Beware the Stalker!

My son and I got into a discussion that turned into a disagreement the other day.

I brought up the subject of blogging, how much I enjoy doing it, what interesting people I’ve met online, and how we’re all getting to know one another and support each other.

‘You ought to be more careful when you’re using the Internet,’ Domer chided me.

‘Huh? I am careful,’ I retorted (probably a bit huffily, for he was quick with his response).

‘No, you’re not. You don’t really know any of those people you’re talking to every day.’

‘You don’t know the people on Facebook either.’

‘But I do,’ he protested. ‘I only talk to my friends. People I actually know. Not like you. Your “friends” might be stalkers.’

Stalker cat (image thanks to http://www.icanhascheezburger.com)

‘No way. Some of them I know. Some I’ve met in person; some I’ve met through others. I’ve become friends with them over time.’

‘Right,’ he scoffed. ‘But you’ve never actually met them. You don’t really know them.’

‘Sure I do. Some are poets or writers like me; some are moms; some have dogs.’

Domer squinted at me. ‘Uh-huh, and most are probably liars.’

‘Nuh-uh,’ I said. (Like the way I switch to kid-mode when I can’t think of anything clever to say??)

‘Bet they are,’ he continued (Was he just trying to push my buttons??). ‘They’re probably perverts. You know, the kind that drive around in dirty panel vans with a sign on the front door saying “Free Candy” or something.’

‘They don’t either. We all have our photos posted. . . .’

‘Yeah, and photos aren’t available free for any pervert who wants to use one. Your “friends” probably don’t look a thing like their pictures either.’

‘But we’ve come to know each other. To learn each other’s likes and dislikes. To feel the truth through hundreds of words. To form a community.’

Domer kind of pursed his lips and nodded. ‘Whatever, Mom. But I still think you need to be more careful.’

I’ve tried to be prudent, I tell myself. I know the rules about not giving out full names or addresses or other personal information. About not broadcasting plans for being away from home. About not actually meeting online “friends” in anything other than very public places. About not posting intimate details or photos I wouldn’t want to share with a stranger.

Safety — my own and that of my family — is paramount in my mind when I post or comment. I want to be true to myself and real to my friends, but I don’t want to be accessible to the stalkers and creeps in the world. Shoot, my desire for anonymity and privacy is one of the reasons I don’t do Facebook and Twitter; the other is lack of time!

Still, the little imp probably has a point. One just can’t be too careful nowadays.

Do you ever relax and enjoy the online experience, or do you still find yourself censoring certain details?

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24 thoughts on “Beware the Stalker!

  1. Wow, Debbie, this is a really good topic.I think it is always wise to be aware that whatever one posts is accessible forever and a reflection of who you are. Domer does have a point but I think we each develop our own antenna for identifying a “stalker” It pays to be wary and check out any contacts that raise that red flag. They’re out there. I love my on-line community but I have to admit I do spend time censoring certain details because I know the world is watching and I can’;t take back something I wish I hadn’t said or revealed. Like my husband says, “You can’t get in trouble for what you didn’t say.” Keep posting Debbie as you are. Your blog is a delight, often a highlight in my day :-)

    • What kind words, Kathy — Thanks! Yes, it’s a fine line we walk between being authentic and being protective of our privacy. As writers, what we say won’t ring true if it isn’t the truth. Your husband sound like a wise man!

  2. Sis—I tend to agree with your son. I don’t do Facebook either, but I do know that you have to “accept” a friend before they can search your page. Obviously, you wouldn’t accept a “friend request” if you didn’t know or like the person. The people that follow you and your messages are indeed people that you ‘think” are your friends–but he’s right in that you don’t KNOW.I’ve known too many people that did one of those “Match” sites and thinking they were meeting a “fox”, wound up with a skunk or a hog!! Photos can be bought—certainly can be altered. But, hey, that’s why we carry personal protection, right?? love you—Sis

    • Suzie, I just found out you can see a person’s FB wall even if they’re not a friend. It’s unfortunately easy. Google a handful of people you know and see if a FB page doesn’t come up. :(

    • Thanks, Sue, for your thoughts. I don’t know beans about Facebook, but I know it’s different from the “Match” sites. We all have to be careful, especially with our personal details. That’s why I don’t refer to my son by name, or reveal private information about my home and life. I don’t want to meet any of those skunks parading around like foxes, ha!

  3. What a great question. (And how cute that the parental shoe is now on the other foot!) But I do actually censor myself. I don’t make polarizing statements about religion or politics, because I love my readers no matter their persuasion, and don’t want to alienate them. Once in a while I get a comment from a horny guy (at least I think they’re guys!) or a drunken commenter weaving all over the page in her late-night, in-the-bag musings, and those I delete or block. Spam every now and then, although WordPress is pretty good at filtering it. Recently a sort-of-bad person tried to use my blog to get closer to my family, and I blocked that person. But yes, I do wonder. We are so accessible these days. Anybody can see your thoughts, connections, heck, even your back yard from satellite mapping. The only comfort to be derived, I believe, is from the sheer volume of data. Why would they care about me when there are so many rich and famous people to exploit? At least, that’s my hope.

    • I’m right there with you, Lynne. WordPress does a wonderful job filtering spam, and I, too, delete the crude and/or drunken ramblings of strangers. How is a writer supposed to “connect” with her readers if she can’t be sort of accessible? Still, it’s an ongoing concern, one that I don’t see too many ways around. Brighter folks than I am need to hop on that one and figure it out!

  4. I don’t think your son is alone in his beliefs, and they have some merit. We do need to use common sense when it comes to internet safety. But those who don’t blog probably don’t have any idea the sense of community and companionship we find through this creative outlet. I may be naive, but I’d like to believe that the majority of bloggers are sincere and real.

    I use real first names in my writing and have debated whether I should assign pseudonyms. But after five years of blogging, it might be a pointless endeavor. And I know several who use their full real names, seemingly without worry, though most of those are men.

    • Thanks, Terri! I often see some of the same bloggers commenting on posts that I read regularly and, when I don’t recognize someone, I hop over to check them out. And so our community grows! I think it’s pretty wonderful and amazing how we’ve come to know and trust one another — thanks to our “bravery” in putting ourselves out there. You’ve been blogging for five years?? Wow, you deserve a medal!

  5. Domer, bless is heart, is pushing buttons. I am on Facebook all the time (I use it as my office–since I am home so much) and it is so easy to become engaged with a want-a-be stalker. I was asked to speak to Coles class about Facebook and showed them how incredible easy it was for private to become public. My rule of thumb is trust your privacy to no one. If you are not comfortable with it being public do NOT post it. I feel the same way about blogging.
    Seems to me you are very careful–heck I don’t even know your pups name! We can walk through life afraid (bad things happen—people tell us this all the time) or we can walk through life using common sense and our instincts.
    It would be nice to believe being super careful will prevented bad things from happening…but my experience tells me this not true….Don’t we all know parents who push the edge of negligent whose kids grow up without incident and parents who do all the “right thing” and they get nailed. It would be nice if just once the news showed a kid in the dead of winter, without a coat…sharing the message that he had only one cold in 10 years.
    How sweet that you have raised a boy that cares about your safety….But I would trust your own instinct….and by the way we do know one another–through the stories we have shared.

    • Katybeth, you’re a true jewel — thanks for your uplifting words! I’ll trust you on the Facebook thing because you obviously know that of which you speak. I’ve talked to high school kids about Web Design, and they’re fascinated to find an adult who knows something so interesting to them; therefore, I’m sure they fall in love with you, since you “speak their language” via Facebook. And you’re absolutely right — too many parents I’ve known have done all the right things yet still wound up heart-broken, while those who did little-to-nothing turned out model progeny. Go figure!

  6. I am a stalker and a pervert. And I found my gravatar picture on Google. Oh, and I’m really a man.

    Okay, seriously (because this is a serious issue) he is right that you don’t really know who is out there. (By the way, I am not a stalker, pervert or a man and that is the partial view of my face in my gravatar. Just wanted to clear that up in case you doubted…) I’d like to look at the question differently: how well do we know the acquaintances we see in ‘real life’ – the ones who know what grocery store we shop at, where we work or where we live? These are the people who concern me more.

    I do filter what I put online for the safety of me (and my family.) I will not post face-view pictures of my kids, I won’t use my kids’ names, I avoid anything having to do with hubby’s job, and details of my job, for that matter. What I put on my blog is 100% me, but it’s an edited view of me.

    I have dealt with two stalkers (in my late teens/early twenties) and both times, they were guys I was nice to when no one else was. (Because kids were mean to me when I was younger, I never wanted to be the ‘mean’ person, or make someone more miserable by simply avoiding them.) I learned my lesson. I definitley keep to myself more now and am more cautious and selective with who I talk to.

    Sorry about the novella-length comment, but I couldn’t help it :)

    • Janna, thank you for a laugh-out-loud moment! I never once thought you were a pervert. Or a creep. Or a stalker. Or a liar. Nor am I!
      Your true-life experience about the stalkers saddens me. I hate to think that anyone would be victimized just for being nice.
      I, too, am cautious when posting my blogs (and my responses). I don’t mention my family members by name — I haven’t even mentioned my Sheltie’s name! — nor do I reveal personal details. I know my son is just trying to be protective (such a sweet kid!), but you’re right in saying it’s the acquaintances we THINK we know who might be more of a potential problem than “strangers” we’ve come to know and respect. Thanks for your insight, my friend!

  7. And then the guy with the cartoon robot picture showed up and her son said…SEE!

    But anyhow, It is important to be wary of people here. Things are different than in dealing with a person face to face where most people do a pretty decent job of assessing people’s intent. You can’t tell much from a person’s font.

    All the same, there are a number of people who have my home address because of a series on my blog…no ill effects yet.

    • Ah, yes, the cartoon robot. I probably should be totally wary of him, but how can I mistrust another Band parent?? Assessing a person’s intentions when you’re looking at them face to face IS probably best, but even then, you know, we can be fooled.

  8. It’s nice your son cares so much, but you know what you’re doing. Trust your instincts. I know, I for one have enjoyed meeting so many bloggers. And yes, they’re are lots of crazies in this world and online, but some real good people to. Like you. So, trust your instincts and enjoy the blogger ride. ;)

    • Thanks for reassuring me! It is sweet that he’s so protective, but he doesn’t read blogs (nor does he write one), so he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, ha! I’ve found it fascinating to correspond with people all across the globe — kind of like having a bunch of really interesting pen pals — and to get a glimpse into their worlds!

  9. I try to be very careful but know how to find just about anything and anyone on my own which scares me. Have to say, the people I’ve met in person scare me much more than online. Really. Happy New Safe New Year!

    • Yes, Iz, the ones we come in contact with personally are the ones who know more about us — where we live, our daily routines, where we work, who our kids are, etc. That is definitely more frightening!

  10. Debbie, I think it’s just sweet that Dommer is protective of you this way! And at his age, take it as the highest compliment a mother can receive! I’m a little guarded when it comes to my online activity. On my blog, I’ve never disclosed what country I live in and as you know, the “characters” in my blog have boring and basic nicknames: the Significant Other, the Son, the Daughter, and so forth. The only one whose real name is being used is little Roxy. I like the anonymity because I find it allows me to write about stuff that really happens, but not disclose our real identity. My photos are real, though. I though long and hard regarding if I wanted to post a photo of myself and after much pondering, decided it would help readers to “see” who was writing what they wrote. I think you’re being safe and also assimilating the blogging experience for what it’s worth. And you’re right–for the most part, this is a caring community where members support one another! :)

    • Thanks so much, Bella. I do try to be protective of my family, my privacy, etc., but bloggers have to disclose something of themselves (or who’d bother to read???) I think you’ve struck a nice balance between privacy and disclosure. I haven’t even given out my darling Sheltie’s name, for fear some moron would try to lure him off. They’d have to turn him loose at daybreak, though, once they noticed how high maintenance he is, what with all those lustrous furs, hehe!

  11. It’s funny when it comes full circle…I remember saying this kind of thing to my kids when they first started FB. A few years ago, one of my blogging friends found another blogging was not only reblogging her posts as her own, but posted this woman’s childrens pics (stolen from her blog) as her own children on her blog! Seriously, it creeped me out enough to consider quitting blogging. Who knows who that person really was!

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