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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.


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.