Cyberstalking: When to Draw the Line

Categories: Advice, Technology

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I use social media often to promote my band, and mostly it's all well and good, but lately there's been a fan (stalker?) who "likes" everything I post on Facebook, retweets even the most banal things I say on Twitter, and once asked me to hang out with him. I've never met this guy in person, and I'm wondering if I should tell him to back off. He does promote the band quite often, but I don't know if that's worth anything in the long run. What should I do?

Catchy Signoff

Ugh, tell me about it. If Sean Penn sends me one more Facebook invitation to his Cheese and Gherkin parties, I'm gonna lose my shit. There's certainly a delicate balance between being a fan and being an all-out wackadoo. Ever since Amanda Palmer asked me out on Twitter, I've probably been a bit too zealous in trying to get her to follow me back. Psst, Amanda: Look! SHINY.

As I mentioned in a previous column, it's totally common to Google-stalk people, especially those we want to date. To quote myself: 

"In 2009, 43 percent of people admitted to Googling their dates, which is too high a percentage to be shrugged off as a last recourse of the creepy weirdos. Some even go so far as to say that you should Google people, as a precautionary measure, because you're obviously too smitten -- or "sminternetted" if you will -- to realize you're about to go ice skating with a potential axe-murderer."

According to Wikipedia, cyberstalking is "the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization. It may include false accusations, monitoring, making threats, identity theft, damage to data or equipment, the solicitation of minors for sex, or gathering information in order to harass."

That kind of cyberstalking is a much more serious offense. For instance, checking your ex's Flickr photos or reading about a crush's former opera singer aspirations on Formspring are not at all the same as creepy online harassment. In your case, I'd say the behavior is pretty mild. You should set boundaries when necessary, especially if he asks you to hang out in person again. I'm fond of the strategy my psychologist mother used on me as a kid to encourage better behavior -- blueberry-flavored Ring Pops, followed by rigorous Leslie Sansone "Walk Away the Pounds" videos. 

Use positive reinforcement. Encourage the behaviors you want repeated and dismiss and/or ignore the behaviors you don't. For further explanation, read my column on banning dumb Facebook comments from your life

Of course, if the behavior escalates or if he doesn't respect the boundaries you create, you can always unfriend and block any unwanted peeps from almost every social media site, as well as e-mail addresses. Unless your stalker/fan has a vast array of online followers, his tweets probably don't amount to much social media real estate, certainly not enough to counterbalance your discomfort. 

The creep factor is also one of the reasons I'll never join a location-based social networking site like Foursquare. Mostly because I don't fucking care that you are at the dentist's office, but also because it just seems like a bad idea to publicly broadcast where you are to strangers. ReadWriteWeb has an article on people getting robbed and harassed if you'd like to make yourself a little more paranoid.

In extreme cases, most social networking sites have "Report Abuse" links, certain site analytics allow you to track users' IP addresses, or you can file a complaint with the government-run Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

If none of that works, though:

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Social media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at AskAnnaSF@gmail.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @ExhibitionistSF or Facebook 

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