Posted on Jul 23, 2008

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My frequency of blogging has gone down lately. Is it because of the pervasiveness of microblogging? For the most part, no. The answer is that I’m consuming a LOT more information than outputting, which leaves little time to share all the great things I’m learning about at the end of the day.

A great book I’m currently reading is The Psychology of the Internet by Patricia Wallace. The last edition was from 2001, so a lot has changed, but it takes on concepts and issues that exist and are still considered progressive today. So far, the book provides great insights into the reasons behind a lot of online behavior. Another great book I’m digging into is How to Think Like a Computer Scientist: Learning with Python. I’m by no means a developer, but I’m insatiably hungry to learn new things, so I’ve been toying around with the very basics of Python for fun. I definitely recommend this book if you have no experience with coding.

Another type of research I’ve been casually looking into is my referral links from Google that won’t reveal your name, but will reveal what search terms you typed in to get to my site. Here’s just a sample few:

“I have a friend who is being stalked and harassed”
“can the state or federal courts stop a stalker from continually using the courts to continue his stalking and harassment?”
“why internet harassment in work should be bad”
“aol tos me when i was being harassed”
“how to harass someone on twitter”
“can i file a harassment suit if i’m being harassed over the phone?”
“can a banned user sue?”
“twitter safety stalking”
“my employer sent me some random item after firing me, can i sue for harrassment?”
“isp tos violations liability case”
“can you give a cease and desist letter for someone stalking you on the internet”
“i’m being stalked how do use a private mail box as my physical address”
“can someone be arrested for identity theft for less than $60”
“when harasser starts more trouble after restraining order is giving”
“does twitter track ip addresses”
“twitter.com is not responding in a sane manner”

That is just a small sample of things people are looking to find out more about. It really hits me hard when I see that someone came to my site after typing into Google that they’re being stalked or harassed and are looking for resources.

Cyberstalking and harassment on-and-offline has been an ongoing topic I’ve talked with people about for years. From helping build site architecture and standards to sharing stories and screencaps, the one insight I have is that there is not enough awareness or education about these issues. Often times, people have good intentions with building sites and services, but may simply overlook taking these into consideration. Other times, I have read very gut-wrenching interactions. A personal example is when I have discussed publicly about being stalked. Some women decided to assume that I was delicately-skinned about mean blog comments and that I was grossly misusing the term “stalker” instead of them taking the time to *ask* me if their assumptions were correct (at which point I would’ve explained the long-term offline threat to my physical safety and that I had contacted the authorities before, but had chosen not to disclose those details in a blog post).

Of the resources that do exist, almost all are geared towards children and parenting. An interesting resource I stumbled across recently is a Teach Digital wiki about “Safe Digital Social Networking (DSN) -or- Proactive Approaches to Address Cyberbullying and Digital Social Networking”. I would love to work on a resource guide for these types of issues that expands the reach beyond just children.

Other interesting things I’ve been reading through (thanks to my lawgeek friend) include various laws concerning online behavior. Some great ones to follow are:

  • “The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a lower court ruling striking down the controversial Child Online Protection Act (COPA) that required Web operators to restrict access to large amounts of constitutionally protected speech. ¬†COPA placed severe restrictions on a wide range of legal, socially valuable speech, including content relating to sexual identity, health and art. CDT, which has filed friend-of-the-court briefs opposing COPA and supporting parental empowerment technology, applauds the ruling. July 22, 2008″
  • New Missouri law on online harassment and cyberstalking.

There are a ton of other things I’m consuming lately (not all of them so “dark”), but this has turned out to be a long post already! Hopefully I can get back into a more regular blogging routine again soon.

6 Comments

  1. Ed
    July 23, 2008

    Great article. I’m a PI and I specialize in email tracing/ cyber stalking cases. Check out my blog. I’d love your feeedback
    http://www.emailrevealer.com

  2. Liz
    July 24, 2008

    I like this piece. The first paragraph really resonates with me…I’m consuming more than I’m producing/creating and I need to work on this. After I get this book though!

  3. Jeremy Fuksa: Creative Generalist
    July 24, 2008

    I really don’t know if I would ever use “Python for fun” in a sentence.

    Interesting thoughts all around. I too am consuming far more that I’m presenting these days, and the fact that you are getting such a huge referrer log of people looking for cyberstalking information is quite telling. There’s a reason there was a PSA campaign produced on the topic of cyberstalking/bullying. It’s far more rampant than the mainstream world would care to know.

    And, sadly, if they did care to know it would be summarized in an evening news expos√© entitled “Do You Know Where Your Children Are Online?” or something equally lame.

  4. Jim Driscoll
    July 25, 2008

    Harassment of any kind is a difficult problem because it is so very subjective: it fundamentally must involve two or more parties who have opposite views on whether a particular kind of behaviour is acceptable. Computers just can’t deal with that, handpicked admins would be massively overworked (if there is an effective reporting procedure), and leaving the choice – of how and whether to respond – to the community at large would have very spotty results. In an entirely private context, the harassee merely needs an effective means of enforcing an imperative to “stop it”. If the behaviour – which is contentious, but a third party might not consider offensive – affects anything or anyone aside from the two central parties (for example, in a public forum), then a third party must objectively and reasonably render the behaviour into the binary categories of “right” and “wrong” before being able to provide some form of resolution. You can try to make rules for that, but whatever happens, doing so would result in effective “false positives” while still leaving many “false negatives”.

    In the case of “cyberstalking” (and “stalking”), it’s particularly complicated because the bulk of offending behaviour (in terms of time if nothing else) is almost certainly undetectable by the harassee: the actual process of watching. Maybe it’s an RSS feed; maybe email notifications; maybe the person keeps refreshing the page; maybe they set up a new account as soon as they’re banned. The sheer determination to continue can be in itself a frightening thing, because the harassee simply won’t be able to match that determination in response – and wouldn’t want to. Ultimately, human ingenuity is such that security measures cannot reliably keep someone at bay. I think the best that can be hoped for in such a case is to make it thoroughly apparent when an unwanted presence has not been successfully blocked – while providing some ability for the harassee to use countermeasures, of course. Top few IP addresses to hit your page, along with an indication of what proportion of the set they account for; for sites which use logins, top few logins; biases in activity relating to time of day; even, perhaps, guesses based on bayesian analysis of text entered. The cyberstalker spends much of his – or her – time cloaked in anonymity: shining a light on him seems like a fitting response.

    Probably half of what I said just above is complete nonsense, but it’s a matter that people should think about more, so I make no apologies.

  5. Gordon Rae
    July 29, 2008

    Martin Willets made an entire website out of the text strings that got people referred to his website. Somewhere in the heart of http://www.mwillett.org there are resources about atheism. Round the edge, you’ll find gems like ‘nazi unicorns’, ‘farting teletubbies’, ‘why don’t we kill a lamb when we sin’ and ‘help my tits are too big’.

  6. Martin Willett
    February 2, 2009

    Thanks for the plug Gordon but please spell my name right. I’ve just re-established five of those pages (there used to be 25 or so) including http://mwillett.org/farting-teletubbies.htm I haven’t a better way to get the regular infusion of strange viewpoints from strange people that the dynamic of my site requires. Pages of real content outnumber the recycled string by 150 to 1 but those string based pages make all the difference in the world.