Cyberstalking is illegal, well, it’s illegal on paper, but the laws on the books are too vague and the concepts too limited for most judges to understand. Lori Drew is actually an example of a related concept or rather a subset of cyberstalking called cyber-bullying. You see Lori Drew convinced a suicidal, former friend and playmate of her daughter, an underage girl by the name of Megan Meier, to kill herself after impersonating a young boy a little older than Megan. The case was fairly cruel, the legal nebula around the actions were fairly vague, and only the related financial fall-out and public outrage really served to punish Lori for her crimes.
Cyberstalking is old though. I remember early days in the Internet, when chat rooms and bulletin boards would use personal information about another person to count coup or settle flame wars. The solution I set on was to have a mostly public persona. If nothing they could know about me could threaten me, then I was fine, right?
Oh the lessons I had to learn. those lessons form the core to a concept term I’d like to coin called “Counter-Stalking.”
1. You are never anonymous on the Internet, so don’t bother saying anything you wouldn’t want known by your worst enemy or your most prudish of relatives. Figure out who you are, figure out why you believe and would say what you say, and be prepared to defend it and modify it graciously. It’s a big world out there, and the Internet is a great place to discuss some of it, but certain taboo, sensitive items or even guilty pleasures or fantasies, should remain in the dark if you want to avoid them being used against you.
2. There are no Miranda rights on the Internet. You have the right to remain silent, but everything you say, do or take a picture of is out there to be digested, criticized and manipulated in GIMP, Photoshop or even Premiere. I have friends who have lost jobs for blogging about their employers, parents who have grounded their children after finding sexually suggestive pictures of their children on Myspace and Facebook and even had an employer who made me take my personal website down to the bare bones, to prevent me from casting a “bad” image on the firm. preparing to go out there in the open, requires an understanding of who and what you’ll share. Anything you share should be almost if not completely harmless, and the consequences of that information, like I said in number one above, can be used against you.
3. Your life and/or the lives of your loved ones are the most precious possession(s) you have. There are nutbars out there who use the internet like a take out menu, and their goal is to take you out. Your goal moving forward, out in the open, should be to take the necessary steps to defend yourself, prepare for the worst, and have a game plan should the nutbars come looking. People who are prepared, can often be confident, and preparation can actually lead to enough caution to stay away from the bad people and the bad places they go, or once you identify a bad person can lead you to who to notify in the event of a disaster.
4. I am not above the law, but the laws are written for my safety. Staying inside of the law, avoiding things like piracy, hacking, the trade of viruses, the distribution of illegal content and the investigation of illegal substances is a good way to stay out of harm’s way and to practice safe internet tracking. You can research the effects of Marijuana on Wikipedia, but joining a site and requesting info about where you can score some weed, makes it that much harder to put the insane drug dealer who likes your picture on Facebook in jail, and you outside and not joining him. Follow the law, abide by the law, and then the law will protect you, will serve you in those sticky situations when someone steals your identity and builds a house from your credit card debt.
5. Nothing financial is irreparable, but identity theft is one of the hardest monsters to recover from. Protecting your financial identity is usually the number one reason you don’t give any personal information out. Early on in your internet career, establish financial habits that are positive, gain a habitual need to check your credit scores, and keep your credit spotless and you can dodge the worst fall out. The more vigilant you are, the safer you are.
6. Invest in virus scanners, install Spybot Search and Destroy (turn on the tea timer), keep your machine up to date, and avoid seedy sites if at all possible. Keeping your machine clean of malware will make it relatively easy to control the flow, in and out of your personal information.
7. Be a responsible, reasonable person, who argues eloquently and effectively. Knowing the basics of the English language or your Internet navigation language of choice is critical in presenting a good face to the world, but there are other elements key in becoming a safe and effective player. Concede points that deserve conceding. Shy away from flame wars that have no reasonable point or ending. Change your language, even if terse to be effective and respectful. Use your brain, not your caps lock key to add emphasis.
8. When things get bad, the smart document everything. It’s going to come up. Some nutbar will threaten to kill you, and you’ll laugh it off, but do me and the rest of the Internet world a favor and treat threats like that like they’re real. Document it locally, try to get the police to document it, and follow through with the site admins. If on a social networking site like Facebook, report the comment, the poster and get him deleted. Ban him/her from your personal networks, and encourage your friends to do the same. Do not respond contact. Don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing they’ve reached you.
9. Use a strong, non-predictable password system. I used to use 1337 passwords or ROT13 my conversations, but nothing was as effective as choosing a password system that was hard to break, and security questions that do not follow the norm. I never put my real High School in security questions that ask for them. I’ve put the building I was currently working in before. I don’t put my mother’s maiden name down for my bank info. My passwords are sometimes in different languages, requiring special keyboard combinations to input the characters. Your accounts should be safe. A friend of mine lost his wife in a horrible car accident, and his wife’s estranged sister stole his wife’s accounts, including their shared Verizon account. The nutjob even had a conversation with the widower, using his dead wife’s Instant messaging client, for the first half, claiming to be her dead ghost!!! People are messed up, and estranged relatives are going to know the correct answers to the normal questions. You may think your family would never do this, but imagine you have a life insurance policy as I and many other men do, and then imagine that some relative wants a piece of it, and wants to take advantage of my widow. Makes you angry doesn’t it?
10. Learn the basics of the internet. All current communication travels over TCP/IP. The simple concept you all need to know is that means everyone connecting to the internet has an IP address provided by either a proxy or their Internet Service provider (also a proxy actually). These addresses can resolve to specific transactional data between a machine and a host. When possible, when dealing with nutjobs, gather as much info, including the IP, as possible and add it to your documentation. When it’s time to report these nuts to their ISP’s and the authorities, this info will be invaluable.
11. If you don’t feel safe, talk to someone and get some help.
These are my short lessons so far. I may update this one fairly soon.