Jocelyn's Other Desk

The writings of Jocelyn Smith, aspiring author, soon-to-be lawyer, once and future politician, all-around opinionated twentysomething.

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Location: Orlando, Florida, United States

I'm a lawyer in Florida, working on three novels, a screenplay, and half a dozen pieces of fanfiction at any given moment.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bloggerphobia, Or "The Shark Scare"

(Note to Clair: no offense. While I did get this idea from our discussion on Spike Heel's blog, I'm not trying to badmouth you or your opinions.)

Some sick bastard with a DeviantArt account tracked a girl down on LJ, girl wound up dead. Employees get fired from their jobs for posting about their work on their blogs. It's in the paper and on the news at least once a week: all the bad, BAD things that happen to people who blog.

I blog. A lot. I'm getting quite a reputation for it among my Real World friends and family. My friends mostly tease me. As for the family...

"But people get FIRED for blogging!"
"People get STALKED if they write about themselves on the Internet!"
"Look, you used your real name! ANYBODY could find out who you are!"

Hell, I use my full name, and there's only one person with my full name at Georgetown Law--look me up if you're in town. Go ahead.

Why? Because blogging is not dangerous. Not inherently dangerous, anyway. Yes, there are sharks in the water, but that will never stop me from swimming.

What many of the previous generation (Mum's age and Grandma's age, etc) don't realize is that the Internet is not a small pond. It's an ocean. There are millions upon millions of people writing online, about themselves and others, every day. The Internet is a massive sea of words and information and names and fake names and false information and true information all mixed together. The odds that I will be the one to attract a psycho with the interest and attention span to glean out my information to get to me in the Real World are highly slim.

Most "cyber-stalkers" first find their prey in the Real World. Internet pedophiles are an exception to this, but even they have their particular grazing grounds. And while I may stroll into the water bold-faced, I am NOT suggesting that children or even teenagers be allowed to play online unsupervised. There are ripcurrents of addictive games and stinging tentacles of pornography hard to see in the murky water until it finds you. There are sharp rocks of not-criminal-but-not-nice people, many of them teenagers, who take advantage of the anonymity of the Internet to expand their natural childish cruelty to new levels of nasty.

Every young person should have a supervisor when they are on the Internet, who keeps an eye on them depending on their age and maturity and trustworthiness, who lets them know when it's time to dry off and come inside.

That said, I am 24. I blog. I spend several hours a day blogging my own journals and reading the blogs of friends. My favorite band at the Maryland Renaissance Festival has finally connected the Real World me with the face on the blog entries where pictures of them performing are posted, and now they wave and mug for me when I turn up with the camera. I've attended "meet-ups" of my online fanfiction groups with people from age 16 to 38. Friends who have shared experiences with me that I blogged about have said that they often go back to that entry to re-read it and laugh from time to time (I focus on capturing the funny, spontaneous side of life.) I have many people with whom I share interests online who I met by posting on certain subjects on LJ, who I have never met in person but consider them a friend.

I don't know the details of the Taylor Behl case. Pedophilia-type cases I tend to avoid reading about in detail because they sicken me so. And I would never remove a shred of responsibility from the monster by suggesting that the victim somehow "brought it on herself."

But I have read the reasons bloggers are fired from work, and as I have tried REPEATEDLY to tell lecturing relatives, they were not "fired for blogging." They were fired usually for one of two reasons:
1) Violating a professional (if not legal) confidentiality of their workplace, or,
2) Bad-mouthing colleagues or clients.

The best thing that a blogger can do to protect herself is to exercise common sense in the Real World. As far as "posting information on the Internet" goes, I tend to view it this way:

If you would not consider it "a good idea" to scream the information on a random streetcorner, don't post it. (Assuming it was normal practice to scream randomly from streetcorners.)
  • For example: If I shout "MY NAME IS JOCELYN AND I AM A STUDENT AT GEORGETOWN LAW!" people may think I'm weird for yelling random stuff, but I won't "get in trouble."
  • If I shout, "THERE'S THIS GIRL AT MY OFFICE AT XYZ CORPORATION WHO'S A REAL BITCH NAMED MISS PERSON AND I HATE HER AND SHE DID THIS THING AT A CLIENT MEETING YESTERDAY...blahblahblah" I run the risk of someone who knows Miss Person or XYZ Corporation--and ruffling at my saying such things.

If you could shout something from a street corner, and the most likely reaction would be a weird look and "so what?", it's innocuous information for the general Internet.

Another important thing to remember is that cyber-stalkers, unlike sharks, do not approach silently and attempt to blend in with the water. They like to play with their prey. They announce their presence--maybe subtlely at first, but their typical modus operandi is to play with, then frighten their victim. They don't feed on fish (or surfers). They feed on power and fear.

A person with good common sense and Real World instincts will get that vibe from a person approaching them on the street who isn't Quite Right. That same vibe will appear in such a creature making its appearance on the Internet. Often, especially for women my age with more experience than young teenagers, the type of man who tries to stalk an adult woman has less than brilliant people skills and can't cultivate the friendship and ease needed to get the woman's confidence before switching over to Stalker Mode and sending up danger flags.

Of course, my use-your-common-sense method may not work 100% of the time. No self-protection method ever does. But that's not reason enough to avoid LiveJournal or DeviantArt or the hundreds of other places on the Internet where people converse and share creative works or opinions.

Yes, there are sharks in the water, and a host of other dangers.

But those bad points will NEVER outweigh the benefits of a day at the beach.


Blogger Claire said...

I blog under my real name, but I keep personal info to a minimum. A real bare minimum. That's because I don't talk about my life on the internet, I talk about my business.

I agree, the chances of being the lucky stalkee at the end of a megacreep's rainbow are slim, but that's small comfort if it does happen to you.

I don't share your starry-eyes about the chances you'll draw unwanted attention. You're a very pretty girl living in a big city. I'd send my daughter to a cloister in the mountains before I'd let her stick her picture on the internet and put so much personal info up in a public place. She's as gorgeous and smart as you are, and will grow into a highly talented young woman. I see what sort of attention she could draw from an unhealthy direction. I'm indoctrinating her early in the importance of keeping her personal life private.

I'm glad your family is giving you trouble over it. I hope they continue to. I'm probably your mum's age. The internet is a bunch of small ponds in an ocean. And the danger lies within those small ponds.

I left you a note at Spike's.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn Smith said...

I would hardly call it "starry-eyed," but my attitude is that all the pictures and personal info that I post is confined to my blogs, not to personal ads or high-traffic chat rooms.

To find my info, a stranger who has never met or heard of me before would have to pick out my blog out of the hundreds of thousands of other blogs out there. What would lead that stranger TO my blogs in the first place if they don't already know me? That is the reason I'm not terribly concerned.

As a pretty girl (thanks, btw) living in a big city, I'm much more cautious about walking the streets at any given moment than about attracting sickos online.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

If I google 'jocelyncs' your LJ is first up, as well as various references to your fanfiction and your involvement on LG's blog.

If I google 'child pornography' and 'fanfiction' together, I find LG's blog on the second page - an argument in which you were involved. You're all over LG's blog in the google machine.

The SH's could make your hair stand on end if they told you some of the bizarre searches that led people to their pages which made them kill the blogs entirely.

Going from a friend of a friend to a friend in LJ would quickly lead a person looking for strange things to your blog. There are a lot off bored people out there with too much time on their hands and too few morals. There's no telling why a person will develop a fixation. It would be interesting to know what led Ben Fawley to Taylor Behl. I've a feeling it's a story that would make a lot of people turn off their computers and parents ban their kids from anything electronic.

I'm scaring myself. I may have to become Amish!

Go ahead and delete this comment by the way - I don't want to give any weirdos any ideas!

10:20 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn Smith said...

If I google 'jocelyncs' your LJ is first up, as well as various references to your fanfiction and your involvement on LG's blog.

Yes, my journal comes up--but once again, that requires someone knowing that they want to google me in the first other words, the psycho would have to know something about me already.

And even if my name comes up on a google on fanfiction and kiddie porn, your average sicko is not going to bother with a blog debate--he's looking for the actual sickfic.

If a sicko is already searching for ME personally, then he probably knows me from the Real World originally, not having discovered me online. And that's a whole different problem.

I'm scaring myself. I may have to become Amish!

Maybe when I'm my mother's age, I'll feel different, but I've vowed never to have that attitude--I've tried living ultra cautious and the only result was that I never had any fun. (I was the most boring undergraduate you would ever have met.)

It is NOT that I'm unaware of the dangers of the Internet or that I choose to completely disregard them and pretend they don't exist.

I am aware, I am forewarned, I am forearmed. I simply choose not to live in fear or let fear keep me from doing what I enjoy.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

And even if my name comes up on a google on fanfiction and kiddie porn, your average sicko is not going to bother with a blog debate--he's looking for the actual sickfic.

From your tapping fingers to God's eyes.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn Smith said...

From your tapping fingers to God's eyes

Huh? *looks up* Was that a 747?

In other words, you've lost me.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

I'm sorry. I'm trying not to put the Mal Ojo on you. I'm hoping that no sicko will take up the challenge. So I'm hoping your assertions that anybody looking for you already knows you personally and not just from the internet. OF course, then that means, that you actually have interaction with a possible stalker.

in other words - I wish to hell you'd pull the personal info off your blogs.

Jocelyn - the point of my tracing is how easy somebody interested in the topic could be led to YOU. From the internet, not from the real world.

Anyway, I feel like I'm sprinkling bad mojo all over the place here. I better go light a candle. Just be careful, okay?

10:40 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn Smith said...

Well, in any case, I do understand your concern. It's easier to worry about other people than yourself--if I had a child, maybe I wouldn't be so blase about the Internet's dangers.

But no worries: I am always careful. I moved to DC from a small college town, and learned very quickly the necessity for a young woman to Watch Her Back at all times. I am always alert of my surroundings, offline and on.


10:43 PM  
Blogger Nonny said...

My general outlook is ... Sure. It could happen.

But so could a lot of other things.

I could be taking the sub up in Boston to see a friend and be mugged, kidnapped, or raped.

I could be crossing the street and have some drunk asshat turn the corner and hit me.

I could get $deadlydisease from $randomperson out in public and die.

There's a lot of bad things that can happen to you. Minimizing the likelihood of it happening is a good idea. But there's no point in sitting around and worrying about what might happen. If all you're doing is worrying, then you're not living.

10:00 PM  

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