Hera: Mary Beard

I have a new hera, Mary Beard, who is a Professor at the University of Cambridge. She is a delightfully accomplished woman who is fearlessly outspoken against trolls and cyberstalkers, deftly pointing out their misogyny. A few good links:

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.

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.

Welcome!

I’m Cynthia Armistead, known as TechnoMom to many people I’ve encountered online since 1995. I’m a mother, a writer, a computer geek, and many other things. I’m also a survivor of internet harassment, because a multiply convicted felon, Richard Hillyard, targeted me and my daughter Katie for harassment in 1996.

Our story has been online for some time. I’ve done many interviews to raise awareness about internet safety issues as well as spending hours as a volunteer with law enforcement officers and others, helping to trace messages from stalkers and other criminals. I’ve written articles about staying safe and avoiding harassment, as well. I spent years volunteering with Working to Halt Online Abuse (and I will continue to refer people to them, as I left on a friendly footing).

While I’m no longer officially volunteering with an organization, I’ve decided to centralize my safety information to this site, and combine that with giving other survivors a safe place to speak, if they wish to do so. I’ll be using this forum to publish information about staying safe and remarking on current stories or issues that touch on the internet and how it affects how we relate to others.

I encourage you to ask any questions that occur to you about internet safety or our experiences with cyberstalking. I will not answer anything that would reveal too much about our physical whereabouts, or that isn’t mine to tell. Otherwise I’m quite open.