Sunday, August 09, 2009

Internet trolls, and what to do about them.

I've been thinking this over for a while, and nearly didn't post it, but what the hell. It's my blog. As always, disagreement is welcome, and anonymous hate comments will be sneered at. (Commentary on internet anonymity can be found here, if you missed it the first time around.)

So the Yarn Harlot picked up a stalker, and the entire knitting internet gasped. Well. Ninety percent of it. But, honestly, I'm rather surprised it took that long for a stalker to show up; she's pretty famous, easy to find on the 'net, and successful. That brings out the worst in a certain kind of person. Don't get me wrong; I don't think that Stephanie is in any way require to put up with that crap, and if I were her I'd have had the cops involved months ago. She sure as hell didn't deserve it. It's her blog, she can say what she wants, and no one is required to read it. Plus she's a genuinely nice person.

It's more that I'm shocked people are shocked at the stalking thing. If that made sense.

Y'all may not have noticed, but this is the internet. Any fuckhead with a computer and an internet connection can log onto it. Back in the good old days (I've been on the internet since 1993), only geeks had the equipment and knowledge to get logged on, so it was kind of a self-selecting group of really smart people who, for the most part, wanted to have a discussion about the post-modern symbolism of the Transformers and weren't much interested in harassing anyone. There were a few trolls, but even they were usually looking for a good argument, not genuinely trying to scare the shit out of people. Ah, for the good old days. But now? It's a free-for-all. Computers are cheap, the software has been dumbed down, and free wifi is everywhere. Hello, fuckheads on the internet.

So, anyway, by request, here's some information and what to do if/when a fuckhead fixates on you. Most of the information's general, 'cause I know a lot of my readers are international and obviously calling the FBI from Australia isn't going to accomplish much.

First, the most important thing: Asses the person as a danger to you and yours. Be honest. Annoyance isn't danger. 99.9% of the trolls on the internet are just that: trolls. Fuckheads unhappy with their own lives, taking it out on others. They're harmless, like a rock in your shoe is harmless. Kick them, use them as a chew toy, ignore them, whatever entertains you. Ignoring them usually makes them go away, but sometimes it's more fun to have a whipping boy. Depending on your mood. Just sayin'.

If you decide the person is a potential problem, start logging. Date, time, content. If they're in a chat room, make sure to get the screen name they're using and whatever info you can get off the account. If they're leaving messages on your blog, use StatCounter to track back if possible and get ISP information, location, what you can. If they are bugging you through e-mail, you're in luck; save it all and skilled law-enforcement geeks can trace it back to the exact computer it was sent from.

For the blog, I log hostile comments on Google Earth. I put a little push-pin marker where the message originated from, and then include all data I've got on the comment in the attached note. ISP, address, time, message content.

There's no such thing as anonymous on the internet. Click a mouse, leave a fingerprint. That's why my full name's always been on this blog. Anyone who really wanted to could find it, anyway.

Once you've got a pile of information, call in the cops. Do not call the cops unless you've got a pile. One rude e-mail isn't going to get much attention unless it's a death threat. For most harassment and stalking cases, a pattern of behavior has to be established, which means months or even years of communications. It's best if you're ignoring them from your side, but if you aren't, include your side of the communications, too. Try to limit yourself to 'leave me alone'. In general, the longer the communication has gone on, the more seriously they will take it. Generally.

Here in the US, it would be the FBI you'd contact. You can find them here. I believe in Canada it would be the Mounties. If your country has a national (as opposed to local) law-enforcement agency, call them. If you're not sure, call your local police department. They can refer you.

Here in the US, if the stalking/harassment mentions your child, report it here. Fill in the form, and expect a call back from law enforcement within 24 hours. Once a child is involved, different laws apply, and, well, whoever is stirring up trouble had best put their head between their knees and kiss their ass goodbye.

On a personal level, having been on the internet for sixteen years (good grief, I'm old AND a geek), I've had to contact law enforcement exactly once. That was due to ongoing harassment in a chat room that went on for years. Once they dragged my kid into it, I got on the phone to the FBI and the person disappeared from the internet within 24 hours. (At least, they disappeared from MY internet. Works for me.) The cop I'd spoken to agreed that odds were it was just some idiot and not a true pedophile; he told me he'd call back if there was any reason to worry. I never heard from them again, so I assume the FBI went to someone's house and explained why it was a really bad idea to harass people over the internet. In detail.

Just make sure you don't call the feds over minor stuff, and document, document, document.

I've got photos of spinning and knitting. Hopefully I'll get back to something cheerful, tomorrow.


Amy Lane said...

AWESOME. Thank you--very good to know!

ellen in indy said...

thanks . . . hope i never need it!

hope you're keeping cool now that summer's actually acting like summer in the midwest.

PICAdrienne said...

Great this a prelude to a review of the new Vogue Knitting? Yeah, ok, I have an evil streak and think some people deserve to have their jackassery pointed out in a public way.

Roxie said...

As always, competant, practical and DO-able! Thank you!

TinkingBell said...

Brilliant post

My stalkers have so far been in real life (which is in some ways scarier, but in others more easily sorted) - but it's good to have the tools

I'm probably not famous enough for the internet type. good thing too.
Mind you, they mention my kids? Not only am I going to tell on them - I'm going to grab a tyre iron and pay 'em a visit, yessirree!

Anonymous said...

Very sensible advice. And I couldn't agree more.

Take care.

Bells said...

really good post Julie.

I think the reason people freaked about the Yarn Harlot's stalker is that more than likely, we all just forget that it can happen. I don't think it hurts people to get a bit of a shake up now and then and realise that once you put stuff out there, it's really out there and that we do make ourselves a little vulnerable sometimes.

Emily said...

Well, I personally freaked about her stalker because she was so darned nice about it, which just invited more of the same...and for so long. If you've ever been bullied in school, you know better. (I was, but I bet you weren't! You're made of tougher stuff than I.)

KG from FB said...

Bravo, another paean to self sufficiency and calling in the authorities when its time. I agree with Emily - we cared because Stephanie is nice, and additionally because a lot of people really go postal when someone nice is being bullied. Wouldn't have it any other way.

Mandy said...

Great info, as usual (not that I've ever been in the position of being stalked, but it's good to know, nonetheless!).

I have to agree with the comments that what had people worked up about the Yarn Harlot's problem person was because she is so darn nice, and it's hard to fathom anyone picking her out to be hateful to. Plus, of course, she kept if quiet for so long while it escalated, that all her readers were just taken by surprise by the virulence of the stalker's communication (it would have surprised people less, I think, if regular readers had seen the progression as it happened).

Just my opinion, of course, and Stephanie will deal with it as she needs to, which is only right.

amy said...

The reason the YH's situation made me want to take an Internet break wasn't the fact of a stalker--I know there are crazy, irrational people in the world. (I'm related to some of them.) It was the car wreck aspect that followed. Human nature being what it is, we were all curious about WHO it was and WHAT she posted and WHERE to find her, and I hated that I was getting sucked into that. Step away from the drama, you know?

I always felt like you--if someone wants to find out all about me, including where to find me, they easily can, whether I have a blog or not. However, now that my kids are starting school, I'll be much less open about them.

Barbara said...

Thanks for the info. You are just a well of good information. I love your blog--and the Goob in a pure, non-stalker, mom-with-grown-kids kind of way. The Husbeast too, don't want to forget the patient man in your life. I think our husbands are saints. Just sayin'.

MLJ1954 said...

Thanks for the information.

We, actually, have two telephone lines. One is kept primarily to keep my niece from getting off her butt and driving over to our house. She has threatened the kids, our house (which I told her that if she was going to set it on fire that she had damn well burn it down cause I would rather rebuild than fix), my husband, me, my cat, etc. Anyway, the local police (I know several) said that if would change our phone, she would be forced to action (Maybe) and a better option is either to tolerate it or put in a second phone line. Since at the time, you needed a phone line for internet access and my husband was working on his Masters, we opted for that and still do have two lines. Go figure.

But it works. Over the years, I have learned that she won't/can't do anything more damaging than call in a drunken stupor. She finds it incredibly irritating when I will put the phone in a drawer until she is done venting and hangs up. Easy peasy.

AnnaT said...

You made me with roar with laughter at you "put their head between their knees" line. I'm with you on the concept, but your expression was hilarious.

Roz said...

Stalkers are no joke. I had a stalker a few years ago because of my job. I saved all my emails from this person, just in case his attempts at contact went from email to something more. Well, when the flowers and chocolate showed up on Valentine's Day -- unsolicited -- I got my bosses involved. They went to his bosses with the emails (he was in the military) and he stopped instantly. I'm not going to live under a rock, but believe me, it was tempting for about two seconds.

This is extremely good advice. I would add -- let others know early on (like when your shit detector goes off the FIRST TIME). Better safe than terrified.

Tesha said...

Is the mentioning of the chat room ass-hat the one I am thinking of? I think I was even in the room that day, rather than hearing about it after the fact. It was a while ago if it's what I'm thinking about. Sheesh, where the hell does the time go???? Anyway, just popping in to find out. Later chica! =)

Baby nuke said...

For a short while, I had entertained the notion of finding (chief? Senior Chief? ...Master Chief?) and asking him if he was the husbeast.

That lasted about five minutes. I guess that's a good thing.