watch.

"You can't really do anything, I'm just a regular Runescape player," he said.

Koen's video was taken up quickly by news sources, and even the American rapper T-Pain threw in his two cents.

Abuse poured in. There were calls for Hanna to be banned from social media, or worse.

Initially, Hanna posted the response videos, the articles, the messages of support and the criticism. It seemed to be entertaining, part of the game.

Stewart defended his girlfriend. "When has she ever asked somebody to hurt themselves???"

Others posted photos of themselves with her name written on their head, apparent trolls wading into the saga.

Another "youtuber" from the Runescape community posted his own video, an interview of the couple with another person - who Hanna calls "her best friend".

There's a lot of talking, a lot of justifying, but little word from Stewart throughout.

"People just write Hanna on their forehead if I ask them to do it," Hanna says. It's described as a troll - an online joke.

It's quickly picked up by The Sun, fuel added to the fire, and placed alongside the comments of other anonymous friends and supporters of Hanna.

Hanna posts a tweet to the top of her page asking for forehead scrawled pictures to be sent in.

The narrative surrounding the behaviour seems to shift, it's increasingly being portrayed as a joke.

Stewart posts a video saying he loves Hanna, everything is fine, and it's all blown out of proportion.

By late Thursday evening, she's banned from Twitter. By Friday morning, Stewart's Twitter account has changed.

Hanna is now front and centre, her profile picture on the account, all other non-doting tweets are largely cleansed from its recent history.

Attempts to reach Hanna via Skype, and Stewart via Twitter, don't elicit any substantial response.

Martin Cocker from Netsafe, an organisation which informs Kiwis about safe online practices, says they sometimes receive queries about online relationships.

"A lot of relationships are begun and carried out online, we wouldn't tell people that's not legitimate, but they need to exercise appropriate caution.

"Online anybody can be, or appear to be anything they like."

If you cast a wide enough net online, he said, it's possible to find a particular type of person, or a particular type of vulnerability.

"That plays into the hands of people that are deliberately setting out to create exploitative relationships."

Netsafe has a helpline which people can call to get advice about their online

"Mostly it really is about exercising caution before entering into online relationship."

On Thursday afternoon, Stewart, was back playing the video game Runescape online, live streaming to his followers.

He's wearing his "My heart belongs to Hanna" T-shirt and showing off a fresh wrist tattoo of a heart with "Hanna" in the outline.Behind the headlines: Chronicling a bizarre e-dating ...

Hanna's voice could be heard over the broadcast, addressing the concerns and questions of viewers messaging in.

"Why didn't she get a tattoo of your name too?" one message asks.

"Um... cause I didn't want to," she responds.

She is asked: How did you react to the news articles?

"It was so funny at first ... until I realised they were saying stuff about me wanting guys to suicide, that was completely bullsh..t."

The questions keep coming.

"Why are people so mean?" Hanna says.

Where to get help

Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757

Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz

0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.

Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.

Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).

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