Tuesday, February 28, 2023

When Bollywood Stole My Facebook Page

 In 2003 my cellphone rang. I glanced at the unknown number, not feeling up to conversation. My son had died a few months before, and I’d gotten momentarily separated from my first husband. As if reading my mind, my oldest daughter studied me from her highchair while taking another bite of oatmeal. 

Oatmeal. I hated the stuff. But being poor, oatmeal seemed to be the only food we could afford, and while I had to choke it down, I thanked God that Ruby still loved Quaker Oats.

“Should I answer it?” I asked Ruby who giggled, dancing to my ringtone. 

“Hello?” I spoke into the receiver and smiled at my beautiful little girl—my reason.

The man responded in a thick accent. “Ma’am?” Then he began peddling an inane product. 

“I can barely afford oatmeal,” I said. “There’s no way I can buy whatever you’re selling. Can you remove me from your calling list?”

“Yes.” But he sounded devastated. Desperate. 

I thought then how easily we separate ourselves from our own humanity through a phone line or a computer’s modem, wielding apathy instead of kindness.

“Wait,” I said, “before you go, can you tell me how your day is going?”

He paused. “It’s…okay. Um…thank you…for asking.”

“Where are you from?” I just wanted to show some interest, try to make his day a bit brighter.

“Ma’am,” his voice wavered, “I’m in India.”

“How exciting!” I squealed. “I bet it’s gorgeous over there.” And Ruby’s eyes lit with mirth as she watched my reaction.

The conversation that followed still feels somewhat magical, even 20 years later. The telemarketer told me about his hardships and fears. He shared how he felt like he’d hit rock bottom to have a degree and be a telemarketer—he felt like a failure. And to top that off, people could be so unkind, yelling at him and hanging up all day long. 

I told him about my son who’d died and my failing marriage. He said he never would’ve guessed because I’d sounded so happy when I first answered the phone. And somehow the conversation felt so…healing.

He’d called to sell me something but instead reminded me of the very best of humanity. He fought to provide for his family, striving to succeed no matter how difficult life had become. And on that international phone call, we encouraged each other to keep going…for our kids and even for ourselves.

“You’re amazing,” I said. And with that, we ended the call.

Fast forward to almost two weeks ago. I received an email from a woman in India. She explained that her company desperately wanted to advertise on my Facebook page. I immediately remembered the Indian man from 20 years ago, his kind voice, his quiet resolve. And I wondered how the years had treated him. Had he finally landed a job where he could utilize his degree? Had his children grown up to realize what a strong, selfless man had supported them all of those years. And what would he think about my life? My wonderful children? My second husband who’s been so good to me? And—since 2018–my terrible fight against cancer and death. 

Thinking about all of that, I agreed to advertise this woman’s product. All I needed to do was sign into my Meta account and accept her invitation to advertise.

Imagine my surprise when this woman ended up being a man who later hacked into my Meta account and stole my business page on Facebook. As many of you know, I had 56,000 followers on my EC Stilson page. I’d worked for 12 years to build it up to that point. Despite contacting Facebook over 14 times since this theft on Feb. 19, they have done nothing to help me, and I’m beginning to lose hope. 

Today, I sat wondering why this feels so devastating. I guess it’s hard knowing this scammer read about my fight against cancer, and they still proceeded to steal my page and thus part of my livelihood (selling books through my platform). It’s also appalling having someone take my identity, and now post Bollywood videos under my name. But it gets so much worse. I hate knowing that cancer patients and some of my elderly followers might be trying to message that page, only to be greeted by this dangerous imposter. And—maybe the worst part—the teams at Facebook and Meta don’t seem to care.

Today, as I sat wondering what I’m supposed to learn from this, I immediately remembered the Indian telemarketer from two decades ago. He reminded me that no matter what hardships we have or will go through, we should never let unkind people or unfortunate situations rob us of our humanity. 

It might be terrible that Facebook isn’t doing anything to help, that the scammer has sent someone to try ransoming my page, that I’ve had to realize some people could care less that others are sick—they’ll even capitalize upon it…but what I’m so proud of is that I TRULY know now those situations will never rob me of my ability to be kind and always look for the good. 

I prayed for the scammer today. Begged God to help them learn what they need in order to grow and feel empathy for others. I prayed for myself, for the strength to continue being that girl who makes friends with telemarketers and learns from unlikely circumstances. I also prayed that no one else will be taken advantage of, thinking they’re messaging me…

This has been hard waiting to hear back from Facebook about the future of my page and my business, but it’s nothing compared to waiting for my own demise because of cancer. This page was just something to distract me from the brutal reality of sickness; I know that now.

Anyway, I guess today I’m hanging onto peace in my own humanity. Hope in the journey. Love in the memories. It’s hard waiting, until I realize this is just another sign I’m still lucky enough to be alive. And that’s what I learned after someone stole my Facebook page so they could begin posting Bollywood videos under my name.


  1. I've been missing you on FB and I try and report the "theft" but I don't think I'm doing it correctly. Let us know how to help with this if you figure it out. Or start a new group and we'll try to send people to it.

  2. I have a friend in Island Park who mails me the Island Park news. I want you to know how inspirational your column is to me, a fellow living with cancer. I love your outlook on life. Thank you so much! Tim in Cañon City Colorado