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Blog Stalkers – Personal Safety for Bloggers

‘Stalker’ is such a harsh word and one not to be used lightly but in December of last year I realized that I had one.

I’ve hinted at this once or twice in this blog and in my email newsletter and some ProBlogger readers did see a few of the comments that he left on this blog (he was the one that called himself ‘blogkiller’ – but I’ve avoided talking about it up until now for reasons of security and not wanting to agitate the situation further.

It’s been almost two months now since the situation was resolved and I believe it is now safe to talk about it without inflaming things (but hope you’ll forgive me for not going into too many specifics).

What I will say is that the situation arose when someone who lives in my city read a number of posts written on another blog about me. Before he read them I was unknown to him but the posts attacked me, made allegations about me which were untrue and it was written (in my opinion) without fact checking in quite an aggressive tone. Who wrote it and which post it is is irrelevant (in fact I’ve made peace with the blogger and resolved it) – the fact is the person who read it was in a place in their life where they were under extreme pressure and mentally unstable.

The posts were enough to trigger some extreme thought processes and obsessions in this person that led to a chain of escalating events that went from what I initially considered to be a harmless comment troll, to a cyber-nuisance, to a concerning threat maker, to what unfortunately became a situation where there was a physical attack made upon my property.

This process was very unsettling and in the end shook me up quite a bit.

As I’ve written above the situation is now resolved. I do not feel under threat – but in the process I’ve learned a lot and have a somewhat different view of blogging.

I wanted to share this story for a couple of reasons.

Firstly I think it’s important for us all to remember that the words we write might be written with one intention – but that they can be read and interpreted in a very different way. The blogger who wrote the posts that triggered this chain reaction did not intend for this to happen and could not have foreseen it. I don’t hold them responsible for it and as I say we’ve resolved our differences. However it has made me think twice before posting about other people since.

Secondly I wanted to remind bloggers to consider their personal safety.

While I’ve seen a number of articles in recent times about how to keep your blog safe and secure from hacking and accidental loss – it’s also worth considering how to keep yourself (and those you live with) safe and secure also. When you write in a public forum you are doing so with the hope that people will read you. The unfortunate side of this is that you have little control over the perceptions of others towards you and that from time to time people will disagree with you and even become agitated towards you. This is both one of blogging’s biggest strengths (ie the conversation, diversity and dialogue) but also one of it’s biggest weaknesses when it goes to far.

Lessons in Blogger Security

While I’m no expert on personal online safety I would STRONGLY advise you consider what information you do and don’t reveal online about where you live and your family. While this person tracked me down through offline sources it’s a good reminder that the things you write can often be used to track you down. Here are a few reflections on the experience:

Decide up front how much personal information you will share on your blog – I’ve always been reasonably careful about this. I don’t post my address (I have a PO Box), I don’t post the name of my spouse and I never post her picture or those of other family or friends. If I do post photos I generally ask for permission or make them anonymous.

Consider your offline security – Ask yourself – ‘How easy would it be for someone to find you in real life?’ As I say I was not found directly through information on my blog (although I’m sure knowing my name and city which I reveal in my about pages helped) but through offline sources. I’m sure there are different ways to add layers of security in different parts of the world but consider silent numbers, PO Boxes for mail, being silent on the electoral roll etc.

Consider the way you are perceived online – I work hard at presenting myself online in a fairly easy going, polite and well mannered person (I’m often made fun of for this even). While at times I don’t feel like being this way it is an intentional thing. This is partly because it’s my character and personality (I’m a shy guy who was brought up to always consider the feelings of others) and partly as a security consideration – I don’t want to inflame the wrong person. Obviously it doesn’t always work – but I do worry about some bloggers who seem intent on promoting themselves through angry, attacking and personal attacks. Consider the costs of your actions and words both on yourself and others before you post. You may still choose to take the attacking approach – but do so at your own risk and knowing the full extent of what it could one day lead to.

Have a plan of action – I would strongly recommend giving some thought to how you will deal with escalating situations that could lead to personal safety problems. This is part of the reason I wrote the What to do when your blog is Attacked post a week or so back. In the vast majority of cases things do not escalate to the stalker stage and can be resolved by using some of the strategies I mentioned there. However what if they escalate? At what point will you involve the police? How is the security of your home? etc

Don’t face it Alone – If things do escalate – I would strongly advise that you do not face the situation alone. The resolution of my situation came with the involvement of others. I don’t wish to go into details of this but ‘others’ could mean the help of other bloggers, others who live near you and others with some official and legal ability to help.

Online stalkers are not a common thing to my knowledge and I don’t share my story to scare anyone – but I do think it’s something to be aware of as you blog. Don’t let this kill your blogging but let it be something you give a little thought to in the hope the tiny chances of this happening to you are lessoned even further.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Victoria S. says:

    Reading your posts amazes me (seem to be continually amazed and surprised when one is a victim of a stalker!) how these stalkers really tend to use almost the same techniques, do and say the same things, and the manner in which they go about it, has the same sick pattern over and over again (whether it is online/offline or both.

    I do not even have a blog or website; I had a myspace page, which I barely checked and had put up at the request of my teen cousins, nieces, nephews, etc.

    I never thought for one moment that the few random old pictures I put up would be swiped, altered, posted at websites or chat rooms (I have not been in a chat room since I heard of them for the first time in 1999 or so, out of curiosity to see what it was…I like talking to my family and friends, real people I know, can see and touch, much better).

    I can see how social networking skews a stalker’s already rather warped perception of themselves, of who they stalk, and what reality is.

    Most seem to have been rejected by someone they pursued romantically.

    However, I am in the media & entertainment industry, and I find I come across seemingly kind, very intelligent, creative people, who are in actuality doing what they do best – acting.

    These very fragile egos are definitely people to watch as well…

    After talking with others little by little, apparently some very gifted, creative peole use that gift too fool and manipulate many an individual.

    What I have learned is a common trait and pattern of many stalkers, is that they are also people who have an inflated and unreasonable view of their importance in the world, and actually think far too much of themselves…

    These very smart & talented people fall to pieces if they are not the recipient of incessant attention and adulations.

    Much worse, if you are on the business side of this bizarre industry like I am, and had a say in rejecting project pitches, etc. rage that was eventually released on me personally was SO hate-filled and twisted, I still cannot believe what seemed like such a vibrant, happy, kind person, and whom I know for a fact has a genius IQ, could morph into a very scary character I’ve only encountered in movies.

    Your posts amaze me however, because no matter what the situation was that sparked their obsession to avenge what they perceive was some terrible wrong you or I did to them, they really do follow a pattern.

    And the more they obsess, if they have a few friends they can keep around to be their chorus of approval, the obsession simply snowballs.

    This person, who I too ignored, thinking he could not keep up the bizarre harrassment of me, and then my friends, really did make stalking me his life’s purpose, and doing anything he could to look as good as possible in other people’s eyes though..

    A very typical trait most stalkers have, esp. if they are very intelligent,, is to attempt to gain access to any and everyone you are friends with, work with, pretty much anyone you know. If they are not very close with your friends or co-workers, they seem to be able to find ways to get the ear of many a person. Stories the person crafted and perfected in their head are told, in a very sneaky way.

    He never outright called me names, etc., he instead made enough strange insinuations of all types to many people I know.

    I think he knew he could at least get a few people to wonder something he said must be true, if at different times a few people eventually discussed what “they had heard”.

    If the stalker can get a little bit of negative chatter to start up behind your back, he or she stands a better chance of not being outed immediately, when they unleash what will always be another psychotic stage act. But they get worse.

    I too, after talking to doctors, filing a police report, and still keeping close with Federal investigators, was so stressed, became paranoid, and started forgetting to check certain personal belongings and couldn’t keep a vigil up of incessantly checking websites to make sure he hadn’t written any weird stuff, checking in with every person I know to get updates on his contact attempts, and also to make sure he had not started bothering them.

    I too apologize this is pretty abstract, but he has really gone over the top; when i last spoke to him, i told him he had serious mental issues and needed to seek help immediately. the next day i had five or six people call me asking if i was ok, because my “nice co-worker” expressed his concern that i was in denial about having a serious medical condition, and “i had become very angry and defensive when he told me”, so he asked my friends and co-workers to “look out for me and be careful too.”

    They are very cunning, manipulative people I have learned, and the stalker, since they spend so much time obsessing over this incorrect perception that they were wronged unjustly, or cannot believe that a man or woman they fancy does not have any interest in them.

    Another characteristic I found was that my wonderful stalker, before he really started getting bad, seemed unable to deal with any criticsm, and hung around the same few people, who would listen to him ramble on and on about his gazillion projects, that were going to be the “next big thing.

    or, as he put it also, “my art is necessary! i am a storyteller for the people, and people need to hear my words and works!”

    when someone cannot deal with anyone who has different opinions than them, and throws these strange quiet temper tantrums almost because someone isn’t excited about the same things that they are, run like the wind…this is another delusion, and even though we know deep down they feel horrible about themselves, the stalker tends to build a fantasy world and believe that they are righteous, incredible people, and if someone does “wrong” them, that person is crazy in their own muddled mind.

    i never thought i would see the day where i would be pondering things like this, but you do have to educate yourselves about stalkers, because they are able to turn innocent people’s lives upside down, and God-forbid, have the capability to physically harm or kill someone – and I pray that never happens to any of you or myself.

    Stalkers really do have such noticeable patterns and ways of acting out; again, reading your posts, I get chills, because everything that you guys had done to you, how it was done (and it doesn’t matter if it is a male or female), I too was on the receiving end of the same.

    My property was trashed also, and I was physically attacked eventually coming home after a long, late day of work.

    When you look at all of our stories, which we know are much more traumatic than we care to write here, the fact that there of millions of others who suffer in silence, is so frustrating.

    It is so necessary to have some way to better trace folks on the internet; I am the first one to worry about a loss of freedom of speech, but I worry much more about the loss of people’s happiness, and worry much more about the loss of people’s lives, having to live in fear, confusion, and stay in this almost cat-like state of readiness to fend off what sick thing the very clever stalker will try next.

    And I really worry about what is too often the end result of a stalking, the loss of someone’s life physically as well.

    I love(d) the Internet – those of us who use it for the reasons it was meant for, learning, reading, sharing cultures, shopping, writing, listening to music, all the simple conveniences it provides for us, tend to be the ones who are most vulnerable.

    I realized I have to be less open with people, and it’s unfortunate, because you don’t want to start mistrusting everyone.

    Most people are good people, but the Internet does give the stalker an immense amount of new ways to find out so much of your personal information, twist your words, try to do things that they think will hopeffully embarass you (since they are also incredibly obsessed with what others think about them, they assume that we will bristle, when most of us could care less about foolish posts someone decides to put up somewhere – everyone seems to have a couple of freaks post garbage on their myspace page for instance.

    Knowing these common traits though, if one can see someone they know is acting like this, at least by educating others as to our experiences and what we know, the next stalking victim may be able to lockdown his or her personal info, and take measures that innocently leave them open to the evil things that the stalker will do.

    Wow, wrote more than I thought, but if more of us continue to be vigilent in putting our posts up, hopefully this will get others thinking, and realize this is (and is often accompanied by) the fastet growing crime, right alongside Identity Theft.

    Be careful with where you leave your personal belonging too; since having someone steal our personal banking and identification information, then going on to steal information via our PC’s, and basically have a free for all, is the farthest thing from our minds, there are millions of people out there who think about it every second of their lives.

    Have your PC’s scanned often – be careful for programs are free, and can take snapshots of your computer screen, take “clipmarks” from your computer screen, and the worst, a program that is simply sent via an open port or e-mail, that allows the stalker/hacker access to your pc remotely; they can change your e-mails, your documents, and can send and receive e-mail from your IP address.

    the program found on my PC was called “Illusix”, and I know Mozilla Firefox has “Clipmarks” and “Snapshot Taker” (don’t have the exact name in front of me) as Free Add-Ons for browsers!!!

    These dangerous people can do ANYTHING to you if they can get sometype of program like that on your PC; unlike Spware that loggs your keys, I was told by Federal IT experts that it is written into the code, so can just run.

    I am sorry, but the potential harm these programs can do in the wrong hands really outweighs the need to have them available to anyone in the world…

    Keep up on ways to safe on your PC; basically, we just have to think of the worst, and try to take measures to remove as much as possible that a potential stalker WILL take, and use in any way they can to exact their “revenge” againt you.

    And they don’t seem to get tired as I thought they would

    Maybe if we speak to our local representative etc., we can even help start construct some type of course that is readily availble (but make sure we do all we can to let people know it exists) where we can bring in IT Security Experts to teach folks (and teens especially) what to do to stay safe.

    At least we know we are not in this alone, and we are not crazy (I am quite sure you guys all thought you were going crazy at some point, I know after the mental torture and head-games, I wondered if I was functioning with all of MY own cylinders!)

    Thanks for taking the time out to share your stories; I haven’t even been able to write about it, but by reading your posts, I was finally able to write this myself(very uneloquen & rambling I realize, I’m so sorry! I’m exhausted but I wanted to at least take this time out).

    Stay safe and God bless – Victoria

  2. Tarquin Churchwell says:

    I have had two stalkers attack me and my family for nearly 2 years now.
    You say, “Do not reveal anything about yourself.” We these stalkers don’t need me to write anything. They create stuff as me. They make up stories and lies as me and flood google so that if you put in my name for any reason all this ugly stuff will come up.
    I don’t know what their intentions are but every week they write stuff to themselves and then say “We are calling the police on you.” Police have never come to my door but people who look up my name and see these post do not know that. I don’t write many post and their “We called authorities and he was arrested for internet crimes thats why he isn’t posting” is them trying to get a response from me but I try not to respond until family will call me to see if I am alright or neighbors will come by to make sure that nothing is happening.
    I don’t know what these people run off of but these both are two 60 year old women who heard my name and contacted me trying to have phone sex and sending me nude pictures from the internet claiming it was them. I refused them and they have been on the attack every day since then. Google “Tarquin Churchwell” under “google blogs” and see what I mean.

  3. Michelle says:

    Holy cow. I have a ciber stalker now. He keeps making up all of these fake aliases and using them to get information out of me. I have begged him for a long time to stop. I cannot get rid of him. My roommate suggested legal action if he doesn’t stop, but I am not certain I can prove it was him. Can anyone tell me what my options are? I have no idea, and I don’t want to aggitate this guy any further, honestly, I am really afraid of him.

  4. Kym says:

    (Wow, Victoria S, you were very dedicated to that comment.)

    Darren, how much did “blogkiller” find out about you?

  5. Maikeru says:

    Thanks, for this one Darren…

    These tips are USEFUL for ALL bloggers and people on social media…

    Just as in the real world…”It’s a jungle out there…”

    and a lot of ‘kooky’ people lurk online too…(once bitten, twice shy)…

    Thanks…

  6. JaneDoe2 says:

    Unfortunately, this blog post points out the need for a nationwide study on cyberstalking. Incredibly, though the Internet has been around for many years, not a single comprehensive study has been done to track and understand stalking online. If we don’t know how extensive it is, how can we provide help to the victims? My feeling is that we’re going to see the cyberstalking phenomenon grow until we, as a society, chose to do something about it. Stalking and cyberstalking can destroy lives, but at the moment, the options for victims are few, as you can see on The Stalking Victims Blog. Currently, the overwhelming majority of victims, like Darren, are forced to handle the matter themselves.

  7. sweetlife2005 says:

    Be careful with your online profile.Anonymous Posting.Avoid personal or identifying details.

    Here’s another example, don’t use the email address given by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) because that can divulge your general whereabouts. Use an internet email service like Gmail instead. But remember if you forward your email to your ISP POP3 account and reply from there, your general location can still be traced by a technically savvy person. So to be absolutely safe reply to emails from directly within your webmail dashboard.

    You can also consider using free throw-away email addresses provided by the good people at Spamgourmet and Spammotel. For your safety.

  8. While I ve seen a number of articles in recent times about how to keep your blog safe and secure from hacking and accidental loss – it s also worth considering how to keep yourself (and those you live with) safe and secure also. When you write in a public forum you are doing so with the hope that people will read you. The unfortunate side of this is that you have little control over the perceptions of others towards you and that from time to time people will disagree with you and even become agitated towards you. This is both one of blogging s biggest strengths (ie the conversation, diversity and dialogue) but also one of it s biggest weaknesses when it goes to far.

  9. Dat says:

    Thank you so much for this post. We were about to put up a family blog with pics, videos and happenings of my wife and three children, then thought about crazy people and found your post. We are not doing it now, even though we wanted a way to direct our friends and family to it. In fact, might have to change some info on my business blog. I am so open about info, not realising how crazy some people are. I have a link from my about page to my wife’s old knitting blog that has tons of photos and info. The comments to this post are revealing and scary in the things that have happened to people.

  10. We should acknowledge the fact that (a) there are some unfriendly people online, (b) people are more likely than not to say obscene things, and (c) maintaining a thick skin does not mean to further engage an abusive user.

  11. Thanks for sharing the tips above. I am careful what I post in my blog i.e. now on holiday (away from home) for a week! etc. I tend to use my real name as with my customers I like to offer a personal/friendly service.

Trackbacks

  1. Blogger Personal Safety

    Darren has a great post about personal safety for bloggers. We’re looking into a protection plan for Cowboy when he returns from his vacation….

  2. [...] I read this post this morning, and it brought home to me how careful you need to be when it comes to blogs and websites for authors. Authors, more than most, need their websites and blogs to reflect them and their books in a way that pulls readers into their worlds. [...]

  3. [...] ProBlogger gives us some tips on safety in “Blog Stalkers – Personal Safety for Bloggers.” [...]

  4. Jamdo says:

    Wash, Rinse, Repeat – Why I read Up and Coming Blogs

  5. [...] Darren “That ProBlogger Guy” Rowse this week wrote about his experiences with a “real lilfe” stalker late last year and then lets us in on a day in the life of a Pro Blogger. Riveting insight into a professional blogger’s life and times – I wonder if just like that – Bang! – a few thousand hopeful proBloggers decided that Nah, this isn’t for me. [...]

  6. [...] Blog Stalkers – Personal Safety for Bloggers: ProBlogger Blog Tips (tags: blog safety) [...]

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  8. [...] Can a cyber-troll go from being annoyance to a danger to your personal safety? For one blogger it did: [...]

  9. [...] ProBlogger: Personal Safety for Bloggers. [...]

  10. [...] Darren Rowse tells us about his recent plight with a blog stalker and offers tips for blogger safety. Remember, you never really know who’s reading your blog. [...]

  11. DSLRBlog says:

    Flickr, Freaks and Fantasy Families…

    99% of the pictures of my daughter I post are made only visible to family and friends. People tell me I am paranoid but stuff like this keeps happening and it can only happen so often before I think “why take the risk?”Wayne at Utata All of my pictu…

  12. [...] If any other female bloggers find themselves in a similar situation, or a more serious one, read this and this (Lessons In Blogger Security). [...]

  13. [...] In the process of putting together this blog I found myself reading others blogs for hours!  Some have great photos some are beautiful or quirky; personal tastes abounds.  However, something else came to my attention too.  There are people out there who are surfing the web looking for people to prey on.  There are some things as bloggers we can do to protect ourselves and our families.  This article on Blog Stalkers by Darren Rowse has some valuable information for the personal blogger and those who are blogging as an entrepreneurial venture.  Blog on! Blog Safely!  [...]

  14. [...] Research other online internet safety resources. There are plenty of other resources to help you learn more about Internet safety. CERT has a security tip all about social networking. Plenty of additional resources for parents are freely available too from the SafeKids.com Web site. Also, check into ProBlogger, blogs about his blog stalker and his tips for blogging safely. [...]

  15. [...] Yes this is done on purpose. It’s not that I’m trying to hide as much as I value my security. After having read the issues that Darren Rowse faced with his blog Problogger.net, I’ve decided to add a layer of security because you never know in today’s day and age. I’ve never had any issues because I treat people with respect, even if I might not agree. But even so, you never know… So it’s just an extra safety measure. [...]

  16. [...] So amid all the positivity and creativity generated by blogs, this is a reminder of potential dangers. As usual it’s a case of a miniscule proportion of readers causing a problem, but that’s probably not much consolation if you’re the blogger singled out for abuse. Last year Darren Rowse at Problogger wrote about his experience of being stalked, and offered some advice about Personal Safety for Bloggers. Without getting too heavy, you probably can’t think of any reason why someone would want to intimidate you, but I can’t think why anyone would want to do it to Kathy or Darren. [...]

  17. [...] Darren Rowse was subjected to a psychotic reader. Lynn Terry had someone randomly show up to her home without notice. I’ve been the object of some crazy person’s attention. All of these situations, just like Kathy’s, could have become physically dangerous had they not been taken seriously. [...]

  18. [...] That said, we shouldn’t be compromising our personal safety in the same of transparency and blogging ourselves. We should acknowledge the fact that (a) there are some unfriendly people online, (b) people are more likely than not to say obscene things, and (c) maintaining a thick skin does not mean to further engage an abusive user. If we as bloggers stand up, and put forth our own blog comment guidelines; and enforce them — we probably won’t have another Kathy Sierra. Kathy Sierra isn’t alone. Many other bloggers have been threatened and stalked, for example, go ask Darren Rowse. [...]

  19. Anonymous says:

    Blog Stalkers- Personal Safety for Bloggers…

    Stay safe, fellow bloggers. Here’s a case study & advice from a person that knows….