What Is Cyberstalking?

I was accused in Sunday’s New York Times of being a cyberstalker.

It was an ugly smear.

I’m glad I’m not as irresponsible as the New York Times with my language.

I feel sick.

Throughout my life, I’ve creeped out a lot of decent people.

I hate this about myself.

I’m frustrated. I feel like one solution would be to not write and speak honestly. That way I won’t shatter the conventions that make human interactions comfortable.

I wonder if the author of the article, former Jewish Journal managing editor Amy Klein, means "cyberstalker" literally?

If so, she’s nuts.

This morning I read through my page on Amy Klein. On balance, I think the stuff is pretty good and only a wimp would feel unsafe because of it.

If somebody was writing stuff about me that I thought was unfair, or if I had any problem with anyone, I’d take them to lunch at their favorite restaurant to try to sort things out.

If I had been in Amy’s shoes, I would’ve asked me, "What are the ethics of blogging? What do you think is right and wrong?"

It’s very difficult to write anything mean about someone after you’ve had a heart-to-heart in-person meeting.

The quality that writers most appreciate in their subjects is the ability to be unmoved.

As my dad preached Saturday night, "The only people who can move the world are those who the world can not move."

When you sense that somebody is bouncing off the walls because of what you write, you start thinking of them as emotionally childlike. It’s disturbing. Nobody likes to feel they have to walk on eggshells around someone.

For years I walked around with the sense that Amy was off her rocker in her fear and hatred of me.

People would tell me — just from reading her body language — "She really, really hates you."

Thankfully Amy and I have moved past this.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry on cyberstalking:

Stalking is a continuous process, consisting of a series of actions, each of which may be entirely legal in itself. Lambèr Royakkers writes that:

"Stalking is a form of mental assault, in which the perpetrator repeatedly, unwantedly, and disruptively breaks into the life-world of the victim, with whom he has no relationship (or no longer has), with motives that are directly or indirectly traceable to the affective sphere. Moreover, the separated acts that make up the intrusion cannot by themselves cause the mental abuse, but do taken together (cumulative effect)."[2]

CyberAngels has written about how to identify cyberstalking:

When identifying cyberstalking "in the field," and particularly when considering whether to report it to any kind of legal authority, the following features or combination of features can be considered to characterize a true stalking situation: malice, premeditation, repetition, distress, obsession, vendetta, no legitimate purpose, personally directed, disregarded warnings to stop, harassment, and threats.[3]

A number of key factors have been identified:

  • False accusations. Many cyberstalkers try to damage the reputation of their victim and turn other people against them. They post false information about them on websites. They may set up their own websites, blogs or user pages for this purpose. They post allegations about the victim to newsgroups, chat rooms or other sites that allow public contributions, such as Wikipedia or Amazon.com.[4]
  • Attempts to gather information about the victim. Cyberstalkers may approach their victim’s friends, family and work colleagues to obtain personal information. They may advertise for information on the Internet, or hire a private detective. They often will monitor the victim’s online activities and attempt to trace their IP address in an effort to gather more information about their victims. [5]
  • Encouraging others to harass the victim. Many cyberstalkers try to involve third parties in the harassment. They may claim the victim has harmed the stalker or his/her family in some way, or may post the victim’s name and telephone number in order to encourage others to join the pursuit.
  • False victimization. The cyberstalker will claim that the victim is harassing him/her. Bocij writes that this phenomenon has been noted in a number of well-known cases.
  • Attacks on data and equipment. They may try to damage the victim’s computer by sending viruses.
  • Ordering goods and services. They order items or subscribe to magazines in the victim’s name. These often involve subscriptions to pornography or ordering sex toys then having them delivered to the victim’s workplace.
  • Arranging to meet. Young people face a particularly high risk of having cyberstalkers try to set up meetings between them.[6]

In the Spring of 1998, Dennis Prager had his lawyer send me a letter saying I may be in violation of California’s laws against stalking. It was an ugly and false accusation, like Amy’s. I have never pushed my presence on Amy or Dennis at any time. I have only seen them at public gatherings. I have never contacted a person to ask about Amy (except when I heard she was laid off from the Jewish Journal, then I asked several people about the circumstances and reported the findings on my blog).

"Cyberstalker" is the most devastating word you can use for somebody who repeatedly writes things about you that you don’t like.

I have never sought out any personal information on Amy nor would I. I’m not interested in her in that way. Amy is best known for laying out her life in her dating columns in the Jewish Journal. Most of my writing on her has been a response to those essays.

She chose to make a portion of her life public. I chose to respond.

That she and her peers at the Jewish Journal felt unsafe because of my remarks shows they’re a bunch of wimps.

Several years ago, I told an ex-girlfriend about the accusation that I was a stalker.

"That’s ridiculous," she said. "You wouldn’t even drive down to Long Beach [where she lived] to see me."

In a year together, I drove to Long Beach once.

I have too much pride to consciously cling to anyone. I’d rather sit at home and read a book.

The most surprising thing to me about the article — and my cover profile in last August’s Jewish Journal — was that neither increased my web traffic. By contrast, a typical link from KausFiles triples my traffic for the day.

Joe* emails: "I would testify on your behalf. All the writing you’ve done about her was more flirting than anything threatening or suspicious, and I’ve been around enough of the latter to know. I read the NY Times piece shaking my head. It was a very self-aggrandizing piece, repeated insinuations of how talented and bright she was… Of course, if she actually felt threatened by you she wouldn’t have used your name in a New York Times piece, secondly, the honest truth is, that if not for you she would not have had a piece in the NY Times."

I remember in 2003, one critic of mine would follow me around online and whenever I made a comment, he’d follow up with a strong attack on me. After several months of ignoring him, I got fed up one day and sent him an email that included a warning that if continued to harass me, I’d fight back online (reveal information about him cheating on taxes and encouraging others to do the same) and he wouldn’t like it. He then stopped.

Over the past six years, I’d say I’ve averaged a post on Amy Klein about once every two months. I’ve run written about our social interactions maybe once a year on average. For every ten articles she’s published, I’ve responded, on average, to one.

If that’s stalking, then I’m guilty.

David emails:

Hi Luke,

As I think you know, I am a reader of yours with my own writings and blog posts. Anyway, I am a little distressed to see you lashing out at Amy Klein when she has actually treated you quite well in that NY Times article, and Amy made sure to note that you had not actually even approached her in any way, and made sure to note that you were "mostly harmless." I can’t believe that you of all people wouldn’t differentiate between a hyperbolic headline and inside quip and an actual accusation of harassment.

Anyway, it’s your business, but as someone who enjoys your writings and follows your escapades, I was hoping you would be friendlier towards Amy and her article. I was kind of taken aback at your bitterness. I would like to think that if in your shoes, I would have handled things differently. Granted, we all self-sabotage a bit, but still.

David, when you’re called a stalker in the New York Times, email me back and tell me how you liked it.

Amy wrote in the New York Times: "Luke Ford started writing about me on his blog, with some strange descriptions — including that I always wore skirts, which was flatly untrue."

I never said that. In fact, I said the opposite. I said: " I’ve only once seen her in a skirt and that was at an Orthodox synagogue on the Sabbath."

Amy wrote: "Over the next couple of years, Ford and I settled into an uneasy relationship: He wrote nasty and stalkerish things about me, and I ignored him."

Check out my work for yourself. "Nasty and stalkerish" are not accurate descriptions. There’s nothing that qualifies as stalkerish, except my own humorous self-description, and I’ve always written at least as many positive things about Amy as negative.

Danielle Citron blogs:

Klein’s essay is stupefying and offensive. Klein seemingly equates her cyber stalker with a love interest and, in the process, makes light of a deeply serious problem—cyber harassment—that afflicts countless women every year. According to a 2006 study, individuals writing under female names received 25 times more sexually menacing comments than posters writing under male names. And Working to Halt Online Abuse reports that, in 2006, 70% of the 372 individuals that it helped combat cyber harassment were female and, in half of those cases, the victims had no connection to their stalkers. In response to cyber attacks, women tend to go offline or write under gender-neutral pseudonyms to avoid further harassment. Victims of cyber harassment also feel a sustained loss of personal security. In short, cyber harassment is anything but a modern love story. Such coverage trivializes the very real problem of cyber harassment and, in turn, sends the odious message that such stalking is not only acceptable but indeed desirable.

Dana Nguyen writes: "Yes, thank you so much for this insightful post. That article was infuriating, and to me the discourse surrounding cyber harassment very much tracked how sexual harassment victims’ claims are often disbelieved and devalued. Also, such an article really undermines important conceptual and legal victories in the framing of harassed victims’ rights–either it’s all in our head, or we secretly want the attention and flattery. Ugh, ugh, ugh."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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