Online Harassment, Political Activists, and What to Do about It

In recent years, the internet has provided free rein to busybodies bent on opportunistic criminal behavior.  Never before have people known so much about others, nor have we cultivated so many meaningless "friends" who have coalesced into a militia of activists and tormentors.

In past generations, we went to church, school, or social functions to mingle and truly understand one another.  Nowadays, we park ourselves somewhere quiet and fly solo into an alternate world via our favorite electronic devices.  The internet has become as addictive as drugs and often makes people domineering, obsessive, and mean.  Too much personal information bleeds across social media platforms, resulting in cyber-harassment.  While social media's "user agreements" supposedly govern their platforms, they may as well be written in beach sand.  Privacy is also a myth.  In this political climate, harassment has become epidemic.  Up until now, no one has had a clear idea how to deal with it.

Two years ago, my life came under attack from a cyber-bully turned stalker, who didn't like the fact that I supported our president.  Undoubtedly, millions of people in our country are experiencing similar challenges.  Folks who don't toe the political left's line are labeled fascist, racist, white supremacists, Nazis, white nationalists, etc.  Attacks come in many forms via email, texts, or public postings designed to smear the victim's name, reputation, or accomplishments.  Attackers impersonate others to cover their tracks and their malicious deeds.

My motto is, if someone doesn't like me, I walk away and ignore him.  Ironically, my silence triggered demands from my stalker for a public apology and iron-fisted compliance with the left's political ideology.

From the start, I confided in an astute friend who had prior experience with this person.  I was advised to log everything this narcissist threw at me and was cautioned never to respond.  Her advice was prophetic.  Knowing my attacker, I didn't think this foolishness would persist.  I was wrong.  As difficult as it is not to defend oneself, it is important to refrain from responding.  Simply stated, the perpetrator will have nothing to throw at you if the case ends up in court.  Fighting the battle intelligently from the start is crucial.  Ultimately, the stalker will provide the rope, but you get to hang him.

Here are some additional recommendations gleaned from my experience.

Block harassers from your online accounts.  If they find a way around it, take a break and temporarily un-publish your profile.  I finally closed my Facebook account for good when two other people turned ugly.  Things were quiet for a time until this jerk began searching other venues where I could be hunted down and summarily trashed.

Contact web administrators and report inappropriate conduct.  Generally, they won't do anything to begin with.  Stay persistent.  Seek top-level management.  For example, I contacted Jeff Bezos's office, which was the only way to effectively ban this individual from writing vile, unrelated taunts regarding my work.  Once he was blocked, an escalated search for additional avenues of attack commenced.  One was a blog post I had written many years before.  The administrator informed me of the specious comments.  We had a good laugh.  This attack taught me another method of protection.

Blog controls will generally log I.P. addresses of commenters.  If you administer a blog or website, I highly recommend paying attention to I.P.s.  Tools exist to block selected I.P. addresses from accessing websites.  However, if your abuser is savvy and determined, he will simply change I.P. addresses or devices to continue his salvos.  Another "workaround" tactic stalkers favor is to use the email client or internet access of an employer.  Universities are particularly vulnerable to this abuse with public computers available in libraries.  If you notice that an official email address or URL is being used inappropriately, report it to the organization's I.T. department.

Eventually, my stalker began threatening physical harm.  This is where things got serious, and I got angry.  Up until that time, it was simply an irritating daily provocation.  I finally contacted the FBI and an attorney.  State and federal laws stipulate that if you are harassed more than twice by a person, you have a case.  The federal statute (18 USC §875) is detailed in "Cyber Misbehavior."  Although frustrating and time-consuming, damage control and investigation of these creeps is necessary.  In this era of divisive behavior by politicians, celebrities, and their armies of mindless minions, I recommend the following.

1. If you are a child or a young person, tell your parent(s), your teacher, or a police officer of your concerns.  Parents: Take these incidents seriously, and deal with them promptly.  Children shouldn't have to deal with a stalker.  Remember: the culprit who is trying to embarrass you, or target your child, is mentally disturbed.  If someone you love has become pensive, is unable to track a conversation, is constantly deep in thought, or is over-using his device – ask questions, then act.

2. Log all activity, including unpleasant emails, texts, posts, phone calls, etc.  Block the culprit if possible.  Keeping a log is important.  Detail complete names, dates, and times, and obtain real-time screen shots displaying the exact email, text, photo, and social media comments.  Record only the facts – no personal commentary.

3. Know his identity and I.P. address.  Gather as much information as possible.  Using an online I.P. locator, you can determine an approximate location and sometimes a physical address.  If you don't know the stalker's identity, an I.P. address will identify him.  I.P. locators will list his internet provider.  Supplying the I.P. address of your stalker in a complaint to his internet provider may impede further attacks.  If you know his name and age, and are useful for mining and corroborating details.

4. Do not respond to attacks.  Instinctively, we want to defend ourselves.  It can be unnerving to refrain, but remain silent and calm, and above all, stay alert.  Best case, some bullies will move on if they can't get a rise out of you.  However, the worst of them may double down on you – and in this case, find an attorney. 

5. If threatened with physical harm and the subject lives nearby, call your local police immediately.  If the threat comes from another state, call the FBI hotline for your area, in addition to your local police.  Threats of physical harm should be taken seriously.  If you are an adult, call your representative in Washington, D.C. and ask him to help you write a complaint to the FBI.  Be prepared with factual, detailed notes.  The FBI investigates all civil rights violations.

6. Hire an attorney to write a Cease and Desist letter on your behalf.  Sometimes threats of law enforcement and litigation will stop a stalker.  Cease and Desist letters are less expensive than putting up with the psychological abuse a stalker hopes to inflict upon you.  Your peace of mind is worth a few hundred dollars.  An attorney's letterhead is more effective than writing it yourself, plus you will benefit from the attorney's expertise and have potential backup assistance if a restraining order or litigation becomes necessary.

Stay strong and confident.  Protect your constitutional rights.

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