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Baby Reindeer – The ultimate story of LoveBombing

Updated: May 14



WARNING: Before you read this blog, please be aware that;


  • It contains spoilers about the Netflix show.

  • It is based on a true story.

  • It may be a trigger for those who have experienced similar situations. If this is likely to happen, please practice self-care before, during and after reading.

  • The 'Real' Martha was discovered within hours...

 

What is LoveBombing


Let’s start with a term you might not be familiar with; LoveBombing.

 

Although it might sound quite innocent, the term, which has been around since 1970’s is an abuse tactic, where one person showers the other with affection, compliments, gifts and attention in order to gain their trust and ultimately control them.

 

It has been associated with religious organisations and cults in relation to the indoctrination of new recruits.

 

It is a form of manipulation and control and the Netflix show, Baby Reindeer is a masterclass in what LoveBombing looks and feels like.

 

Baby Reindeer – why you need to watch it


If you’re involved in Information Security, and part of your role is to educate people on the importance of data protection and privacy, then you need to be aware of shows like ‘Baby Reindeer’.

 

Why?

 

Because it has fast become the number one show on Netflix, and at its heart it’s a story about the impact of social media and data on our lives. Ok, that might be a stretch to say it’s at the heart of the story, but it’s certainly a foundational piece of the story.

 

Allow me to explain the set up for those who haven’t heard of it.

 

Baby Reindeer: The story


First, it’s important to note that this is a true story, although many of the details have been amended to protect some of the key players (more on that later).

 

The story follows an aspiring comedian, Richard Gadd, who befriends a woman called Martha, after she comes into the bar he is working at, as a part-time bar tender.  Very quickly his kind gesture of a free drink and casual conversation turns into an obsession, both online and in real life (IRL).

 

From the outset, Martha attempts to gain Richard’s telephone number, which he wisely avoids. However, as an aspiring comedian, he has an online presence that includes social media (FaceBook), YouTube channel and a website. All of which contain a plethora of personal information that he has shared. This includes his email account.

 

Over a series of episodes, the obsession turns into stalking both in the physical and virtual world, as Martha follows him online, and in real life.

 

During the course of events, Martha sends him

 

  • 41,071 email messages,

  • 350 hours worth of voice messages,

  • 744 tweets,

  • 46 Facebook messages

  • 106 pages of love letters

  • Gifts, which included a baby reindeer toy, boxer shorts and sleeping pills(!)

 



She connects with his ex-girlfriends, commenting on pictures he had posted all the way back to 2015. She also contacts his ex-girlfriend, sending her abusive messages and commenting ‘ugly b***h’ on numerous occasions.  

 

She goes to his apartment, which he shares with his ex-girlfriend’s mum, and invites herself to a party taking place, just so she can be close to him.

 

And, after following him home from one of his shows, commits sexual assault against him. While this part of the story is not explored at length, it demonstrates where obsession and stalking can unfortunately lead.

 

How it all ends


I’m not going to spoil how the show ends, and in fact some of the details are not available due to secrecy around how it all ended. According to some reports, Martha was still harassing Richard's friends and family until September 2019.

 

Richard turned his experience into a stage show which went on to appear at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. And Richard has speculated that seeing the Baby Reindeer stage show in the press might have made her think twice about her behaviour. As of 2024 he feels the situation is "resolved," suggesting that this behaviour has finally stopped for good.

 

Richard has turned his experience into what we can only assume, is a lucrative stage show and Netflix show. So perhaps he is the winner out of this. But this does not lessen the impact on his life and those around him.



 

There are lessons for us all here.


Shows like Baby Reindeer are here to teach us valuable lessons if we pay attention.

 

The key message in this story is that the distinction between our online lives and real lives is almost non-existent. What happens online can quickly spill over into our real lives, and one can affect the other.

 

We need to think more carefully about what we share online about ourselves, and this includes our connections and history. Asking people not to ‘over share’, is like asking people not to ‘over breath’! It’s not practical or possible anymore. Even people who don’t post on social media have ‘shadow accounts’, as friends and families ‘tag’ us in pictures and locations. 

 

All we can do is to be more conscious about what we share online. But this is incredibly difficult to do all the time and is leaving us and the people in our lives at risk.

 

Be conscious of what information you share about yourselves, because once you have shared the information and images, you no longer have control over who has access to that information. Just consider for a moment all the proud parent moments we share of our children’s first footsteps and first day at a new school (with images of school uniforms).

 

Casual acquaintances know your children’s names and the schools they attend. They know your parents, siblings and best friends. They learn about your pass-times and hobbies, ex-lovers and partners and places you’ve visited.  

 

What this show describes is a sustained and prolonged unwanted attention of a woman to a man. Because our hero in the story is a comedian, the style of storytelling is quite funny at times. But we can’t help feel it would have been far darker had it been a man stalking a woman.  

 

The darker aspects of this story warrant further consideration. What if, instead of 41,000 emails the stalker had used the personal information of this person and posted them on revenge porn sites? Inviting others to troll him or even physically attack him. That’s exactly what happened when the self proclaimed ’most hated man on the internet’, Hunter Moore turned his revenge porn site into a cult following. 

 

On the surface, Baby Reindeer is an interesting and well-told story about obsession. What we have is a lonely person, starved of affection and identity in the real world who creates a world of fantasy, both online and in real life. It’s a sad story.

 

But it also offers us a stark warning about privacy means in the 21st century.  Because we have to accept that we all have a social media footprint. Either we have curated it ourselves, or one is curated by someone else for us.

 

Don’t believe me?  Many children appear online before they are even born as proud parents share pictures of their scans, selection of names and then the exact hour and date, and size and weight when the baby is born. All before the baby can even grasp a finger, let alone grasp the idea of privacy, they have an online profile for others to watch.

 

What can we do?


Pandora’s box is open. There is no going back. Social media is here to stay and as one platform shines bright and then fizzles out, it will be replaced by something new. 

 

Legislation does not help.  Governments don’t understand, or are unwilling to act.

 

What we need to do is be aware of how to protect ourselves both online and IRL.


 

Tips for protecting yourself include;


  • Check your privacy settings on your social media platforms (e.g. enabling 2FA)

  • Backup your data

  • Don’t connect to people you don’t know in the real world, or with people you don’t feel comfortable around

  • Think about the information you share. 

    • Do you need to share those pictures?

    • Do you need to tell people your movements?

    • Think about the people in your pictures. Are they happy to be included?

 

You could say that Richard’s story ends well as he now has a successful Netflix show and presumably a successful career of comedy writing.

 

As for ‘Martha’… There are mixed reports where it is claimed she spent several months in prison for stalking, while others say that no charges were ever brought against her. Irrespective of this, she is still out there, and perhaps she is looking for her new ‘Baby Reindeer’.

 

Post Script:

Richard Gadd has stated he changed a lot of details about Martha, so that even she would not recognise herself in the story. Yet in other articles, they quote him as saying that her behaviour stopped when she saw his live show discussing the experience.

 

What is clear is that he has created a mystery and the internet dwellers don’t like a mystery.  Although Richard Gadd asked people NOT to search for the real people in the story, it was inevitible that would happen.


And happen it did.


The Real Martha - Fiona Harvey


Within hours, the REAL Martha was identified as Fiona Harvey, a Scottish women who bears a striking resemblance to the on-screen Martha.

 

Fiona has (unsurprisingly) been thrust into the limelight with this story, and is considering legal action against Richard Gadd and Netflix. She claims the allegations are false and that much of the story didn't happen.


On his YouTube show, Piers Morgan interviewed Fiona to hear her side of the story, asking very direct questions in order to reveal the truth.



The live show had at its peak, over 556,000 viewers and has fuelled yet more outrage and commentary on the internet.


How this story ends we have yet to see. However, what we do know is the internet is unforgiving. 'Group Think' and shame are still in operation. Social media is a double-edged sword - and it is very, very sharp.



 

Need Help?


If something is going wrong, and you feel that you are receiving unwelcomed attention IRL or online, seek help. Speak to someone about what is happening.

 

If this is happening online ensure you take screen shots of any messages sent, and a log of what messages you receive. Creating a time line and collecting evidence is crucial.  Be sure to back-up your important files, and any evidence you collect.

 

There are professional organisations that you can turn to, who can offer practical advice. These include;

 

·       Samaritans

·       The Cyber Helpline

 

They can provide support and advice about actions you can take to prevent this problem from escalating further.

 

Finally, if this is happening to you and you would like a confidential conversation, please get in touch with us. Listening is our super power, and we are stronger together.

 

We are here to help.

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