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Blog Stalkers – Personal Safety for Bloggers

Posted By Darren Rowse 7th of February 2006 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

‘Stalker’ is such a harsh word and one not to be used lightly but in December of last year I realized that I had one.

I’ve hinted at this once or twice in this blog and in my email newsletter and some ProBlogger readers did see a few of the comments that he left on this blog (he was the one that called himself ‘blogkiller’ – but I’ve avoided talking about it up until now for reasons of security and not wanting to agitate the situation further.

It’s been almost two months now since the situation was resolved and I believe it is now safe to talk about it without inflaming things (but hope you’ll forgive me for not going into too many specifics).

What I will say is that the situation arose when someone who lives in my city read a number of posts written on another blog about me. Before he read them I was unknown to him but the posts attacked me, made allegations about me which were untrue and it was written (in my opinion) without fact checking in quite an aggressive tone. Who wrote it and which post it is is irrelevant (in fact I’ve made peace with the blogger and resolved it) – the fact is the person who read it was in a place in their life where they were under extreme pressure and mentally unstable.

The posts were enough to trigger some extreme thought processes and obsessions in this person that led to a chain of escalating events that went from what I initially considered to be a harmless comment troll, to a cyber-nuisance, to a concerning threat maker, to what unfortunately became a situation where there was a physical attack made upon my property.

This process was very unsettling and in the end shook me up quite a bit.

As I’ve written above the situation is now resolved. I do not feel under threat – but in the process I’ve learned a lot and have a somewhat different view of blogging.

I wanted to share this story for a couple of reasons.

Firstly I think it’s important for us all to remember that the words we write might be written with one intention – but that they can be read and interpreted in a very different way. The blogger who wrote the posts that triggered this chain reaction did not intend for this to happen and could not have foreseen it. I don’t hold them responsible for it and as I say we’ve resolved our differences. However it has made me think twice before posting about other people since.

Secondly I wanted to remind bloggers to consider their personal safety.

While I’ve seen a number of articles in recent times about how to keep your blog safe and secure from hacking and accidental loss – it’s also worth considering how to keep yourself (and those you live with) safe and secure also. When you write in a public forum you are doing so with the hope that people will read you. The unfortunate side of this is that you have little control over the perceptions of others towards you and that from time to time people will disagree with you and even become agitated towards you. This is both one of blogging’s biggest strengths (ie the conversation, diversity and dialogue) but also one of it’s biggest weaknesses when it goes to far.

Lessons in Blogger Security

While I’m no expert on personal online safety I would STRONGLY advise you consider what information you do and don’t reveal online about where you live and your family. While this person tracked me down through offline sources it’s a good reminder that the things you write can often be used to track you down. Here are a few reflections on the experience:

Decide up front how much personal information you will share on your blog – I’ve always been reasonably careful about this. I don’t post my address (I have a PO Box), I don’t post the name of my spouse and I never post her picture or those of other family or friends. If I do post photos I generally ask for permission or make them anonymous.

Consider your offline security – Ask yourself – ‘How easy would it be for someone to find you in real life?’ As I say I was not found directly through information on my blog (although I’m sure knowing my name and city which I reveal in my about pages helped) but through offline sources. I’m sure there are different ways to add layers of security in different parts of the world but consider silent numbers, PO Boxes for mail, being silent on the electoral roll etc.

Consider the way you are perceived online – I work hard at presenting myself online in a fairly easy going, polite and well mannered person (I’m often made fun of for this even). While at times I don’t feel like being this way it is an intentional thing. This is partly because it’s my character and personality (I’m a shy guy who was brought up to always consider the feelings of others) and partly as a security consideration – I don’t want to inflame the wrong person. Obviously it doesn’t always work – but I do worry about some bloggers who seem intent on promoting themselves through angry, attacking and personal attacks. Consider the costs of your actions and words both on yourself and others before you post. You may still choose to take the attacking approach – but do so at your own risk and knowing the full extent of what it could one day lead to.

Have a plan of action – I would strongly recommend giving some thought to how you will deal with escalating situations that could lead to personal safety problems. This is part of the reason I wrote the What to do when your blog is Attacked post a week or so back. In the vast majority of cases things do not escalate to the stalker stage and can be resolved by using some of the strategies I mentioned there. However what if they escalate? At what point will you involve the police? How is the security of your home? etc

Don’t face it Alone – If things do escalate – I would strongly advise that you do not face the situation alone. The resolution of my situation came with the involvement of others. I don’t wish to go into details of this but ‘others’ could mean the help of other bloggers, others who live near you and others with some official and legal ability to help.

Online stalkers are not a common thing to my knowledge and I don’t share my story to scare anyone – but I do think it’s something to be aware of as you blog. Don’t let this kill your blogging but let it be something you give a little thought to in the hope the tiny chances of this happening to you are lessoned even further.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Stacie says: 02/07/2006 at 12:36 am

    I had a very similar incident. I had a fellow Internet user who copied the style of my work. I would post a graphic, my web site, etc, then theirs would look very similar. I called them out on it and was accused of slander and found out that this person had been writing moderaters of forums about my tone all along. And I just wanted this person to stop copying me. I am slightly worried about my safety. Glad to know that I am not alone in this situation. I have finally chalked it up to we are just very similar.

  2. It’s food for thought, Darren … I guess it’s an unwanted price of being a blogging celebrity and being “out there”. I know what you must have been going through – and seeing I’m in the same city as you, anytime, mate, I’m right there if you need some support.

    Remembering some previous posts of yours stating that ProBlogger actually doesn’t make you that much money compared with your other blogging I wondered often why not just give it up and focus on the relatively annonymous blogs that do make all the money.

    You know, Darren, one of the problems is simple envy. I cringe everytime you announce what you are earning because I know out come the nay-sayers and those who will attack you personally.

    Any way, Keep up your spirits.

  3. Thanks for writing about your experience and sharing the tips above. I use my real name on my blog and its worried me at times that a situation like this might develop. Thankfully it hasn’t.

  4. My wife gets very nervous about how much information she gives away over at The Lazy Wife. She knows that not everyone is going to ‘get it’ and some people have already been quite aggressive against her in their comments. Thankfully its been kept to the comments so far.

    That aside, I am a bit shocked to hear about your experience – I did not know that such things actually happened. I guess she is right in being extra careful – you have certainly given me reason to think again about how we grow her blog and how much we let on to who she actually is.

  5. Unfortunately taking photos of real people I know is a part of my website, it allows me to regularly show the capabilities of cameras and allows people to compare the results with other cameras – the only way I could avoid this is to hire a model, but that would quickly become expensive! Also, if I wanted to share photos of friends and families with other friends and family would quickly become awkward if they had to logon in order to view photos – I’ve tried, but they simply don’t want to have to register with extra photo hosting websites.

  6. Got to be tough, Darren, especially with a family. As a single guy, I would almost hope 1) I’d be popular enough for a stalker one day 2) It would be of the female persuasion. ;) I’m kidding of course.

    Celebrity, in all its faces, comes with a price. Looks like you’re getting some of the unwanted aspects of it. Glad you resolved it without anyone getting hurt.


  7. I am considering at this very moment whether to start writing a problog about my area of expertise, web project management. Whilst not really a controversial subject, I have seen how seemingly innocuous comments in forums and the like, can be taken the wrong way by others, leading to personal attacks.

    I live overseas and also have a personal blog that I use to keep friends and family at home up to date with what’s happening in my part of the world. My name is on that blog, and even though I don’t publicise it, content can still be found by using blog search tools if you try hard enough.

    If I was to use my real name in the problog, people could trace my personal blog quite easily, and then they would know quite a lot about me. I could use a pseudonym in the problog, but the down side is that if it gets successful, I’m then not really publishing as myself am I?

  8. Ouch. In the immortal words of former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, walk softly and carry a big stick…

  9. This has been an issue with me too. Not for my blog, but rather my coin forum. Some people just don’t like the way the community operates, as as the owner, most of the abuse is directed at me. Besides that, there’s a general sense of paranoia there (for good reason). People assume that if I own a website about coins, I must have a valuable collection at home. I have a collection, but it’s very modest. Some of the members there do have very high-value items at their homes, and for that reason many of them are very protective of their identities.

    So, there’s another aspect there, and this might impact on you as well Darren. Not that you have a pile of gold coins in your home or something like that, but branding yourself as a blogger who earns six figures, some of the lower sorts might think of you as a likely target for a robbery. Yet another good reason to keep the location of your house under wraps.

  10. Hi,

    Lets be glad the situation was resolved “peacefully” this time, however, I usually like to view all life experiences as opportunities to move up the learning curve (so to speak).

    There will always be persons who prefer to operate “on the Dark Side of the Force” but all it tells us that is that we have to be informed and prepared for these eventualities.

    Remember, there is a World out there and it is made up of good people and other people.
    When all is said and done, I refuse consider any suggestion of good people retreating from the rest.

  11. Good grief, how sad.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope it was cathartic and will serve other bloggers to learn from your unfortunate experience.

    Sure glad it has been resolved. You provide such wonderful help to folks, I would hate to think of it impacting your work.

    Blessings to you and your family.

  12. I think it’s good that this is being brought to light. Strange how this idea is coming to light as a result of blogging when as far back as 10 years ago I could type in a name of a person and get their phone number, address, and a map to their neighborhood. I learned that because I just wanted to see what information the internet had on my parents and I was completely shocked at how easy they made it to find my parents.

    Sorry you had to go through what you went through Darren but it is appreciated that you are willing to share and help others.

  13. If you want an example of what a nightmare blog stalkers can be, look into what they did to Andy Stephenson last year.

    Andy was an activist here in the US, he came down with pancreatic cancer and needed help. There was a group of people who spread rumors that Andy was faking his illness FROM HIS DEATHBED!

    I won’t say that the blog-stalkers killed Andy, but they sure as heck didn’t help much.


  14. Glad to hear you’re OK, Darren.

    Did you know that someone has already registered blogstalker.com? However, bloggerstalker.com is still available. Get it while it’s cheap!

  15. In NLP, we have something called a presupposition that says this, “The meaning of your communication is the response you get.” Which is entirely true, you said this in the above post, “I think it’s important for us all to remember that the words we write might be written with one intention – but that they can be read and interpreted in a very different way.” and I believe that one hundred percent. We just need to keep our eyes out and watch what we say because something very innocent can be taken very rudely by someone.

  16. It is true that we all need to be responsible about how we communicate, BUT we can’t be accountable for how every person who reads our work interprets it and acts on it – that is each and every person’s own responsibility.

    I think it’s always good practice to try and see your words from another’s point of view, but one of the most cherished things about blogging is that you are free to put your own point of view across. When you second guess your writing too much, it can result in bland middle of the road work that is lifeless and says nothing.

  17. amonymous says: 02/07/2006 at 2:42 am

    There are freaks in life whether you are online or offline. I was “stalked” as you say for the fact that I was making big $$$ (like $80K a month through affiliate programs). When you make allot of money, people get pissed/jealous/weird. My phone was ringing at all hours with threats, I received threatening emails, and specific threats were made against my family and my home address was used in these threats.

    I told these folks to come by my home or office any time (since they already had the addresses). I even offered to send them plane tickets and/or come pick them up. Funny, no-one took me up on my offer and the threats stopped cold. These stalkers were wimps and backed down when I called them out.

    I have a young family and we did/do not take this shit lightly. Anyone making threats against me or my clan better be ready to fight. Since these events, our property has been “intruder proofed” and tactical advantage has been achieved over all who enter it from any side. So beware.

    If any of you freaks are reading this now, come on by for lunch — we’re having knuckle sandwiches…

  18. hehe

    “come on by for lunch — we’re having knuckle sandwiches…”

    That quote is priceless :)

  19. This thread is very appropriate for the earlier subject, “Should Problogger have forums” as well.

    For some years now I have participated significantly in a number of Yahoo Groups that focus on living in the Philippines. Now, believe me, I know a Yahoo Group is not a “real forum” so don’t take me to task on that, ‘K?

    My point is, when you get a community of several thousand users, all with different opinions, different countries, etc., it is astoundingly easy to get some of them PO’d, even at the time you feel you are writing something to calm a different party’s annoyance.

    I still participate and probably am going to open a site where forums will be a feature, but you can be sure I am going to be a lot more careful about who can read the registrant information, who knows my real name, city of residence, etc. (of, and for any whom I already upset, it won’t be Colorado Springs very soon now, so don’t both coming by ;-))

    This is a subject that different folks are going to take different tacks on, but it’s a subject that _every_ blogger needs to think about, it’s not something only applicable to the $100K cognoscenti.

  20. It’s very interesting. Growing up as the child of a psychiatrist, we always had an unlisted phone number – for obvious reasons. My wife is a medical professional, and she is very guarded about her private life. I see the value in this, but as she and I run a fledgling health-blog network there kind of has to be a certain amount of transparency. Nobody is really that interested in taking health advice from people who don’t have very upfont statements as to the identities of the involved parties and contact info.

    We struggle about this every time we add a new site. Ultimately, once we’ve got the info out there, though, it’s out forever.

  21. Jon Mills says: 02/07/2006 at 5:35 am

    Sorry to hear what happened Darren.

    Its very sad that we live in a world where we have to really protect ourselves and our families from strange people who take things we say the wrong way, or they become obsessed.

    Its hard when it comes to marketing online as if you have a product you want people to know your a real person, a real business etc.. and using poxboxes doesnt make it easy but its one that I have adopted now myself., using whois guard on all my sites that i remember to apply it ( stop spam, and malicious people )

    I will be going through my sites once again after reading this and doing a quick check on my whois and what I have placed on the site..

    Sad because it really does take away that personal touch you want to give..

    Very good post Darren..

  22. Blogger Personal Safety

    Darren has a great post about personal safety for bloggers. We’re looking into a protection plan for Cowboy when he returns from his vacation….

  23. It’s all good advice and worth considering. However, if you live your life or online blogging life in fear that people will ‘find you’ or your family or cross into your private life – then get out of the public eye. If this means to stop blogging, I think you should consider it.

    Of course, in your specific case when the wacko does vandalizing to your property, the person deserves to be ‘stoned’ .. but, in the general sense .. I attribute my reasoning to the same reason as follows: Everytime I visit a site that tries to disable right-click so you won’t ‘steal’ one of their precious free javascript or codes they have on their site, or a picture that don’t want people to steal, then in my free time I will go out of my way to steal the code or picture and then email the owner with it, just to show how futile their attempt is. All they had to do was .. NOTHING … or, post a lesser quality picture with a watermark and I would have moved on.

    I think it’s the same with online stalkers – you start hiding your picture or details about yourself, there will always be people who think they should be the ones to FIND that information, and worse yet – some of them out there are the ones willing to act once they find that info. Look at all the b5 celebrity blogs – why do you think they are so popular? It’s because people like to see the stuff that they are hiding from the public, that’s not public – which is their private lives. For some reason, that’s ‘entertainment’ or ‘news’ or something like that, and it’s okay to stalk people if you are in the public eye.

    So what’s the difference if you are on TV or in the movies or blogging?

    Well, I’m a public book and I continue to be one with even a map to my house, because I think that the more people read about me – the more they will figure out that it’s all too boring to follow and I’m not really worth reading about in the first place, and just move on.

  24. I never mention how much money I make from my job, from my blogging it’s ok cos thats about 50c per month :) Gee I don’t even tell my girlfriend how much I make.

    I think you paint yourself as a big target when you start mentioning $ figures, I always keep things in percentage terms when I talk money.

    I guess it draws a lot of traffic in so it’s a two edged sword.

    I’m guessing the stalking came down to jealousy if you dig deep enough. Australians aren’t the friendliest people in the world when it comes to embracing sucessful people unfortunately.

  25. Hi

    I always worry when I see bloggers write a ‘just heading off to the beach for a weekend break with friends so won’t be writing much for the next couple of days’ style of post and basically advrtise the fact no one is home!

    As Darren notes, it’s not impossible to track down where someone lives and I think you have to be very aware of what information you are serving up.

  26. I’ve been stalked several times, mostly by my students when i was working for a London uni as a lecturer. But I’ve also been stalked online and it’s always boiled down to my own lack of secrecy.

    Glad you’ve resolved it Darren.

  27. Fear of crazy people is one of the reasons I continue to resist the temptation to start a political themed blog.

  28. You may want to consider making your domains private, since the information can be found with registrars on public lists. You shouldn’t register your domains with a home address, get PO Boxes.

  29. Good tip RT – that’s one of the reasons mine are registered through my host in NZ.

  30. Blogstalkers. Wow. Something else to look out for. Good thing they’re not much psychos out here in Jamaica. And its Bob Marley’s birthday, folks!

    • But it is true… there are. This article was really helpful. I have one, who just won’t go away. Worst of all lives in the same country as me. His IP is always showing up… (You can block people on Google but they can still view your blog, all they have to do is log out of their account). I guess it is inevitable, if you share stuff like your opinion… I guess that is what to expect.

  31. I wonder how many stalkers you’d get if you had a blog or forum about jujitsu and handguns. ;)

  32. I’ve got the cricket bat just inside the front door if you need some backup!

    What’s also concerning is that government requires a lot of address info to be public – so if you know what you’re doing you can find out a lot about people.

  33. Kevin says: 02/07/2006 at 2:12 pm

    I’m glad to hear everything worked out. The blog world would be a sadder place if you (or anyone for that matter) was forced to quit writing because someone became obsessed with doing harm to you.

    And that is very interesting about private domains and PO Boxes.

  34. I’m glad to hear you’re alright and that you’re using this as an opportunity to learn and help others Darren.

    you start hiding your picture or details about yourself, there will always be people who think they should be the ones to FIND that information, and worse yet – some of them out there are the ones willing to act once they find that info.

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but those are the people who need some serious help. Unless they have a legitimate reason for tracking down a person (and no, because they saw your picture and thought you were cute, is not a legitimate reason), then they should seriously leave well enough alone.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of a cyber stalker (not for blogging) and having my information on my website just made it extra easy for him to find and harass me.

    It only takes one person, one time, to completely change your life, for better or for worse.

  35. […] I read this post this morning, and it brought home to me how careful you need to be when it comes to blogs and websites for authors. Authors, more than most, need their websites and blogs to reflect them and their books in a way that pulls readers into their worlds. […]

  36. This is for sure food for thought and something that now that blogging has become more popular should be taken very seriously.

  37. Agreed. I have a family blog that I keep family members updated on. Unfortunately, me and my wife and kids recently left a cult (the ones that knock on your door and drop off Watchtower magazines). Most of my family is in the cult and some of the more obsessed cult members try to use information on my site against me.

  38. […] ProBlogger gives us some tips on safety in “Blog Stalkers – Personal Safety for Bloggers.” […]

  39. Well.. I guess I have mixed feelings about this issue. I do agree with hidden you’re identity is valuable, but at the same time, I also agree that hidden you’re identity, makes more people agressive in trying to find you. But even with a P.O. box.. people will still be able to find you.

  40. Wash, Rinse, Repeat – Why I read Up and Coming Blogs

  41. Gruntwilligar T. Honkenoffski says: 02/10/2006 at 1:34 pm

    I was surprised to hear of this incident. I am very glad that it has been resolved and that you are okay. I greatly enjoy Problogger and hope to be reading it for some time to come.


  42. […] Darren “That ProBlogger Guy” Rowse this week wrote about his experiences with a “real lilfe” stalker late last year and then lets us in on a day in the life of a Pro Blogger. Riveting insight into a professional blogger’s life and times – I wonder if just like that – Bang! – a few thousand hopeful proBloggers decided that Nah, this isn’t for me. […]

  43. This is a lot more common that most people think. I’ve been a victim a few times. Once from my business site and twice from my blog. The biz site, ugh I’ve even had to go so far as to remove my phone number and replace it with a voicemail – and there is no trace of my mailing address anywhere. It’s sad that I had to go this extreme, but as a single mom I couldn’t take the chance. As for my blog, back in 2004 I experience some problems with 2 different stalkers and it was so frustrating. The feeling of being stalked online is horrible and can take it’s toll on you, but when it crosses over to real life it’s frightening. I remember driving around the block 3 times before pulling into my driveway once because I thought the lunatic was parked down the street. It’s scary :( I wrote an article on this a while back, well not on this but on the subject of blog safety and some things you can do to at least prevent google from archiving your life story.
    Be a Safe Blogger covers everything from posting photos, to just how much info you’re divulging to the “hey we’re going on vacation and hubby just bought me a new $4k TV for christmas” — uh huh, come rob me! I think I just motivated myself to finish part 2 of my article.

  44. […] Blog Stalkers – Personal Safety for Bloggers: ProBlogger Blog Tips (tags: blog safety) […]

  45. Thank you for the post. I learned a lot. It changed my rules of what I publish/say on the Internet.

    As a side note, for those who have experienced the “threat of violence,” I recommend The Body Bears The Burden, and other resources like it (1, 2). While stalking is not as serious as other crimes, it is still a crime.

  46. I have a small blog and sometimes talk about controversial subjects from the standpoint of the consumer. I think about my security quite a bit, part of the reason that I don’t use my real name. Even then I regularly conduct web searches to see if my blog or blog name ever connects to my real name and location. I have on a couple of occasions on other forums divulged the approximate area but try very hard to give out as little personal information as possible and still get my message across.

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  48. […] Can a cyber-troll go from being annoyance to a danger to your personal safety? For one blogger it did: […]

  49. Another Anonymous says: 02/15/2006 at 2:15 am

    I never publish the names of my children (nor their photos) even though I write about them all the time. I use phrases like “my oldest” or “my youngest.” I’ve been very “aware” of this possibility since day one.

    I also use a PO Box when I register domain names.

    And as “my oldest” and “my youngest” come of Internet age (they both want blogs) I am starting to educate them about keeping safe. I’ve added this to my “don’t talk to strangers” spiel.

    I’m glad you have brought this out into the open. Some have thought I am overly cautious.

  50. […] ProBlogger: Personal Safety for Bloggers. […]

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