VA Law Fights Anonymous Harassment

What a great step forward in the fight against cyberstalking and bullying! Virginia’s new “Andi’s Law” fights anonymous harassers on the Internet Ms. Geloo had an advantage in that she IS a lawyer, of course, but the new law sets a precedent that could help move forward legislation in other states. I will be speaking to Georgia legislators to encourage them to follow Virginia’s lead, for sure!

Good article from a great blog

This is the only article I’ve ever seen about online safety while job hunting. It’s particularly relevant right now, too!

Job Hunting Safely

Nowadays, nearly every one I know and their mama is looking for a job. Job searching used to mean scanning the classifieds in your local paper, but these days your job search probably means a lot of time spent on the Internet. And the Internet is a fabulous place to find the latest job listings from companies right next door or all the way around the world.

If a good portion of your day is spent refreshing the pages on Craigslist, you have probably seen some listings that seem too good to be true. Maybe your intuition has told you to be wary, but with more and more Americans running out of their unemployment benefits, you may just feel desperate enough to lower your guard and take the risk. Unfortunately, you don’t have to look too hard to find stories of crimes that began with contact through websites like Craigslist.

Interesting Article

A forensic psychiatrist looks at stalkers.
Stalking: The Veiled Epidemic – Psychiatric Times

Which Behaviors Are Most Likely to Lead to Problems?

A new study published in the February issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine has contradicted much of the common advice given by internet safety authorities. The behavior most likely to lead to victimization is not simply sharing personal information online. Communicating with strangers is far more dangerous, especially if the communication is sexual.

Pattern of Behaviors Linked to Online Victimization

…the study found that talking with people only known online under certain conditions is associated with online interpersonal victimization, but sharing information is not.

“Aggressive behavior in the form of making rude or nasty comments or frequently embarrassing others, meeting people in multiple ways and talking about sex online with unknown people were significantly related to online interpersonal victimization,” they continue.

“With one in five youth who use the Internet reporting an unwanted interpersonal victimization in one year’s time, identifying effective Internet safety messages is an adolescent health issue of great importance,” the authors conclude.

Connecticut Woman Charged After Using Internet to Harass Ex-boyfriend’s Wife

When strange men started calling a Waterford woman’s house last summer, saying they had seen her profile on an adult Web site, her husband booted up his own computer to investigate.

The woman’s husband discovered someone had created a profile for her on several Internet sites and included her home and work phone numbers and high school yearbook picture, according to a court document.

Then he found out the person who posted the information was Pilar Stofega, a woman he dated eight years earlier and who, he told police, had harassed him after they broke up. (From Harassment Charged After ‘Vindictive’ Profiles Posted.)

I’m sure the (happily unnamed) couple who were harassed don’t feel fortunate right now, but at least the police in their area took the problem seriously and did something. Charges of second-degree harassment and breach of peace, plus a restraining order, may not be as satisfying as they might have hoped, but the woman is experiencing significant consequences. In addition, their names were not spread around in a web-searchable way (as far as I know) to cause potential problems later on.

How long will it take for this kind of criminal prosecution to be standard instead of newsworthy? Well, it has already taken eleven years too long for our family, and in Georgia, at least, nothing seems to have changed. According to people who have contacted me in the last six months, it is still nearly impossible to get any law enforcement official to take any action at all based on internet activity that isn’t obviously about child pornography, “grooming,” or the like.

Obviously, those aren’t unimportant crimes, but neither should they be the sole crimes police are willing to investigate.

As Jenny Wieland Ward, executive director of Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims, said regarding another case:

It’s good that police are pursuing people that commit Internet crimes…

“More and more the Internet is used to victimize people—whether it’s to children or adults—people are finding ways to use it in a destructive manner,” she said.

MySpace sued by (money-grubbing?) families of abused teens

I don’t even like MySpace. Why do I find myself defending the nasty thing? But here I am.

I suppose this story has been spread far and wide now, furthering the attempt to make MySpace responsible for every predator who has ever set up shop on their servers.

Four families have sued the popular social-networking site MySpace and its owner, News Corp., after their teenage daughters were solicited online and sexually abused by adults they met on the site, lawyers for the families said Thursday.

(snip)

“In our view, MySpace waited entirely too long to attempt to institute meaningful security measures that effectively increase the safety of their underage users,” Arnold and Itkin lawyer Jason Itkin said in a statement.

“Blaming the families of abuse victims who were solicited online, as some have done, is a cynical excuse that ignores the fact that social networking sites can lead to heinous abuse by Internet predators,” said Adam Loewy of Barry & Loewey. “It is now clear that MySpace recognizes that serious security problems exist.”

Right. Where were these parents while their daughters were chatting away? How long did that go on before their daughters encountered the predators in person? Where where they when their daughters met these adults in person?

How likely is it that the parents were actually supervising their children’s internet use? Very unlikely, to be honest. I know that firsthand, unfortunately. I’ll lay money on the fact that they gave their kids computers just like they’d given them TVs, stuck them in their bedrooms, gave them unlimited (or nearly so) internet access, and let them go. Have fun, glad you aren’t bugging us!

Parenting is work. Supervising your children takes time and effort. Suerpvising your children’s internet access takes that and educating yourself and your kids, investing in technical tools, installing them, keeping them and your knowledge up to date, and having a good, trusting, open relationship with your children. Oh—did I forget to mention that first?

Your relationship with your children is the single most important factor in keeping them safe any where, any time. If you do not gain their trust and respect, they won’t have any reason to listen to anything you say, or to obey any guidelines you put in place. In fact, they’ll go to extra lengths to get around the roadblocks just because they’re there!

You have to protect your children. Not MySpace. Not AOL or Yahoo! or your ISP or the police or their schools or the phone company or “the government.” It’s all 100% up to you. You have all of the rights as far as determining what they can and cannot access, and you have all of the responsibility when you screw that up. Even if it results in them hooking up with sexual predators.

Am I saying that the families are guilty of the sexual abuse? No, not at all. That shouldn’t have happened to their daughters. But the families are guilty of not protecting their children, and these lawsuits are absolutely criminal in trying to shift that blame.

While I haven’t seen the suits, obviously, to me it looks way too much like the families are trying to make money off their children’s suffering. And that is almost as sick as the predators who attacked the children in the first place.

American Greetings thinks we need “stalker” cards now?

hi. how are you?

you don’t know me

but I know you

I watch you

a lot

your every move

your every breath

does this make you uncomfortable?

you don’t know me but I know you

& lynn

does it bother you that I know your beautiful blue eyes

your soft blonde hair

you can turn this off, you know

and I’ll be gone

or will i?

maybe I’m nearby

oh, where is that again?

that’s right, Columbus avenue.

i’m watching you.

It’s an e-card, one of those where you go to the American Greetings web site, fill in some details about the intended recipient, and have it emailed to her.

It’s hard to imagine just what the creative genius who designed that one was thinking. Spooky fun for Halloween? It’s a bit beyond jack-o-lanterns. Isn’t there any kind of editorial oversight to make sure that such sophomoric “it seemed like a good idea at the time” pranks don’t make it to the actual site? At least, I’d expect that much of a major corporation like American Greetings.

If there is such oversight, it failed, which is why Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of the founders of Ms. magazine, was one of the first to complain about the card. She was followed by many other women, including ABC news correspondent Lynn Sherr.

American Greetings claimed that the card was removed from their site at 7am Saturday morning, but according to Ms. Sherr, it was still available yesterday afternoon.

From ABC News: ‘Stalker’ Card: Scary or Sexist?

Blogging, cyberstalking, and paranoia

As I read an article this morning, Blogging can be a dangerous game, I was reminded that one reason I began this blog is that I hoped to be a more moderate voice than some of those who are already speaking. While I respect many of those people, I can’t agree with some of their absolutist prescriptions (and proscriptions) intended to help you be safer on the internet.

While the article I was reading wasn’t by any one I’ve encountered before, the advice given reflects that of many safety authorities. For instance, women in particular are advised:

Manage your blog anonymously or adopt an alias for all online posting. This will help protect you in the event that you draw unwanted attention.

Obviously, by my own example I do not agree that one must stay anonymous or avoid all personal interaction in order to achieve a reasonable degree of safety. Despite being targeted, I am not anonymous in any of my blogs or other online interactions. I am not in any more danger due to blogging than I was before I began blogging, despite the fact that my family has already been targeted by a stalker.

I and the rest of the family do continue to be careful about what we do say online, but anonymity isn’t necessary as long as we follow basic guidelines such as not referring specifically to our schools, workplaces, or places of worship. When we mention that we will be at a particular event, it is a calculated risk.

Restricting all online interactions to carefully distanced, pseudonymous or anonymous postings rejects the deeper possibilities of interactivity. Be careful, but don’t fall prey to paranoia.

Establishing authorship of IMs and text messages

Texts to reveal “whodunnit”

Psychologists at the University of Leicester are to investigate texting language to provide new tools for criminal investigation.

The forensic linguistic study based in the Forensic Section of the School of Psychology will examine how well an individual can be identified by their texting style.

This study has obvious implications for identifying the author of instant messages. Forensic text analysis can already be used on email messages, but IMs, like text messages sent via cell phones, present more of a challenge.

These tools aren’t readily available to the average person who is being harassed, but as they are developed and used by law enforcement officials, they’ll become more and more accessible and filter down finally to local law enforcement levels. Civilians learn to do forensic text analysis in certificate courses now. In five years, they may be able to do the same with text messages and IMs. Every bit helps.

The psychology of stalking

ABC Radio’s All In the Mind did a special edition on the psychology of stalking this week. The audio and a transcript are available online.

While it is a couple of years old, there’s also an excellent article available from The Psychologist.

Thanks to Mind Hacks for the links.