Cyberstalking and Fear Online…

I joked last week with Erica that she is like Christine 2.0. You see, I used to blog a lot more than I do now, and my posts used to be different in nature than they are today. I’m working on getting back to that, on becoming Christine 3.0. Or Web 7.2 compliant. Take your pick. Anyways, we have talked a lot about the latest events in one circle of the blogosphere, and I find myself saying how I have seen it all before.

Sadly, there is one thing that has happened yet again, but in a very public way that has caught a lot of attention. Kathy Sierra, who writes an amazing and insightful blog on creating passionate users in addition to her books and the speaking engagements that she handles, has received death threats that have left her terrified.

The interesting thing is that “big name” bloggers, bloggers that are prominent in the tech industry, and bloggers that the media watches are both involved in this and talking about it. I’ve actually seen people in the past few days react as if this is the first time this has happened. As Min Jung so eloquently put, it is AWFUL, yes, but it is sadly NOT new.

The whole thing is disturbing to me – and by the whole thing, I am actually including Kathy’s post. It was gross, vile and disgusting what was said to her and about her. I do not blame her for cancelling her talk at eTech. I would have been bolting the doors too. However, it rubbed me the wrong way that she pointed fingers and named names without proof – or without showing us that proof. And I realize that she may have proof for every name she named, and she maybe was advised by legal counsel not to disclose it. But if that is the case, don’t name names. (edited to add: I saw Kathy’s comments on other sites, stating she does have more proof. I still think she should not have named names.)

On the internet, people are viewed as guilty until proven innocent.

This consumes and hurts everyone involved. The victim, the accused, the innocents, and even those standing on the fringes. I know. I’ve been there. In 2003, I had a friendship publicly fall apart over similar events. I hate to bring that series of events up by linking to it, because it was almost 4 years ago and it still feels like a sad part of my past, but I saw the posse and lynching mentality that was going on then and I had to stand up and say something. Tonight, while I am just an observer far, far out on the fringes, I am left feeling the same way. A posse is the wrong way to go about things. Because of the posse mentality, over the years I have seen friends quit blogging, others have gone behind closed doors and made their sites private, and many things have changed for a number of people.

Events such as this one can polarize people in very unusual ways. It made me sad to read a comment today on BlogHer post that was written by a woman that basically said that Kathy shouldn’t have taken the threats so seriously to cancel showing up at eTech because they were “just” online. I whole-heartedly disagree with that. Basic safety on the internet – just because a threat is “just online” doesn’t mean that someone can’t come and find you when it is well published that you will be speaking at a conference. Thinking like that is what gets people in serious trouble. Very serious trouble. It is the reason I teach my son internet safety, and caution him to be wise in his actions. You CAN NOT dismiss such behavior.

The ironic thing that I keep hearing is how this is going to effect the *entire* blogosphere. Really? I mean … really? Are you serious? Because I think that is really overstating the level of influence. The tech geeks do things that ripple all the way to the last user sometimes; creating great blog software is an example, or working on improving browsers, code, or sites like and Flickr. This will not have that sort of reach.

It is effecting one CIRCLE of the blogosphere. It isn’t that big of a circle – it is just a very loud one. I have an interesting vantage point here: this blog is read by some in the tech circle; it is read by people that read personal blogs; it is read, along with my other site, by knitters; and it is read by people that are into photography. For some of my readers, several of these circles overlap, just like they do for me. But if I walked into a room full of knitbloggers today and asked them how they felt about the latest crisis in the blogosphere, acting as if it was so huge it must be effecting them personally, they would look at me with a very puzzled look. Only if their circles intersected with others like mine do would they know.

And an interesting sidenote about the knitbloggers? I have never seen this sort of attack come up in the knitblogosphere. I’m not naive enough to think it has never happened, and I know that trolls appear from time to time. But not like this. Knitters unite and fight back against the outsiders when companies try to tell us that we can’t use the phrase “Stitch & Bitch” or when they insist that yarn shops use keystone pricing models. They do not generally fight with the other knitters. Isn’t that interesting? Maybe more people need to be knitters.

I think Tim O’Reilly got it very wrong when he suggested, “I do think we need some code of conduct around what is acceptable behaviour, I would hope that it doesn’t come through any kind of [legal/government] regulation it would come through self-regulation.” As adults, we should have developed our own personal moral code of conduct, and it is a very sad state of affairs to see that some adults have not. Creating a site like “MeanKids” is just wrong from the start. A formal “code of conduct” will do NOTHING to help those that have no moral compass to begin with.

Talk has also come up that anonymous comments should not be allowed on blogs, there are other types of sites online that offers all kind of services, from purchases to adult services like Zoom Escorts. Sure, that makes sense – that is why most blogging software has settings so that the end user can decide what level of anonymous comments they want on their blog. Again, this has all happened before, and Blogger, WordPress and SixApart have all had to deal with how to handle anonymous comments in their software. If someone wants to spew forth crap, they will find a way around it anyways. Fill in a name, an e-mail address – bogus or not – and you are off and running. There really is no way to stop it.

So today as I read through the tech blogs and kept seeing references to this latest situation – a terrible, terrible situation – I then followed a link to Mickipedia and saw her post from February 4, 2007 with the above video about her stalker, and she shares the comments made to her about things like “I would buy the bike to see you crash through the car windshield.” It hit home at that moment how many times before I have seen this exact same thing.

She also brings up something that Scoble points out – attacking comments against women, even by other women, are often personal ones like “she is fat” or “she is ugly”, which often encourages women to contact a Criminal Justice Attorney.  Things that would never be said about a man. How sad is that? Why are women treated that way? Why do women participate in such behavior?

I am glad that this whole thing has people talking and thinking about it. I am glad it has gotten people’s attention. I think it is great that people are thinking about it. Now, as my post yesterday mentioned, we need to find a way to put some positive karma back out into the world. What are we going to do about this? Beyond education, is there anything we CAN do about it? Because as Chris Pirillo pointed out, this isn’t unique to teh internets – it happens in real life too.

What are YOU going to do to change the world?

Other links of note (just linking all that I have read to be fair about it all – I am sure there is lots more out there):
Shelley Powers – Disappointed and One More Post
Ronni Bennett – In the Matter of Kathy Sierra
Mind Killer
BBC News – Call for Blogging Code of Conduct
AKMA’s Random Thoughts
Robert Scoble – Taking the Week Off
NetSquared – March 30th is Stop Cyber-bullying Day


By Christine

Christine is an Avenger of Sexiness. Her Superpower is helping Hot Mamas grow their Confidence by rediscovering their Beauty. She lives in the Heights in Houston, Texas, works as a boudoir photographer, and writes about running a Business of Awesome. In her spare time, she loves to knit, especially when she travels. She & her husband Mike have a food blog at Spoon & Knife.

12 replies on “Cyberstalking and Fear Online…”

Please don’t think I’m belittling Kathy’s situation with what I have to say, I am not. I am so happy that the police and authorities are actually doing something about this.
But sadly, this is not new, and this will not stop the crazies from doing it again.

I have been stalked and threatened, and harassed on line by the same man for over 4 years.
he just didn’t like my blog. He didn’t like the names of my kids. He didn’t like the fact I had scoliosis and was preparing for surgery. So many things he didn’t like.
When he threatened to come to my home and tie me up, slit the throats of my sons in front of me, then kill and rape me, I reported him to the police.
I was laughed at.
Because it was the internet, and things said over the internet were not real, not really real, just people’s opinions.
A death threat is not an opinion, it’s a threat.
Every time he sent another threat through email, or posted to his website what he was going to do to me when he found out my address, (I am unpublished/unlisted) I reported him.
When he said he hired a PI and found me, I reported it. And every single time, I was laughed at and told not to worry.

I’m glad they are taking her seriously. If she wins, maybe cyber crime laws will improve and the next time he emails me, I can take action.

Kat, I don’t think your post belittles her situation at all. It instead is yet another story that goes along with what I said about this has all happened before.

It is terrible. It is terrifying.

It really disturbed me today to see comments about how she was making too much out of something said online. Why is that any less “real” than if you got a phone call or a letter in the mail? All are threats, that are very wrong.

Thank you for speaking out about this. It breaks my heart to think that you have had to go through so much pain for four years. I hope you can take action against him someday and be taken seriously – maybe this will be the start for that.

This just blows my mind. I am one of the lovely knitbloggers that had no idea what was going on until I followed the links.

Like you said, how is this any different than a phone call or letter? These would be handled seriously. I think that maybe it’s because it’s much harder to track. Phone calls can be traced, as can letters, to a point.

There is nothing stopping people from sending stuff via internet. Nothing stopping people by giving false info to get an email addy and start harrassing people, without any way to track it, well, easily.

With the amount of information on the internet and whatnot, identity theft has become such a problem. People have become more willing to lie to get what they want. They have no qualms about putting stuff on the net, getting phoney emails, and harrassing people because they know it is hard for them to get caught, unless someone is looking for it.

I think it is getting to the point in our history when the internet will become the focus of future legistlation. Our world has become so “connected”, but we have hardly anything legislating it. I am all for free speech, don’t get me wrong. You are more than welcome to call me a jacka$$….I will just smile and walk away. But when speech startes to seriously affect the livelyhood of people, then things need to be addressed.

Although, I do agree with your comment about knitters…we don’t slam one another. Have I disagreed with one? Oh yeah. Do they mind? Heck no…I have not met a knitter, literally or virtually, that I wouldn’t stand up for.

Why doesn’t the Golden Rule apply anymore?

Actually – and I will have to talk to Mike to verify this – but you can be tracked online to some extent. You leave a digital footprint when you leave a comment, of sorts. No, it isn’t like on CSI where they can instantly zoom in and tell exactly where you live – but they can still tell some things about online activity.

Now I will have to ask him to clarify what.

I’m telling you, the scent of fresh fiber makes knitters a much happier bunch. And the Golden Rule definitely applies – some people just forget to use it.

Yeah, that’s why your post the other day (before you added a few links) had me scratching my head. The only blogs I’ve been following these days are a small selection of “mommy-blogs”, a few blogs of “friends”, and one of my favorites: “” LOL!

While I agree it smells like “high school” – at least when I was in high school – there weren’t a lot of “killers” there. Would they threaten? Sure. Beat you up? Maybe. And while I realize high school today is a totally different scene it was then – to call it “high school” implies that the threats are empty. The problem is – when “grown ups” (and I use that term loosely) make those kind of threats – I think it’s more serious than the kinds of threats made in your typical high school.

I think her naming names of people that may or may not have been involved detracts away from a bigger issue here. That “cyberstalking” should absolutely be taken seriously. I hope the police take it seriously. I worry that this stuff is laughed at – just like the situation that Kat described.

If not, it just doesn’t make sense. You could write a letter to a company and say you put a bomb in the building. Or you can write a comment on a website and say you want to kill someone. You just KNOW that the bomb threat would be taken seriously – why not the death threat comment?

Anyway – bottom line – there are just too many freaks out there. I think I’ll go back to my world.

That just chills me to the bone when I read what happened to Kathy. I’m only partly tech….so I do get a whiff of such things going on.

….I’m so proud to be one of the nice knit-bloggers. 🙂

We should all have a button/badge that goes along the line of:

“Proud to be a Knit-Blogger!”

You’re right, Christine. It’s nothing new. In fact I’m a little surprised that it took this long for something like this to blow up in that particular circle. I’ve seen all kinds of nastiness over at least the past five years, I’m sorry to say I’ve even been caught up in that posse mentality at one point. And this was involving Walt Disney World fans!

I think Kathy went too far with her post, but it’s good that this is being talked about, and I hope the discussion continues, because I think change has to come from within the communities involved, there’s no Perfect Answer.

Well, as I said, I had not seen it in the knitting community, but it would be naive to think it never happened. But even then, the incidents are much more rare than I have seen in the “general population”. Just an interesting observation for me.

It is true that no change will happen if we don’t talk about it.

I had a friend who was cyber stalked and bullied for months in the UK. The Police didn’t want to know and wouldn’t get involved until in the end the guy traced her and started following and threatening her. She was a changed person living in fear. The law needs to recognise these things and act!

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