Wednesday, May 14, 2008

anonymous blog stalkers

Maybe some of the seasoned bloggers know about this, but I just heard about it for the first time. Around this time last year, a popular woman blogger shut down her site due to fear. Kathy Sierra was afraid for her physical safety after threats of sexual assault were written in anonymous comments and escalated to website posts. An example of negative comments gone nuclear.

When I first started looking for psych blogs and meandering around the blogosphere, I came across a feminst blog that took a pro-woman view of traditional bible interpretations. It just so happened that within a short week of me finding her blog, she posted that she had removed all personal information, and numerous entire posts. She explained to me that someone was anonymously leaving vile, personalized and threatening comments. She chose to withdraw and as far as I know, she hasn't posted to the blog again.

These scenerios got me thinking: what to do if you feel afraid of someone's threatening, stalking or otherwise harassing comments? I looked around and Bloggingfeminism covered most of the suggestions I found:

1. moderate comments. delete as needed.

2. bloggers can help each other by outing authors of anonymous threats and harrassing emails: track their IP or email addresses of threatening commenters and notify the targeted blogger; post the harasser's email address

3. talk about it with other bloggers, "out loud" - identify the comments as threatening and harrassing

4. pool resources and create a site for public outing: join with other bloggers, collect harrassing commenters IP addresses as a means of identifying their origin or identity and post this information. prosecute whenever feasible.

All suggestions worth considering.

Missing from the suggestion list, however, was advice that I imagine Gavin DeBecker, author of The Gift of Fear might give. I read his book as a means of coping with a personal stalking experience. I had received mixed advice, including, from my local misguided police officers, the exact thing DeBecker said NOT to do: face my stalker and tell him to stop contacting me. Which was exactly the thing I did do. Theh result? The stalking escalated.

So I read The Gift of Fear and followed advice to victims of stalkers, which, in a nutshell, is to minimize contact with the perpetrator, to zero, when at all possible. No conversations, no rebuttals, no arguements, no bad mouthing in return, no requests, no talking to those in contact with the stalker -- there's a chance it will get back to the stalker, which is an indirect form of contact. Because, according to DeBecker, the stalker wants to have a dialog with you and get a reaction from you. Any forms of communication are feeding the stalker's desire to interact.

So given DeBecker's recommendations, it seems to me that the best advice of all is to delete and ignore (which moderating can accomplish). Elevating a threatening post to a public discussion may, in some cases, give the hate-commenter exactly what he's looking for -- attention. He gets to learn that his post had it's intended impact -- fear. Shutting down a blog is one way to ignore and become unavailable and in the case of the blogger mentioned, she was so fearful she felt this was her only way of coping. But deleting and giving no "airtime" to these hate mongers is something to consider first.

Credit goes to Ezra Klein at
The American Prospect, where I first learned of this story. Because Sierra became the subject of much scrutiny, and in some cases, criticism for shutting down her blog, Slate published a defense of her reaction, explaining why women bloggers needn't apologize for feeling fearful of these kinds of attacks. Picture of the anonymous blogger was lifted from Chamber Music Today.


JCK said...

It is an interesting idea to ignore it. I had a brief episode of "crazy" comments from "anonymous." He/She followed me to other blogs. We got rid of the annoying anonymous by outing him/her within the comments sectionn and then stating that we would delete any further comments and doing so.

Alison said...

I think that the 'safety of anonymity' works both ways. I decided to moderate all comments for a while. That was effective, now there's no need. I was blogging at the time on the death of another blogger (suicide of Theresa Duncan, who I loved) and got some weird comments.

However, I also chose to leave some silly ones and reply back to them myself. I guess it's a matter of intelligent choice, given the comments/subject.

Radical Reminders said...

thanks for this post, and i can't believe the coincidence!!!!!!!! Seriously though, it happens SO often. And they guy who wrote did so within 10 miles of where i work... i wish i could find out more about him! You said something about email addresses - how would i find out his email address? Blogspot doesn't require one i don't think? Anyway, thanks for the heads up to your post - they're all great tips!

shrink on the couch said...

femgal, I think the advice about tracking email addresses applies if they emailed their comments.

Another note: ISP addresses tell you where their service provider is located, not where the actual user is located. I have a friend who posts from one city on the east coast but her ISP shows her to be in CA. But your anti-fem-nazi SAYS he's located in NY/CT area.

Its interesting that he set up a blog in honor of defending his hateful opinions. He's quite moved and inspired by your feminist writings, huh?

Radical Reminders said...

hahahahaha, i love blogging. it's just so dramatic :) lol

Anonymous said...

I was given very similar advice to this by the police after my online stalking incident. Although that reached into real life too - with phone calls etc as it was a friend of someone I actually knew.

I was astounded by how scared it all made me feel and how violated. There is no other word for it - I had absolutely no idea I would feel as I did, I presumed I would shrug such stuff off.

The advice did seem to work - I get very few emails these days, have had no comments since I shifted my url and she doesn't ring. But I still have a little lurch in my heart every time I open my email account in the morning.

shrink on the couch said...

jck - so you outed and then ignored. that's a smart plan. best of both worlds, perhaps. glad it worked.

yes, alison, we each have to use our own discretion. it depends on the types of comments. some are annoying/silly/harmless. the Debecker book is all about paying attention to feelings of fear and being guided by them, rather than ignoring them.

shrink on the couch said...

rb - i'm sorry you had such a scary experience. reaching beyond your computer and to your home (phone) puts it at a very real level. i'm glad it ended. but yes, being the victim of stalking is something that doesn't go completely away. To this day I look over my shoulder in certain situations, and find myself lost in "what if" land. And its been a few years since I've been contacted.

Michelle said...

I had a way too persistent past non-fling stalk for a while. It was extremely terrifying seeing as how I was sick in bed most the time. He created fake aliases through facebook and skype. I attempted the wrong thing. I gave him negative attention. I wrote a long hate comment on his blog trying to get him to leave me alone. It just made me hate myself for stooping to that level, and made it look like I was the crazy one. I kept friends and family involved all along the way just to make sure it really was him and I wasn't going crazy. It turned out that he did the same thing to another woman, only he used the alias of one of her past flings. I finally posted a comment listing everything he was doing and told him to stop. The next day he posted a blog about being sorry for his actions (in a vague and nondiscript way, of course). I still private my blog, and I am battling the paranoia and hypervigilent side effects, but the stalking to my knowledge he has found another to torture, and she seems ok with it. Even stalkers deserve to be loved, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Actually, is there an easy way to track their IP, when they comment?

Anonymous said...

Rather quite good topic

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