Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sometimes It Only Takes One Asshole to Remind the World That the Internet Can Be a Frightening Place

Recently, I found out that one of my favorite blogs will be going offline.

Girl on the Blog will apparently no longer be updated.

The reason?

Somebody crossed a very important boundary for the author - the ability to maintain some level of separation between her offline life and her life in Cyberspace.

According to GOTB's author, this person, who I'll call John, e-mailed the site's author and revealed that they had been able to figure out who she really was, where she lived, and I'm sure other things.

While this person purported to be a "counselor" who only wanted to "help" GOTB, an act that seems innocent enough on the surface, this person has crossed a serious line. Contrary to popular opinion, the online world shares many strengths and weaknesses with the offline world.

John's reported correspondence with GOTB was enough to give her the creeps - she announced in her Dec. 15 post that she has removed images of her family and other personal information. She will also discontinue using Blogger.

John may have crossed the line between being a fan and being a stalker. While John probably doesn't see that he's done anything wrong (a common profile element of most stalkers), by playing the "I know who you are and where you live" game, he's created a situation where any further contact could be perceived as harrassment and possibly prosecutable.

Several of the author's fans, including Deep Thought and Esoteric Wombat, have already expressed many of the same sentiments I've been feeling for the last few days. I want to commend those two authors on their excellent posts.

Just as in the real world, stalkers exist on the web. I myself have had to deal with both real world and cyberstalkers.

When I was a journalist, I once had a woman call an editor of mine, claiming I was the mother of her child and that we were secretly married. My a fellow journalist called the cops on said woman when she showed up at my office demanding "child support" because "God" told her to do so. Back then, I had women leave Bible readings on my voice-mail, a guy threaten to kill me, and an irrate parent of a high school football player once call me 20 times in one week.

Because of this blog, I myself had a local cyberstalker incident. A local female, upon reading about various relationship problems I had last Spring, decided she and I would be the perfect match; she also had decided to quit taking her meds around the same time.

Her parents discovered the cyberstalker behavior through the girl's housemate; they contacted me to find out if I was their daughter's "boyfriend." The girl has since moved back in with her parents and is back on her meds.

Cyberstalking should always be taken seriously. GOTB did the right thing in shutting down her site. Her family's well-being comes first. It's just sad that we live in a world where it has to come to that.

I'll close by echoing some of Wombat's frustrations with a little letter to "John"...

Dear John:

If you (yeah, I know who you are, too) feels the need to harrass somebody, feel free to hit me up with an e-mail. I'm not not intimidated by much.

Maybe stalking somebody's mother provides you with the shits-and-giggles you need to get through your sad life. Maybe you aren't up to the challenge of harrassing somebody your own size. Fine. But maybe you should think about your actions next time.

For every bit of information one is able to track down about somebody else online, there's an electronic paper trail leading back to the searcher. By sending GOTB random e-mails, you've caused a shitstorm. She has your name and URL. So do several others.

And I can't speak for other GOTB readers, but I know I have a really long memory.

Thanks (for being a total shithead),

The Zenformation Professional


Alice: In Wonderland or Not said...

I wrote a thing on absurdity jam on stalking ingeneral.
Having been internet stalked twice and in person stalked once it isn’t a whole of fun. I ‘m pissed she is gone.

Girl on the Blog said...

Wow... I don't know what to say except... Wow! Thank you!

zydeco fish said...

This reminds me that it it probably impossible to be anonymous online, although some of us try. I can't imagine how frightening it would be to receive one of those "I know where you live email." I hope she gets back online some day.

Anonymous said...

GOTB: I have a cyberpal who recently had a similar experience. She would up closing down her blog, and starting a new one, under a different name. What she did was send emails to her regular readers advising them on what happened, and the location of her new blog (she also made sure we didn't advertise the switch). That was a few months ago, so far, it's worked out well for her and the stalker has not found the new blog.

If you want to keep blogging, you should start a new one with a new profile and everything. There's no sense letting a cyberstalker prevent you from doing something you enjoy.


Critical Darling said...

Lucky for me, I'm paranoid normally! I'm constantly tempted to write about where I work (without using the real name, of course) and other things, but I leave those things out of my blog because I'm quite certain people would have no trouble finding me if I did. I often wonder how anonymous I really am, since some people have easily figured out what city I live in.
GOTB: Sorry to hear about the blog.

snoopdon said...

mee too.