Tips on Handling Online Stalking & Harassment

It’s been a little over a year since I left AOL. but the harassment and abuse that occurs there hasn’t. Recently, a friend of a friend contacted me to report  they she had been the subject of another person’s harassment, intimidation and stalking. In this piece, I intend to share my advice on how to stop the abuse of others on the Web.

There’s a peculiar kind of abuse that occurs on AOL, unlike most other online communities. It involves multiple services, online monikers and of course — drama. AOL attracts the best and worst of online characters and a few of the worst folks still remain with the service once known for being easy to use.

Often people seek help from others, from the service provider and eventually, law enforcement when it’s too late. Not too late in the sense of some crazy homicide, but late in the sense that the abuser has all the information needed to endlessly harass their target. Because of this, it makes it more difficult to prevent abuse, but there are a few simple actions that can help a victim quickly escape it and move on with their online interactions.

Be Careful with Your Information

Information is how online stalkers gain power. Be sensitive with who has your phone number, address, children’s names and ages, additional email addresses, where you work, whereabouts with friends or even financial issues.

At face value, no one would share personally identifiable information to strangers on the Web. Despite this, we tend to release bits and fragments of sensitive information along our Internet usage. Even privately through email and instant message, contacts may be vulnerable to various social engineering tactics. It doesn’t mean that you can’t trust your friends; you just need to aware of the risks and vulnerabilities with your online reputation.

De-list Personal Information from White Pages Directories

A common tactic that abusers do against a victim is to post their information in forums, blogs and classified Websites like Craigslist. To minimize this unwanted disclosure, perform searches for your name on White Pages directories and follow the process to remove your listing. These directories offer removal at no charge and it takes about a week for removal to be effective.

If it’s an option, opt for to be unlisted from your telephone company. Many offer this when you create or change phone numbers, and you can even anonymize your listing by changing your name to be initials on the listing (e.g. for myself, that might be “J M 480-555-1212″).

Manage Privacy Preferences with Online Services

Today, many services empower the user to manage their privacy, release of data and gives users control in how they interact with people. Facebook is the best example, because you can essentially create lists of friends and give those people access to more or less of your profile. AllFacebook has a great guide on how to better manage your privacy features on Facebook.

It’s a good idea to examine how much of your profile is visible to friends, all users, search engines and non-friends. Facebook lets you test this through your privacy settings. Ideally, if you’re not sure, be aware of your friends and remove untrusted contacts from your friends list on your profile and make your profile private. If you’re even more concerned, send a message to your trusted contacts asking them not to release your sensitive information to anyone and to ask them to forward their note to you.

Manage Online Reputation and Build Your Brand

Definitely as a proactive measure, it’s suggested to manage your own Website, blogs and online presence. It would be safe to say that if you write what you say about you, no one can really dispute that. Should you encounter conflict, you can set the record straight in a matter of minutes. Likewise, as a blog owner, you can manage the comments and who can access private blog entries if you wish.

There are plenty of personal branding resources out there so you can stand out and get noticed in the right ways. Beware though, if you have adversaries out there, they can use it against you and attempt to harass you with it. Being smart and aware of how you interact with people is a good idea that pays its dividends later.

Excuse Yourself from the Drama

In almost all the foul interactions that I’ve resolved involve the victim wanting to get in the last word, the last jab or to somehow prove the other person is inferior. Let it go. You can’t convince a troll they are wrong, it just won’t happen. Letting go of the issues will empower you to give the right attention to matters that let you give back to the community and friends and family.

It’s relatively simple to excuse yourself, simply don’t respond. Don’t bait abusers to reply and keep your interactions to the topic being discussed in the community. If you respond, don’t get personal about it, stick to the merit of the matter and don’t deviate.

As Conflict Elevates, Tell the Right People

If the community is unable to stamp out the conflict, often they do, but sometimes it’s unsuccessful. The next step is to contact the provider through various “Report Abuse” links on the offending content. If the provider is unable to stop the abuse and it elevates, it may be wise to open a police report about it. Additionally, if the abuser is across state lines, report it to the FBI through their IC3 Internet complaint center. Nothing is immediate, but as you maintain and update these reports you’re doing so for record purposes so as someone’s senseless behavior elevates to criminal, the police can easily see how it’s progressing.

Conclusion

If victims heed the above advice and become aware of how their interactions on the Web take place, they will resolve and prevent conflicts between trolls and stalkers more effectively.

While, my experience primarily derives from AOL, these behaviors exist on virtually all social networks. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Bebo and UStream can equally attract the worst in people, so be mindful of the privacy capabilities and how those services handle abuse. The good thing is, most providers handle abuse in the right way when it comes up. Abuse will always happen and can’t be stopped — it’s a matter of response time to address it, that’s the bottom line.

If you have questions or comments, share it below. :)

[Image by Mikey G Ottawa on Flickr]

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  • B.

    Some time back, a poster posted names and addresses for AOL screen names. You implied that I must have given the information out. What was ignored was that it must have been an AOL employee. How else could someone go into accounts and get that information? Or does AOL have such a lousy system that it's easy to hack?

    Stalking and harassment occurs on AOL because AOL allows it to. It's that simple. Nothing has changed; if anything, their oversight has become more lax than it used to be.

  • marahmarie

    “What was ignored was that it must have been an AOL employee.”

    Despite the fact that you were assured numerous times by both me and Joe that it most likely wasn't. He once worked for AOL and I know a thing or two about them myself, so I'd take our word for it that AOL employees were clearly not the source of your trouble. I hope you have filed a police report as both me and Joe advised, and I hope you have googled “how to hack an AOL account”- you will not believe how easy it is, how often it's done, or how frequently it's accomplished by taking information you put in message board posts and using it to crack your accounts the easy way – by guessing.

    Joe – clearly I haven't stopped by your blog in a while. I stopped back in August when you seemed to slow down. Just catching up. Will email you…

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  • I’m standing up for myself

    I’ve been stalked for over 6 years now from a former High School mate, I was even in her wedding, but 6 years ago I was assaulted and became the victim of a violent crime. The stalker was not supportive of me, when she was my friend, So I started to ignore her phone calls, I then changed my cell phone #, she even tried to buy a house in my same neighborhood 3 years ago. In 2008 I sent her a cease and desist email, she then continued and still does on classmates, by creating fake profiles under my name and other false names, she trys to friend request me on facebook. i finally had enough of this and went to the police yesterday. Massachusetts, on May 10th of this year just passed the MGL Chapter 258E protective order. I am hoping that I can get her to serve jail time. Nothing will stop this woman, nothing. Even with the police I bet. She really needs to be locked up and put in a straight jacket. So from my experience so far, no matter how many documents you save, no matter if you tell the online stalker to leave you alone, it will continue. The only, only way to end this, is for the person to be locked-up and also prevented from using the internet. I am a female and my stalker is a female. She is simply sour that I cut off our supposed friendship. She was a friend only due to knowing her from high school. But I grew up, and decided she was not the type of person I want in my life. Wish me luck, hopefully MGL 258E can help, or I can get this lu lu locked up and in a straight jacket.

  • I'm standing up for myself

    I've been stalked for over 6 years now from a former High School mate, I was even in her wedding, but 6 years ago I was assaulted and became the victim of a violent crime. The stalker was not supportive of me, when she was my friend, So I started to ignore her phone calls, I then changed my cell phone #, she even tried to buy a house in my same neighborhood 3 years ago. In 2008 I sent her a cease and desist email, she then continued and still does on classmates, by creating fake profiles under my name and other false names, she trys to friend request me on facebook. i finally had enough of this and went to the police yesterday. Massachusetts, on May 10th of this year just passed the MGL Chapter 258E protective order. I am hoping that I can get her to serve jail time. Nothing will stop this woman, nothing. Even with the police I bet. She really needs to be locked up and put in a straight jacket. So from my experience so far, no matter how many documents you save, no matter if you tell the online stalker to leave you alone, it will continue. The only, only way to end this, is for the person to be locked-up and also prevented from using the internet. I am a female and my stalker is a female. She is simply sour that I cut off our supposed friendship. She was a friend only due to knowing her from high school. But I grew up, and decided she was not the type of person I want in my life. Wish me luck, hopefully MGL 258E can help, or I can get this lu lu locked up and in a straight jacket.

  • Savannah

    Police can hide the abuse by siding with the troll. I had a troll fake being me, and she was a friend of a police officer. She was able to hide by using him as a cover.
    I will never trust a police officer again!

  • Savannah

    Police can hide the abuse by siding with the troll. I had a troll fake being me, and she was a friend of a police officer. She was able to hide by using him as a cover.
    I will never trust a police officer again!

  • Henry Krinkle

    http://www.wsbtv.com/video/25586862/index.html
    i’m taking my stalker down.
    i’ll stop when i feel reimbursed for 2 years of pain,embarrassment,loss of income.

  • Henry Krinkle

    http://www.wsbtv.com/video/25586862/index.html
    i’m taking my stalker down.
    i’ll stop when i feel reimbursed for 2 years of pain,embarrassment,loss of income.

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