Where do you draw the privacy line, when you’ve made a job out of sharing your life with anyone who’s intrigued?
About a year and a half ago I had my first experience with an internet harasser. While today it’s something I might try to make light of, at the time I never wrote about it here. I was in a bad place in my life and barely keeping it together, and this person was tugging at ever unraveling wisp of my mind. He started as a vaguely inappropriate commenter, leaving statements that I laughed uncomfortably at. Things escalated to the point that I dreaded checking my emails in the morning, knowing there would be at least one message in my inbox that would be so graphically sexual and violent, so peppered with intimate details about my life, that it would make me sick. I tried blocking IP addresses; he would use a new one. I tried deleting the emails without reading them; then I grew nervous that I would miss a more explicit threat and forced myself to scan them for pertinent details on my pending murder. The only peace I had was that the IP addresses the harasser was using were halfway around the world – I checked them often to make sure they weren’t moving closer.
Threats of legal action and pleas to stop had only fueled the fire – the only thing that finally worked was a total stonewall. Ignoring the stalker extinguished his attention. It’s a cliché for a reason – I felt a weight lift off of me.
Last month, I felt that familiar feeling of invasion return. In the space of one week, I received two separate notifications from readers that they had stumbled across the Facebook profiles of people using my image as their own. Two separate people – I guess I shouldn’t assume they were women, just as I shouldn’t assume the harasser above was a man – were representing my picture, my face, as their own. I reported both incidents to Facebook. One of the profiles was immediately removed for impersonation, but shockingly, Facebook dismissed the other complaint without action. The frustration and helplessness I felt when reading that report (and don’t even get me started on the flaws of Facebook’s reporting system) was searing. There was no appeal system, no one to contact, absolutely nothing I could do. I found myself clicking through a rabbit hole of forms that continually circled back to a placating, “this complaint has already been received” message. That was me, my face, my image — and I suddenly had no control over it.
In both these situations I felt incredibly violated. I also felt angry – at myself. I had put my relationship, and its subsequent unraveling, on plate – a plate that a predator picked up and devoured as fodder to torment me at my darkest hour. I had taken my image – made it my brand, in some ways – and put it out there for two different people to impersonate.
Understandably, I’ve spent a lot of time in the subsequent month thinking about where to draw the line. One thing is certain — I’m not going to change the way I blog. Writing and sharing and interacting here fills me with happiness and I won’t let a few unpleasant incidents scare me away from that.
However, there is another online venue where I am going to change the way I do things – the mighty Facebook. I often receive Facebook friend requests from readers and fellow bloggers, and have always felt guilty when I denied them. In fact, as of this morning I had 82 pending Facebook friend requests, people who I didn’t know in real life and yet felt uncomfortable rejecting.
I love you guys big time. I am always excited to hang out with you here, on Instagram, hell, even on Twitter (though I warn you I’m kind of a Twitter Fail). As many of you have noted, I’m quick to respond to emails and comments. So I hope you will understand my need to draw the line, somewhere. As of today, my personal Facebook is strictly for family and friends that I’ve met in real life. I need one venue where I can connect with those that I miss so much at home and not worry that a reader will misinterpret an off-color joke I make or that a colleague will stumble upon an embarrassing photo of me from high school. I hope we can still be friends – lets just do it here.
Update: I took the advice I received many times in the comments and created an Alex in Wanderland fan page here. Come say hi!
Where do you draw the line when it comes to your internet privacy?
Glad to hear that some idiots haven’t scared you off from doing what you love and sharing it with us. Keep up the good work!
Thanks Morgan. It would take a lot to scare me off blogging 🙂 However, it did make me realize that there are some spaces of my public life that I would like to have a little more control over.
I totally agree with a line to be drawn. My facebook and LinkedIn accounts are those for real relationships whereas I am more open with Instagram, Twitter and blogging. Hopefully you can get things resolved with facebook!
Both accounts were eventually taken down. I eventually, out of desperation, posted a link to the profile on my wall and asked my friends to report the account, hoping that would generate enough attention that Facebook would be forced to do something. But surprise! Impersonation can ONLY be reported by the victim — so if I noticed someone impersonating you, I wouldn’t be able to report it, only you would. But I think several friends sent strongly worded messages and it seemed the person eventually removed the profile on their own accord.
Really well said, Alex! I am sorry you’ve had to deal with some of these online stalkers, but it sounds like you’ve handled it really well. Nicely done, and congrats on not allowing them to change how you blog!
Thanks Paul. I’m not sure I’d call the people using my photo stalkers… I guess impersonators is the correct word. Or catfishes, like the movie/tv show!
Good idea with the facebook thing. I’m sure it would have been scary with the stalker douche, theres always gonna be at least one guy/gal who acts like a nonce, lifes full of crazies but it must be a worry when the crazies now about your personal life. Luckily I am way too boring and unnatractive to warrant stalking.
Yes, the harasser particularly made me question what information I’ve shared about my personal life, and I do suspect that they were supplementing it with information they found on social networking sites. People are weird…
Hi Alex..i have recently discovered your amazing blog as i am planning a 6 month travelling trip to SE Asia from jan and you have given me such an colourful insight into the country. I wouldnt normally be one to pipe up but i was just so angry to read here that you were subjected to an internet troll (i think thats what they are refered to!). You speak with real honesty and passion and it is just such a shame there are such nasty, jealous people in the world! im glad you have decided to keep writing on here as i think its a great site and ultimately you win by soldering on 🙂
Thanks Paula. It is hard to see into the minds of others but I don’t think any of these incidents came from a place of jealousy. I think the harasser is just a predator, and the movie “Catfish” gives interesting insight into the minds of impersonators! Jealous cattiness I don’t think would bother me as much as these incidents (though lets face it, I’m pretty thin skinned, it probably would!)
Smart in drawing the line at facebook. I don’t even have a link to it on my blog either. In an ideal world everyone has good intentions when connecting with someone via the internet but that’s sadly not the case.
I’ve never linked to my Facebook on this blog yet my full name is no secret and I’m the only one by that name on Facebook, so I’m not hard to find. About a year ago someone showed me the “other” inbox on Facebook — the one where messages go from people who aren’t your friends — and I was shocked to find dozens of messages from readers in there! It surprised me because I make it so easy to reach me other ways, but I also felt bad as I never knew that stupid inbox existed and I wouldn’t want people to think I was blowing them off!
OH crazy I didn’t even know there was a second inbox haha. I’ll have to check it out now, I’m curious.
Ugh, so sorry you had to deal with all of this Alex!! I’m sure all of your readers can understand why you would want to keep some things private.
Thanks for your support Amanda! I’ve been so afraid of offending people, it really helps to hear people say I’m acting rationally.
I think this makes perfect sense, to be honest and I don’t find it offensive or anything in the least! There are some things that need to be kept more private, some things to keep for yourself. I think that you share so much of yourself here — I’m glad that you are recognizing what kinds of boundaries you need and serve you and honoring them.
And I’m sorry about the harrasser and the impersonators. But I guess you can take the impersonation as a compliment — that people really, really want to be like you and want your life! Kinda creepy, but also a sign that you’re doing something right? Thanks as always for being this open, Alex!
Thanks Erika, I really like your perspective on boundaries. Wise words, as usual!
Sorry to hear about that, Alex! 🙁 And I don’t blame you for not accepting friend requests from folks you’ve never met.
Also, the onslaught of friend requests could be folks not realizing it isn’t a fan page, not that it makes it any less creepy.
That could be very, very true Laryssa. I’ve been thinking it’s high time for me to make a FB Fan page, as maybe that would make me feel less weird about declining requests, especially from fellow bloggers. Maybe this will be the kick in the butt I need!
Good for you Alex – appreciate that wasn’t easy for you to say but can’t believe anyone would begrudge you for saying it. Keep up the great work!
Thanks, Ian. I struggled with this post because I don’t want to come off like I think I’m some kind of celebrity or something! I guess I feel all of this was so shocking because I’m just a regular person, I think in our digital world we all need to be a little more mindful of what we are putting out there.
It’s very upsetting that people like this exist. Glad you set some boundaries that don’t require changing your blogging style!
Thanks Sky, glad to have support of loyal readers like you 🙂
I’m so sorry to hear about all this- that’s very, very upsetting. I don’t add people I don’t know either, and turn down requests from readers I haven’t met. (Normally the ones who add me on FB are middle-aged men who have already made creepy comments about my appearance, so I don’t feel bad turning the requests down.)
Sounds like you figured out a smart policy before I did 🙂 I WISH it was creepy people friending me, then I wouldn’t feel so conflicted! For me the hard part is when it is fellow bloggers who share a common network with or readers who I feel a real kinship for. Then it’s totally understandable when they’d friend me, and so I feel like a jerk trying to draw that line. Sigh…
Oh man. I know what you mean. People are so stupid and should get hobbies. I get one guy commenting all the time about how I’m stealing jobs from islanders and that people like him who pay islanders to work legally get undermined by people like me…yadda yadda yadda. Little does he know my boat captain used to work for him and said he was a slave driver who used to refuse to pay them!!
Also, with my recent PADI interview, my course director took it upon himself to link my personal FB profile rather than my Cubicle Throwdown page and put it all over my work’s FB page. So now all the students and fun divers I’ve had over the last 1.5 years are all adding me to FB. Sorry dudes, not gonna happen! Also people from my blog are finding out where I work, which I kept off my blog on purpose. Dammit!! I feel your pain!
I remember you mentioning that commenter on your blog. Some people don’t really understand how the dive economy works. And wow that sucks about the PADI interview. My dive instructor friends have the same issue with their students — obviously they genuinely enjoy 90% of them, but don’t really need 4 new Facebook friends every 4 days. Some of them have made second accounts just for students!
I think a partial solution might be to finally bite the bullet and make an Alex in Wanderland page…
Sounds like a smart move. It’s a shame there are weirdos out there, and thieves. There is a fine line in how much to share and if it’s on the Web it’s available to all. Maybe I’ve just been lucky not getting any nasty comments on my blog. Or maybe it’s because I’m old and wrinkled. 😉
Compared to other bloggers I actually consider myself lucky… I rarely get unkind commenters. Ones with dissenting opinions, absolutely, but we are all generally pretty civil around here! Sometimes I do get pretty rude ones, but generally they are being ridiculous and it doesn’t bother me much 🙂
Old saying, “keep your guard up”. This high tech world is a pervert and ” nut cases”dream . Not only can you fall prey to such kind; but so many mis-represent THEMSELVES…weather on a blog, face book, twitter or wherever. The very nature of “your dream” often is like bailing out over unfamiliar,or unfriendly territory…and then looking for the good guys.So many bloggers, seem to be a bit naive,and over confident. a blog describes ONE PERSONS VIEW, while on a trip… tell your story from your view and visit. I love it; but most places have a dark side…with people that are well capable of realizing YOU are there. You must realize this… these undesirables, can harass you via the networks, and much, much worse. The more fame you get, the more desirable you will be to the criminal, You are effervescent,pretty, tiny, and have blonde hair and blue eyes…A perfect candidate for white slavery market, you are at the “top of the list for a hunter”. This is a reality that exists.Be aware of it… PROTECT your plans and privacy, and approach your “chosen field” as one that is fulfilling ,fun, and exciting, and one that can be dangerous.Realize Deception ,Perversion, jealously, vindictiveness …. are things YOU MUST ALWAYS CONSIDER…your ” Dream” is a competitive business ; not all ” beautiful people”..and not all is always cool and groovy; filled with many true intelligent adventurers, but also it has many “leaches”, drop-outs..and deadbeats, who want to escape ” the real world” for the wrong reasons…You are a gracious young lady, and have a great gift to share…. when one really knows facts, and what reality really is, they often find it is a bitter pill to swallow … and RATIONALIZE themselves into trouble. Take any harassment serious. CONFRONT it and if it cannot be “laughed off” You could have a problem… be careful. On other hand, though this is a cruel world, face it bravely, prepared, and don’t be naive. Be suspect of most; when you are away from home, your allies are not accessible…and YOU may be, to the wrong people. Follow your dream, and continue entertaining folks in your unique way; but play it safe. Hold TRUE TO YOURSELF and your values and rely on your research and REAL INFORMATION.No need to risk going to a creep show for a story… One capable of reading between the lines can tell that not all the ” groovy bloggers” have their head on straight.Be cautious. I have known folks who have been trained well in many aspects of ” adventure” …on a mission,and prepared; visiting places you have written about… and and “poof” , just disappeared. I worry about you, and I really do enjoy your presentations… ya got a lot of moxy. Keep your guard up, and keeping your privacy is a good thing…you owe it to yourself. Just an opinion based on a little experience. Good luck, John B. ( Aunt Karen’s College friend…She is a real LADY) ) I’ll be happy if ya just read, and pitch…too long to post.Hope it “knocks something loose”.I sound like a know it all, which I am not…I have a hard time constraining my language, when I write about “the bad guys” …intimidating a young lady, or anyone else for that matter.Privacy is IMPORTANT, and keep your future immediate schedule among friends.
I always keep my schedule pretty private, on purpose. I sometimes publish my travel schedule ahead of time but don’t include dates, only number of days in each location!
It’s disgusting how awful people can be when there is a couple of computers and a few thousand miles between them and their victim.
The internet is a wonderful place where you can interact with like-minded people half way across the earth, people you would never have otherwise met, who will inspire you and entertain you. It’s so sad when people take this too far.
Having a private Facebook account is the perfect balance I think. It’s so great that you are so honest and open even about this horrible situation- I’m sure it will be a lesson to many people.
I agree Jade… the internet is a double edged sword! I’ve met so many amazing people who have become great real life friends through it, and yet you also get these horrible predators who really thrive in anonymity. It’s bizarre.
So sorry to hear that you’ve had to endure a harasser and some impersonators. I’ve always wondered (quietly) whether someone who shares so openly online ever has any negative experiences as a result of it, so thanks for sharing this (and everything else) with us.
This experience has definitely made me wonder if other bloggers go through the same thing. It would make sense if they did and did not share… my mom particularly was concerned about me writing about the harasser as she was concerned he might still be reading. So a lot of others might go through the same thing but not share for practical reasons.
That sucks that someone would do that to you and feel okay about it, I follow you on FB but mainly so I can see when you update your blog (if you wish me to remove this I’ll do so)
It’s definitely best to draw a line in the sand, maybe consider creating a fan page so people can follow you there and then you don’t have to reject them on FB 🙂
Hey Sally! I don’t really understand that whole “Subscribe” thing but I always make my new post postings “public” so that anyone can see them (Wow, do I sound like a grandma when talking about Facebook or what!) However I don’t post ALL posts there as I don’t want to irritate my friends and family 🙂 I think the FB Fan page is a great idea, it’s come up a few times here in the comments and I’ve learned good things happen when I heed ya’lls advice!
Sorry to hear about the grief you’ve been put through!
I guess Sarah and I will have to say hi in person if we ever happen to be in the same town at the same time! 🙂
Looking forward to some more adventures
Come to Peru, we’ll do it over Pisco Sours 🙂
I’d love to, but sadly the soonest it is a possibility on our calender is next year (fingers remain crossed)
Until then, you’ll have to have a few for us 😉
It makes me see red when I read or hear about any victims of malicious intent. I’m debating on changing careers to be a super hero but don’t know what the pension is like 🙂
The cape would be perk enough, methinks! 🙂
Great plan! I spent a good few hours one day to lockdown my Facebook account and build up its security so that most updates are purely private and with the friends I trust the most. It feels good.
My plan to that yesterday after putting up this post was thwarted by Peruvian internet 🙂 But I have the same on my to-do list once I get to Lima. It’s amazing how hard Facebook makes it to put your account on lockdown.
Thanks, as always, for sharing. I had no idea you went through stuff like this as a blogger and it gives me so much more perspective on what you do. I love seeing your blog updates in my FB feed too, so I definitely vote for a FB fanpage!
Officially added to the to-do list 🙂
I cudn’t stop but say that the first picture of this post is BEAUTIFUL!! Keep writing, of course 🙂
Thanks Rekha — that was taken in Iceland! I tried to be clever with my trio of photos that showed me but obscured my face 🙂
Thanks for this! It makes me feel better that I am not the only who uses Facebook for friends and family only. I am sorry you had to go through that though. 🙁
I too am glad to hear from another person who does the same, Julia! Thank you!
First, i think a FB fan page would be a great idea! and second, you’re strong for putting up with a commenter like that for so long. i really feel for you. i had my first encounter recently with a meanie, he didn’t even comment on what the post said, just that i was [insert every mean female cuss word here] which was hurtful. the next day i was too afraid to check my email b/c i didn’t want more mean words. People have too much time on their hands!! keep blogging like you do!
Thanks Rachel, and I’m sorry to hear you were insulted like that! My harasser started with comments but when they escalated and I started deleting them without publishing, he started his daily email onslaught. It probably went on for about a month and I wouldn’t be able to repeat the things he said out loud, let alone in writing. It was horrific.
I think it’s completely understandable that you wouldn’t have readers on your personal FB- you have to have some privacy. Good for you for recognizing that and drawing the boundaries that make you feel safe.
Thanks Cortney — I really appreciate your support.
This is shocking; sorry you had to go through that experience Alex. Who are these sad people whose sole aim in life is to upset and harass others? Posting about the problem here though only shows how well you’ve dealt with it and that you’re not going to change the way you do things because of them.
Thanks Amy. Based on the content of these emails I really think the person who was harassing me was clinically mentally disturbed and wouldn’t be surprised if he escalated from online threats to physical violence someday. A well mind just does not conceive of the kind of violent fantasies he was writing.
Good on you Alex. I often feel the same way about Facebook, particularly with their lax attitude to privacy issues! Trolling seems to be on the rise in the Western world and they don’t seem to do anything to control it or protect those that post personal details on their site. I stand with you on this one!
It really is frustrating! I’ve been absolutely shocked how difficult they make it to protect your privacy, or to report it when you have a major issue. It’s shameful… if I didn’t use Facebook to keep in touch with so many friends around the world, I would do away with it entirely.
Definitely agree that a Facebook fan page would be the best way for you to maintain your personal boundaries but still give fans of you and your blog a way to connect off the blog. Thanks, as always, for being honest. And so sorry about that stalker — sounds terrible. ;-(
Hey Diane, vote for the Facebook fan page noted 🙂 Maybe I’ll launch it along with my new redesign.
That internet stalker/harasser experience sounds just awful. Glad s/he gave up in the end after being ignored. I completely agree with the Facebook point; I have only ever used it for people I’ve met in person and know enough to know that I like them. I feel no guilt in rejecting requests from people I don’t know in person or have met and didn’t care for.
I’m going to try to adopt your attitude 🙂 It’s a healthy one!
This actually happened to me about 5 years ago. I had a blog which revealed my full name. Unfortunately, this was all the guy needed to get to me. I worked in a city and went out on my lunch break. A guy spotted me on the street and recognized me. He followed me to my work and called the company. The girl who answered the phone gave him my contact details!
From then on he bombarded me with nasty emails . . . similar to what you were getting. I was terrified because he lived in my city and was following me. I spent the next couple of months constantly looking over my shoulder.
My boss eventually figured out what was going on and called the police. The took it fairly seriously and asked if I wanted to make a complaint. I declined because I was young and scared of the whole process. I now wish I had. Who knows how many girls he’s been harassing since then??!
I’m still online. Luckily he gave up when he realized I wasn’t going to respond to his emails. I’m now very careful about who I add to Facebook and talk to online. The whole experience was unsettling and made me feel awful. But it did pass with time and I learned a hard lesson about online privacy.
Preeti, I’m so sorry to hear that story. It sounds incredibly scary, and I can’t imagine what I would have done had my harasser crossed over into my real, non-internet life. I’m glad the police took you seriously, and even more glad that you are alright now!
That story is shocking Alex, sorry you went through that! If that dooshbag is on my side of the world I will happily punch him/her in the face for you.
Ha, thanks for the offer Sasha 🙂
Good for you! Stumbled upon your blog researching Iceland where I go in January. Thoroughly enjoying reading about Peru where I went in 2005! Loved Huachachina too!
Glad you found me, Adil! Enjoy your trip to Iceland 🙂
This is quite scary and I am sorry to hear this happened to you. You are right to draw the line though. I got a few friend requests recently from people who I have no idea who they are. They are not even friends of friends, so I just ignored them.
That happens to me frequently and I attribute it to my blog. It’s easy to press “ignore” when I don’t recognize the name whatsoever but as I said it’s the grey areas where it’s a frequent reader or fellow blogger that I feel quite uncomfortable.
So sorry to hear this is happening to you! Unfortunately these days of the interwebs makes life and privacy so much more complicated. Very glad to hear that you’re not letting it change what you love doing though! 🙂
Agreed! I’ve loved reading the comments here and seeing how others manage the minefield…
WOW! That is absolutely scary!! I’m fearful all the time. I have a travel blog as well (I am a travel nurse in the USA) and it is a “how much do I post” and “I hope I don’t post enough to give away my exact location”. I am glad that you’re still posting.
I am happy I am too, Paula 🙂 I did start a Facebook fan page for Alex in Wanderland and put my personal page on lockdown, which has made me feel much more comfortable.
So sorry to hear this happened to you. I’ve also gotten some friend requests and comments I know I shouldn’t respond to, but luckily nothing that was ‘too much’.
Hope it’ll stay that way!
The friend requests are the hardest for me because I know they are meant well. But we have to draw our boundaries somewhere.
So glad I re-found this post! Just saw your personal page on a comment on the TBS group and was all set to add… I totally agree you need boundaries and FB is certainly not an unreasonable one – you are so open on your blog, you’re allowed to have some “internet space” for yourself! 🙂
Also, that stalker/harasser incident sounds terrifying, so glad it worked out ok in the end. I can’t even imagine how that must feel. Hopefully you never have to deal with that again!
Thanks Maddy! I think locking down my personal Facebook page and starting up a fan one has definitely made a considerable change since I wrote this post. I do appreciate everyone’s understanding as I draw boundaries 🙂