Woooooooo – what to do?

OK, I’ve been thinking about this, and I’m coming clean. There’s another reason why I’ve not been posting much lately and, at the risk of sounding like a 1980s pop song (thanks, Rockwell), ‘I always feel like someone’s watching me / and I have no privacy…’

Tarkovsky

Yup, and homage to Tarkovsky, his moustache and his extraordinary 1979 film Stalker – I’ve got one. A cyber stalker, which is making life difficult. (I’m going to break the rules of grammar and use the third person plural to refer to this person – I haven’t lost my editorial mind, BTW – but their gender is, thankfully, not relevant here.)

In all fairness, I think X is fairly harmless. It’s not a question of a maniac ex-partner, but of someone I knew years ago with problems, and with whom I have had little or minimal contact for over ten years. I don’t think it’s much more than (faintly) innocent obsessive behaviour, but it is creepy and it is getting worse. This person – thankfully – lives hundreds of miles from me, and I honestly don’t believe that they even think of what they are doing as ‘stalking’. To them it’s probably what friends do. No, they don’t. But it is what stalkers do, so let’s name it for what it is.

Following what someone else does online in an obsessive way – rather than in a ‘you’re my mate/relative and I’m interested in what you’re doing and want to intact with you as I do in the real world’ way – is a form of stalking. ‘Liking’ their every post or share or comment on Facebook is stalking. Trying to ‘friend’ their contacts is stalking. Retweeting their every tweet is another form of stalking. In short, it’s all stalking.

I’ve been talking to people about it, but the online community might understand the situation differently, so what do you think? Anyone had the same experience? (This is an iffy area, so I’m monitoring all comments on this post, BTW, as opposed to just new ones so you can say what you want about your own stalking experiences. Absolutely nothing will be published without my approval whether you’ve commented here before or not, and I will close comments after a week. Please say in your response whether you wish your comment to be published, and if not I’ll reply direct rather than in the comments.)

Right, this is what I’ve been advised to do so far, and what I’ve done.

I’ve been ignoring it – advice #1.
This has not worked. Yes, doing anything else gives X ‘the oxygen of publicity’, the attention they want and an importance they do not deserve, but ignoring the situation permits them to continue as though I hadn’t noticed or didn’t care. Yesterday I spent a long time on social media, building my business presence, and I could actually ‘see’ X tracking what I was doing, across several profiles. My friends do not need X’s attention, and my clients certainly do not, so I did a bit of blocking and tailoring of my profiles and tweaking the level of access on certain sites. I cannot completely block X from everything, because that’s not the way the world works in practice, not when you’re trying to work online and build a decent business profile for new and existing clients. Also, I am beginning to despise myself for not confronting the issue (but see #3, below). I feel that unless those of us who experience this sort of behaviour do call it out, creepy people have a licence to carry on doing what they’re doing. They’re getting away with it.

Another suggestion is to make myself anonymous or effectively leave t’internet, advice #2.
First, why should I? I enjoy my online life. And how could I? My work is online. I cannot – as another victim of this person’s unwanted attention did – take myself offline. Nor can I simply return to online life under another name (as the other person did). It’s a long-standing problem, and I did take myself off Facebook years ago because of it, but the world has changed, and so has my business. At that time I effectively built several different online personas – this is one – in order to give myself a bit of privacy, but I don’t see that lasting. And I can’t use them for my work.

Advice #3 is to confront X.
The problem here is that I feel that doing this really would be giving X what they want – actual contact, direct contact. Also X definitely has, and evidently always did have, some sort of mental health problem – but it’s not my problem and I don’t want to make it so. Someone who knows us both from years ago (neither of us have actually seen X for over a decade) said ‘don’t get dragged into X World again’ – and I’m not going to. I’ve been there before, trying to help, and it’s not a good place. That’s another reason for protecting my clients and some of my friends from contact with X (some friends will be fine – they’ll just ignore it – but some will not, and I did lose a major client last time; that’s not happening again).

Part of me believes that if X knew how other people saw their behaviour – maybe that their cover had been blown, that what they were doing was indeed stalking, and that they weren’t just a respectable person with a high-powered job but were also going so far online that they fell into the sleazeball category – they would be appalled. And that’s in part why I’m writing this now. The other reason is that people don’t talk about it. We should. My stalker is, I am certain, innocuous if unsettling and rudely intrusive. Other people’s stalkers may be much more serious.

COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED ON THIS POST – thank you, everyone, for your support!

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26 thoughts on “Woooooooo – what to do?

  1. Deborah Olliff

    Oh dear. I have known a few people with this situation. A friend had a stalker that was pretending to be someone else and went so far as to threaten suicide. This was a long time ago and I don’t know what came of it but it was scary at the time. I hope you can resolve this Kate. As you said though, they may be appalled at their own behavior when the are alerted to it. Good luck. Publish or not as you see fit. Deb x

    1. kate Post author

      How dreadful!

      It’s commoner than you think, as I am increasingly realising. Keep your fingers crossed that I’m stopping my more minor version before it escalates (or at least that I’m stopping it happening obviously; I probably would have to assume that they were still there, just lurking. However, I suspect that contact is what they want, and lurking wouldn’t achieve that). Thanks for your good wishes, Deb!

  2. Caroline M

    (From WW: parts of this comment have been edited out before publishing – highly relevant and many, many thanks.)

    I don’t know what you should do for the best but I do know how very uncomfortable it feels. I suspect that your stalker feels that their actions are perfectly reasonable and that everyone behaves like that. They don’t, the shadowing of other people’s lives, whether on line or in the physical world is not normal unless you are an investigating journalist.

    1. kate Post author

      I’m sure you’re right – the Creep thinks this is usual behaviour and everyone does it. In actual fact, people like this are the online equivalent of curtain twitchers from 50 years ago, spying on their neighbours’ private lives. (Vicariously living through them? I wonder…)

      To restate your final point: behaving like this is most definitely NOT NORMAL.

  3. Elaine

    I do not “belong” to any social media and never have so I’m sorry to hear about this problem.
    Change internet addresses? If you feel this is malicious perhaps you should contact an official in X’s area and file a complaint?

    1. kate Post author

      That’s very wise – though it’s great fun (sometimes) and very useful (potentially). But sometimes I wonder if the creeps and the trolls might not overwhelm it. Not if those of us who are neither stand up. Grrrrrr.

  4. Lydia

    How awful for you to have to go through all this nuisance. Your blog is one that I love to read and I hope that you find some way to defend yourself from such people. Sending you all the best from Over Here.

  5. Mary Ellen McMurtrie

    As innocuous as it may seem this is someone invading your private space and disrupting your life. Seek professional guidance; psychologist familiar with stalkers, the law in all it’s forms where you are.

    1. kate Post author

      You are absolutely right, they are – the tizz I got into after I spotted X at work on Tuesday was an object lesson on the effect it was having, even though I still think it’s relatively innocent. The internet does help the snoopers and the nosy, doesn’t it? Even if X stopped ‘obviously’ following me, I’d have to assume they were lurking in the background.

      Interestingly, there was a piece on the radio this morning about how the police aren’t taking online stalking seriously – some people are even being told that it’s not a crime (it is). I do have a handle, though – however high-powered X is, this is happening when they’re ostensibly working as well as other times. I don’t imagine their organisation would be thrilled. Good side of the internet for me – their actions are just as easy to track, all dated and timed.

  6. Sue

    Firstly, I am sorry this is happening to you. Secondly, report it to the police now. Make them record it as a crime and complain to a senior officer if they won’t. Get the crime number or incident log number. Thirdly, evidence it. All of it. Keep notes and a diary, take screenshots of everything (especially if it’s somewhere you can’t control and it could be removed without warning) with a date and time noted. Fourthly, each and every time it moves to another area of your life, gets more intrusive or escalates in any way, report it to the police again, and make them add it to the same log or give you a new incident log reference. Lastly, try not to let it get to you. Tough, but the only way to deprive your virtual assailant of their victory.

    Good luck.

    1. kate Post author

      That’s very sensible advice – I know one of the local police inspectors, so I’ll have a chat to him. Interestingly, it’s diminished since I published this post; coincidence, the result of blocking (not possible with WordPress, though, unless I make the site private) or a reaction? Of course, not being able to ‘see’ X doesn’t mean that they’ve given up…

  7. croftgarden

    This is dreadful and I’m sure it is very distressing. I have thought very carefully about how I would handle it. I agree with Sue you must document all the intrusions, report it to the Police, and ensure that they take action. If this has no effect, gloves off and play dirty, it should not be difficult as you know the individual. Don’t be sympathetic, their actions are despicable and need to be stopped.
    You have my support.

    1. kate Post author

      Thank you – I’m really touched by the responses!

      However, the worrying thing, especially as I read through the unpublishable comments and emails, is how common it is – and that nobody has a definite answer. A friend volunteered to ‘drive over there with a couple of the lads from the rugby club and sort it out’, but fortunately I managed to stop him – eek.

      I’m keeping records and screen grabs following Sue’s (very good indeed) comment, but it does seem to be improving, at least as far as I can tell. I think visibility is part of it, though, and that there’s little point in X monitoring me if I don’t know about it. I wonder if they’ve been scared off, or made to realise just how weirdly they are behaving? If I’m wrong, or if it deteriorates, I do have a friendly copper I can speak to, with my sheaf of screen grabs.

  8. soknitsome

    I don’t think you should give up anything in order to get rid of a stalker. Sue’s advice (police report, tracking etc) is good. As you say, the person you have in mind might well think this kind of behaviour is okay and if they are miles away from you then there’s no physical threat so I suppose you just have to accept it as a (strange) kind of admiration. Then if there’s any truly inappropriate behaviour, you already have a file number etc.
    Something to consider – sometimes when I’ve had no internet access for a couple of days and there are loads of lovely blog posts waiting for me I cruise through, liking loads but leaving no comments. Why? A lack of time, obviously, coupled with a desire to recognise great posts on blogs I follow. Stalking? Maybe.

    1. kate Post author

      Your last point first – normal behaviour, definitely, I think we all do that, no ‘maybe’ about it, no way is that stalking. You’re definitely in the clear – and so are the rest of us!

      And I am absolutely 100% percent with you on not giving up anything. The more people pussyfoot around weird online behaviour (see my reply to grackleandsun), the more it becomes the norm. Another person I know – B this time – has an ex-friend who still ‘follows’ all B’s relatives on Facebook, essentially to keep tabs on what B is up to. B has had to ask her relatives to ‘unfriend’ the ex-acquaintance in order to get a little privacy. That is not entirely normal.

      I suppose this sort of thing always happened, but it had to happen physically, a lot more effort. Years ago I was visiting some people in a block of flats, and I almost fell over a woman lurking in a bush (!) by the communal doorway. She was obviously very upset so I talked to her rather than press the entry code, and she was tracking an ex-partner and had been for weeks. I knew a Sams branch was nearby – one of my friends worked there – and managed to walk her round to it. I’ve often wondered if she managed to get herself sorted…

    1. kate Post author

      Isn’t it though? And not uncommon – several people have told me about individuals who have sent ‘friend’ requests to all their friends on Facebook. When one of them (let’s call her Z) tackled her contact who had done this – befriended all the people Z had listed as friends, a surprising number of whom had accepted the friending from somebody they didn’t know – the contact said ‘I just wanted to know what you were doing’. I asked Z why she hadn’t pointed out to her contact that this was creepy and unusual and a form of stalking, and Z said she’d not quite thought if it like that – but she did now. We should all confront the creeps!

  9. Lindsay

    I am so sorry to read about this misery that’s invaded your life. I have no experience of such unpleasant behaviour but making it public in the way you have, and documenting X’s practices, must be sensible. I sincerely hope that X gets the message about how abhorrent their actions are, and that you can stop feeling as though someone is looking over your shoulder all the time.

    1. kate Post author

      Thank you!

      I am flatly refusing to be ground down by it; that’s far too common. It’s possibly not surprising that publishing this, rather than sitting on the problem and kind-of hoping it would just go away when X got better which I had been doing, has been completely empowering. I feel that I’m in control now, which is transformative. The feeling of being snooped on will probably take a while to go, but I feel as though I’ve just turned round and shouted ‘BOO! I can see you!’ at someone trailing furtively (and pathetically) behind me.

  10. Janet/Plantaliscious

    How utterly vile. I’m so sorry you are experiencing this. Sue’s advice seems spot on, plus repeating to yourself that you have done nothing wrong. When people get obsessional it is always more to do with them than you, and never your fault anyway. Unfortunately you still have to deal with the knock-on effects. Do look after yourself, sadly it is going to take a while before the law and police practice catches up with cyberbullying, cyberstalking, etc. Just, please, don’t allow X to rob you of all that is good about the internet and social media, whether for building a business or connecting with like minded plant geeks, wool weavers, cooks etc.

    1. kate Post author

      That’s very sensible, and thanks so much. The thing that has surprised me most about this post and the responses to it has been how universal behaviour like this is – it’s almost as though the ‘I’m being a Creep’ feeling which would stop somebody physically trailing after someone else is absent when they’re online. But no way is X going to mess with my online life. No way!!

    1. kate Post author

      You’re both right. It’s a real pain, but I feel much better about it now I’ve gone public. I suppose in some ways it’s not unrelated to bullying in that they’re both about control coming from essentially weak people, and calling it out like this is a bit like confronting the bully. Thanks, Anna!

  11. carys davies

    I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I was once in a professional online group where one person through this sort of behavour brought it all crashing down – the group closed.

    I think part of the problem is how hurtful online emotion is. A horrible email or comment never fades like paper, it always looks new, fresh, immediate; and also somehow being un-mediated by anything human (voice, expression, handwriting), it has a strange authority. And it’s really, really hard to respond authentically to it. [edited]

    And, I think many people online refuse to accept that it’s an emotional place, and that those emotions hurt. The freedom of anonymity and being virtual makes people horribly irresponsible. One of the things maybe we can do, is to say, this behaviour is happenning, and this behaviour is unacceptable. Exactly what you are doing. Well done.

    1. kate Post author

      You’d have thought people in a professional group would behave themselves, wouldn’t you? Evidently not (why I should think that, I don’t know).

      I’m sure you are right about emotion and anonymity – that explains the success of trolls, I suppose. And yet when a troll is clearly out in the open, he or she is so obvious that they can be relatively easily dismissed, as long as we all stick to the ‘don’t feed the troll’ mantra. It’s the insidious ones who are the worst, the part-time trolls like the person you mentioned (edited out – hope that’s OK; why give them the satisfaction if they should stumble across this?). Maybe it’s the curious space which is the internet – intimate and yet anonymous – which leads them to behave online in ways which they wouldn’t remotely consider doing in the real world, such as following someone obsessively, for instance. And they’d never deliberately write a hurtful letter or stand in front of someone they knew and abuse them.

      That leads me to my other point: that people forget how public the internet is, and that they leave a trail. X evidently didn’t even consider this, a fact which I can use if I need to. Nor do most of them evidently think about it, and we should all bear in mind that we can turn their weapons against them (to paraphrase Tolkien). If we need to.

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