Amassing readers and followers is great – but sometimes the admiration tiptoes over the line from positive to crazy. What starts as a one-sided relationship or professional interaction can turn serious and bring you legal trouble or even physical harm. Being aware of how other bloggers have been stalked and harassed might help you recognize the danger signs as you write your own blog and manage social media accounts.
When Lauren Bullen traveled the world and posted photos to Instagram with her boyfriend, she didn’t expect to see the same locations, frames, and poses in another woman’s posts. Another blogger was following in Bullen’s footsteps. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, this woman’s posts were more intense than mere homages. Her physical position, clothing, and accessories were all the same (or close) to those photographed by Bullen. The phantom photographer followed her to multiple countries and posted photos from each one, spending a great deal to do so.
Bullen ultimately reached out to the woman who was imitating her and explained that the two of them would fix the issue together.
The takeaway: Keep an eye on your social media accounts and posts. If someone gets too familiar, it might be time to reach out and see whether a problem is brewing. Sometimes nipping something in the bud early can keep it from spiraling out of control.
Mary Scherpe blogs about style from her home in Germany – but she also writes about the person who’s been stalking her for two years. She suspects it’s a person she was briefly involved with, which is extremely common in cases of stalking. The person stalking her impersonated her online, sent items to her house, and sent her abusive comments about herself. Despite reporting the stalking to the police, Scherpe was unable to get legal help due to the laws about stalking in Germany. Instead, she set up a Tumblr account and wrote a book documenting her experience with the harassing individual. In cases of stalking, documentation matters. As things escalate, you have dated logs detailing each encounter with the person involved to present if you decide to go to the police.
The takeaway: When things get serious and the person knows your personal information, take some kind of action to protect yourself. Talk to the police, keep a record of what’s going on, and get information on restraining orders in your jurisdiction to see if you’re eligible.
Posting on a friend’s blog shouldn’t bring any more consequences than a few notifications if you get replies to your comment. For Kathleen Cooper, however, a single comment was the entry to five years of online abuse. Someone who didn’t like her post wrote a series of mean, inappropriate comments about her – but then things got more serious. The person accused her of abusing her children and contacted the police to repeat the same. Because of his actions, Cooper herself made contact with the police, who were unable to do much to help her.
The takeaway: What seems like minor abuse at first might get more serious over time. When things move from mean words to real-life repercussions, take action even if you don’t think you’ll be helped. A report filed today might stand as evidence tomorrow that the problem has been an issue for awhile.
Tips for Staying Safe
There are a number of things you can do to keep yourself safe online. Keeping these tips in mind in every interaction could mitigate potential problems that could arise.
- Decide what you want to share. If you don’t need to reveal your real name, it might not be worth the risk. Enough research would make the name of the person connected with your blog available in many cases – but that doesn’t mean you need to serve it up on a silver platter for anyone to find.
- Manage your social media privacy settings. If you think someone might be trying to find you online for insidious purposes, consider changing your profile picture on private social media accounts to something less identifiable. Make sure all your posts are only being shared with those you intend to see them. Also, blocking the city you live in might be worth doing if you don’t want to be tracked down.
- Practice good password habits. Use different passwords for different sites and change them regularly. If someone is harassing you, gaining access to one of your accounts is a big win that you don’t want to let them achieve.
- Keep it professional. Sometimes fans can start to seem like friends, but it’s still important to keep reasonable boundaries with people. For example, someone wanting to send you a gift would need your address – and you might not want to give that out to someone you don’t know in real life.
What to Do if You’re Being Harassed
If you’re being stalked or harassed, don’t be ashamed. You haven’t done anything to cause it and the other person is fully at fault.
- Stay safe. Extra locks, security cameras, and alarms might come in handy on your property. Tell your friends and family what’s going on so they can help you stay safe.
- Keep a detailed log of any interactions with the person, including the dates and times they took place. Save images, audios, and text messages, if you can. The more evidence you have about what’s happening, the better.
- Don’t engage with the person stalking you more than necessary. Don’t respond to them.
- Talk to the authorities. Even if they can’t do anything today, making contact as soon as possible is the right thing to do.
People like Bullen, Scherpe, and Cooper experienced the dark side of the anonymity of the Internet, but that doesn’t mean it will happen to you. Still, while sharing your life via a blog or social media accounts can be rewarding and fun, sometimes there are negative outcomes, too. Taking stock of what’s happening and responding to it by taking care of yourself and getting professional help as soon as possible is essential to helping resolve the situation in the best way possible.