We've all heard of cyberstalking, right? According to the APC, cyberstalking can be defined as "(repeatedly) sending threats or false accusations via email or mobile phone, making threatening or false posts on websites, stealing a person’s identity or data or spying and monitoring a person’s computer and internet use."
This all sounds like something you've seen on a news story or read online, right? But, did you know cyberstalking could happen to bloggers too? It happened to me.
This post is directed towards everyone but more especially bloggers, I have been a professional blogger for 10 years and I am also a victim of cyberstalking. That cyberstalking, harassment and online bullying eventually pushed my entire business into foreclosure.
So, I think it's time we had a little talk.
Who can be cyberstalked? Anyone. Especially anyone with a public persona.
The harassment began in May 2013, it started as text messages which escalated to e-mails, posts on my Facebook pages, posts on other large websites, multitudes of social media posts, posts on my website directly, calls to local media stations and calls to my advertisers.
Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? It was. In fact, it was overwhelming and often left my head spinning. At first, I thought it was a crazy person and I ignored it. As it escalated, I realized this person was talking to people who knew me and had begun posting personal information. I also realized this person made up stories about me and began posting those as well.
I stayed silent, I screenshot, I called attorneys all the while remaining silent. If there is one thing I regret today, it is my silence. I allowed this person to bully my entire company, my family and my friends because of a made up story and I literally sat by and watched it all fall apart. I didn't want to get in the gutter, I didn't want to be involved but, I was involved, it was happening to me.
Let me be very clear in case you're just now learning about blogging, bloggers make their money from advertising. Period. For those of you who know me, I have been blogging in Tulsa since 2007 first as Tulsa's Coupon Queen then 918 Coupon Queen and eventually Money Saving Queen. My blog evolved, it grew tremendously during that time and was profitable. My blog had also expanded to include daily local television spots and regular radio and print media appearances.
I say that to say, we were all over the place and I was not the only one behind this website. We had investors, employees and volunteers all of which were paid through advertising from this blog.
Calls to advertisers are a big deal, why? Because no one wants to advertise with anyone who is dealing with a mess. Advertisers don't want to be drug through the mud either. No matter how close we were, no matter how much they knew me, they bailed. One by one. That made this ordeal a big deal as each employee and investor (including myself) lost everything.
Now, my situation was more of a perfect storm with too much detail to explain here but you get the idea.
If you think you are immune and protected in your small corner of the internet, let me assure you, you are not. Internet laws are a new thing, many lawyers do not even know what to do with them and if this can happen to me, it can happen to you.
If you are a blogger, there are a few things you MUST do to protect yourself from cyberstalking or (if it is already happening) there are things you need to do right now:
- Screenshot EVERYTHING: If you get a harassing e-mail (not the typical "I don't like your post" stuff but harassing and/or threatening), keep it, screenshot it. Do NOT delete the comment, the post or e-mail without a screenshot. This is a mistake I made at the beginning. Because the posts were made up, I deleted them thinking they were spam. It took a little bit before I realized who they were coming from and then, we began to screenshot before deleting and banning the person(s) posting.
- Call the Police: File a harassment report immediately and a protective order if violence is threatened. As bloggers, we can get fluke messages and threats, especially if you are on television. However, all threats should be treated as valid and precautions like police reports should be made.
- Contact Your VA's, Assistants, etc. Immediately: You want to make sure everyone is "in the know" in case the situation escalates. It is possible your stalker could try to "friend" these individuals and in turn, get closer to you. Those who work with you also need to be on the same page so they are on the lookout as well and do not start deleting messages you might need for court later. It is also important to be on the lookout for an influx of page likes, retweets, google alerts, etc. during this time.
- Lock Down all Personal Accounts: For most bloggers, you've already done this. If you haven't, do it now. If you are a public figure, you should not have a public personal account. It does not take much for someone to download a picture of you and your kids (this happened to me too), find out your location, learn the names of family members, etc. if you keep that information public.
- Talk to Your Family: Your family can unknowingly post your whereabouts, personal pictures or information the stalker could use against you. This matters because many times (and in my case) the stalker will start out online but also stalk you in person. You also will need your family support, if you are a victim of real stalking, the path is long and difficult.
- Approve Comments Before They Post: Move to comment approval so you see the comments first. Many bloggers do this already but if your blog is large, it is hard to keep on top of them. During the time of suspected stalking, it is important you see the comments before your audience sees them.
- Keep Your Private Information Private: Make sure your website is privately registered or registered under a business name with a P.O. Box and not your personal address and phone numbers. Obviously, if you know your stalker personally, this won't matter but, if it is a stranger, you want to make sure all of your private information is private.
- Hire a GOOD Attorney: At this point, you need legal counsel. Hopefully, it doesn't get to this point because it is draining and expensive but, if it does, you need to be prepared with good, solid legal advice to move forward with a lawsuit if necessary. The one piece of advice I will give to you here is to be sure your attorney understands what you do for a living (work online) and what it means for a stalker to post on your website, social media pages, etc. It is important that they realize your reach might be in the millions meaning millions of people could potentially be seeing the harassing, false posts.
- DO NOT Retaliate Online without Legal Counsel: I talked about regretting my silence, I do regret it. But, I regret not making a public statement, I do not regret taking the high road. Do not get in the gutter with these people, it could destroy your business in a heartbeat. If you feel the need to make a statement, do so with legal counsel. Remember, anytime you write online, consider the possibility of your statements being read in open court and take the time to think before you publish.
- Protect Yourself: Get a support system, protect yourself legally, protect your business and protect yourself physically. My blog is my business, it should have been better protected but we were caught off guard and I did not have a good group managing it. Therefore, it got knocked down.
Furthermore, my cyberstalker went from the internet to stalking in person and using other people to do so, this person went after my kids and family as well. I had to protect my business and myself and my family. The possibility is real, be sure to keep your eyes open and know your surroundings.
Remember, as bloggers, we are putting a lot of our real life online. Do so cautiously. Jon Acuff said once, "I always tweet about where I have been not where I am at." Very rarely will I ever post about a place I am at at that moment, always, always, post later.
I knew my stalker which is rare but, I could not have imagined how far the stalking and harassment would go. Eventually, my staff lost their jobs, investors (including myself) lost their money and I had to purchase the company back out of foreclosure.
Today, after having two offices and a full staff for more than 5 years, it's just me now. There is a trail of hurt people behind me and I have no doubt, crushed dreams as well. Most of these people I no longer speak to, we did not go through this ordeal well. That being said, there was much more to it than they will ever know and I hope they never have to deal with. I, on the other hand, still live with the mess today. I have forgiven, I have picked up the pieces but it's never forgotten.
As I scrolled through my feed reading another story from a different blogger, I thought it was time we started talking about this in our industry.
Bloggers, this is real. If it could happen to me, it could happen to you. I didn't deserve it, I didn't cause it, it wasn't about me but it happened to me anyway. Your blog is your business in one of the toughest most unforgiving spaces in the entire world, the internet. Protect your family, protect your business and protect yourself.
How to avoid becoming a cyberstalking victim. (2011, May 01). Retrieved June 10, 2017, from https://www.apc.org/en/pubs/issue/how-avoid-becoming-cyberstalking-vict…