If you run a search on the word, cyberstalking, you will fast determine that the definition varies according to state jurisdiction. Mostly, it refers to a set of behaviors perpetrated electronically. Cyberstalking, while often used interchangeably with cyberbullying, is, at its core, harassment, while cyberbullying has more to do with the torment of minors. Rest assured, there is a difference and for our purposes here, we will focus on the former.
Yours truly has been on the internet since dating back to the old Bulletin Board Service (“BBS”) days when the internet was but a command line communicated via dial-up networking. It was slow; it was annoying, and audio and video entertainment was nowhere on the radar, but it limited communications to those who were technically savvy. But for the occasional geek v. geek argument, which usually consisted of which superhero comic could kick another superhero’s ass more comprehensively, mostly, BBS’ers played nice with each other. Any harassment that may have taken place was usually benign. But as the internet was transformed from a command line geeks’ haven into the easy-to-use, graphical user interface we know today, such transitions enabled our lesser technically gifted brethen access to the web in ever-increasing numbers. And now, anyone with an internet connection can get online.
As when dirt poor immigrants from the Third World flooded Ellis Island bringing with them lawlessness, the same occurred when the internet’s floodgates opened to the masses. Internet Service Providers such as America Online (aka A-OH-HELL) made its billions by charging for access by the minute and introduced a wide world of information overload to anyone who could afford a computer, telephone line and was willing to pay for the privilege of accessing the data. In record time, chat rooms sprang up en masse and people were communicating with each other all over the world. Shortly thereafter, scumbags and con artists of all stripes emerged like a plague. And those with an inclination to bully and/or rob began to prey on the less technically sophisticated.
For those in the know, it was easy to fleece and/or harass the shit out of someone and get away with it because the law -as usual- hadn’t yet caught up with technology. Knowledge of Transmission Control Protocol /Internet Protocol (“TCP/IP”) was largely unknown to most internet users (including law enforcement) and the internet became a veritable wild west. These days, government bureaucrats
paid off spurred on by their entertainment company masters that seek to protect the industry’s outdated model of distribution via statute and criminal prosecution, the law has become a little bit more informed, but it will never catch the professionals. And those that harass/bully others, unless they have made clear threats to the physical being of anyone in particular and/or have actually physically harmed a person, remain free to perpetrate random acts of douchebaggery pretty much unimpeded.
Sure, one could allege libel, but this is a legal causes of action that, assuming you have the disposable income to pursue, is very hard to prove, and, even harder to prosecute since you really don’t know who you are dealing with in the first place. Users typically remain anonymous unless a subpoena is issued to ascertain the harasser’s true identity, and, this is true only after you have filed a civil complaint against the ISP, which involves an overpriced lawyer (or a moderately priced paralegal with a tech background such as myself). Consequently, we have all encountered at one time or another that one, special asshole who has for whatever reason, decided to make you his bitch. Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to direct your attention to the following nutter.
Exhibit Fucktard: Andrew Heenan
I first made Mr. Heenan’s acquaintance in 2010 as a result of researching what would eventually become a piece about the MySpace privacy case. I thought it would be useful to readers if I linked to one of his websites because it seemed to be about educating users how to be safe online from predators and scams. A preliminary examination of Heenan’s site gave every indication that was exactly the content one could expect, and, so I had emailed to ask whether he minded if I linked to it. A few days later, I decided it wasn’t appropriate for my article. Mr. Heenan, however, had other ideas.
Suffice it to say, I knew what I was dealing with from the moment he had sent the follow up email. I could almost smell the mental illness coming off him almost like the stink waves that one can imagine emanating from the Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip Pig-Pen character. When I thanked Mr. Heenan for his time and passed on his particular brand of electronic psychosis, he continued emailing bloviating on about what he must have imagined would bother me. His correspondence was filled with threats of blacklisting my website and reporting it as a scam, but I was largely unfazed and ignored him. Unfortunately, the average internet user does not recognize personality disordered bullshit and takes the bait every time.
This is exactly the case with so many of Andrew Heenan’s victims. He lures the unsuspecting user to his website under the guise of drawing attention to online scams and predators, and then pulls precisely the kind of behaviors his websites purport to call out. Users are then further drawn in by Heenan’s taunts and threats and on and on it goes -a neverending carousel of dysfunction and harassment. It is human nature to argue, I suppose, but I have no explanation as to why anyone would bother to do so with a stranger, especially a demonstrated nutter like Andrew Heenan. In cases such as this one, it is best to simply ignore and block the harasser. Email clients (both the online free kind as well as licensed software) make blocking fairly simple. Boom! Done.
I toyed with reporting his IP address to his ISP, but after conducting some quick recon on the net, I could see that Heenan had multiple websites and email addresses which meant that he was probably perpetrating (and getting away with) his nonsense on a large scale. Also, I suspected that I most likely wasn’t the only one who wanted to report his abuse. But funny thing about internet providers is that despite the fact they may have their own in-house abuse department, the company seldom acts to stem the tide of harassment unless there is an unmistakeable threat of physical violence to the one reporting the abuse. They may, in some instances, respond to your report asking you to forward the harassing correspondence in question, but by and large, ISP abuse departments blow off reports for a couple reasons.
First off, when the word, “abuse,” is used, it could mean pretty much anything to anyone and so a great many people are contacting the department for conflicts of a usually childish nature. Abuse departments are seldom staffed with very many employees to begin with, and, so with limited personnel, it makes the screening of and dealing with reports of harassment quite problematic. But don’t take my word for it. Talk to any similarly situated entity. Take for example an emergency dispatcher – People dial them for issues of a non-emergency nature quite frequently, which is why it takes longer for the police to show up. Dispatch first has to weed out the nonsense from the legit calls. Looking back through the years, I recall having read several accounts of law enforcment dispatch having been contacted because someone couldn’t find a shoe or something equally inane.
Secondly, ISPs are largely immune from prosecution in the event its nutter customer becomes completely unhinged. It would have to be an especially egregious case of well documented harassment followed up by an especially bloody murder with a clear link to the harasser for the ISP to be assessed fault on any level. So reporting abuse is essentially a tossup. The bottom line, though, is that it is a lot easier to not get caught up in an online abuse situation than it is to resolve one after the fact.
What Can You Do
If you happen to be a victim of online abuse, the following are the best rules of thumb.
1. Save every piece of correspondence from the harasser. In email, don’t delete it. Save and print it out for future reference. If via text message, contact your service provider and ask how you can get a hard copy of the text messages. If telephonically, keep all voicemails and/or take notes on all conversations -who said what, when, at what time. Tell the harasser point blank to stop contacting you or you will call the police.
2. Stop responding to the harasser. No matter what you say or how you say it, you are mistaken if you think it will solve the dispute. The goal of the harasser is to tie you up in knots, not resolve the problem. This is how he or she gets his jollies. Don’t play the game regardless of what s/he says. Tell the harasser to stop contacting you. You need not launch into an explanation. Just tell him or her to stop.
3. Stop the harasser from contacting you by either blocking him or her from your email account, cell phone, website, etc. and/or change your email address, phone numbers, etc. Most impotantly, do not disclose the new accounts to anyone you do not know in person, or, if you must have contact with strangers online, create a disposable email address that doesn’t include any identifying information. Some people have multiple accounts depending on the entity they are supplying their email address to. Yours truly rarely uses his name as an email address unless dealing with professional organizations.
Please note here that if you are attempting to evade sexual harassment then avoid using cutesy, sexualized user names or emails such as BigStud or SexKitten. These are the kind of cheesy monikers that attract nutjobs. It literally screams PLEASE ANNOY ME to crazies.
4. Harassment is sometimes the result of a random asshat looking for kicks on a Saturday night. You attracted his or her attention not because of anything you did wrong per se, but mostly because you just happened to be in the right place at the right time for the harasser to notice you. From what I have personally witnessed having volunteered with an organization that counsels people how to avoid and/or deal with online harassment, some bring it upon themselves by responding to the abuser because they either enjoy the attention or imagine that they are dealing with a reasonable person or both. Hint: If you are being harassed electronically, then be advised that you are not dealing with someone who is playing with a full deck, and so appealing to reason will be an exercise in futility.
5. As for online dating sites, avoid escalating any given situation with strangers, but most importantly, stop disclosing personal information about yourself to people that you do not know in person. While the internet may be responsible for bringing some people together this does not, however, mean that everyone is altruistic and functioning within normal parameters. In the United States, one in six people in the population are on some kind of prescription medication for psychotropic pills (AKA anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, etc.). These are the same pills mass shooters sensationalized by the media have been on. Such chemicals are known to cause unexplained rage, murder and suicide in some instances.
Protect Yourself and Your Family
Don’t play the part of easy prey to predators. If you follow the above referenced suggestions, then you should be in good shape and be able to avoid most online harassment. If you don’t and persist in conducting yourself in a questionable manner on the internet, welp, I can’t say that you don’t deserve the drama it will inevitably attract. Don’t play with fire and you won’t get burned, is my motto. But, as always, when dealing with most people, mileage may and usually does vary.
One Last Suggestion
Avoid any contact with Andrew Heenan whatsoever. Don’t go looking for his websites or posting there. And just so there is no question as to which Andrew Heenan I am warning you about, he describes himself as born in England in 1951 and is both a nurse and a journalist. He has also published various anti-cyberstalking memes which is akin to a known rapist teaching a self-defense class and then preying upon the participants.
Heenan is like the herpes virus. A single exposure to him -however brief- will make your life miserable for a very long time. Just read some of the comments from readers who have written to me regarding his shenanigans and you will find that it is well-established fact that he is a full-on loopty-loo who may or may not be a criminally insane drug addict.
©2013 Peyton Farquhar and Prattle On, Boyo™. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Peyton Farquhar and Prattle On, Boyo with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.