This post is a catharsis. It’s out of character for how I usually conduct myself, so please forgive me if it causes offense. It is actually only intended for one person to read.
You see, I have a stalker. (Hello, Stalker, you KNOW who you are.)
Cyber-stalking is a serious issue that needs to be acknowledged, mentioned, and documented, which is the motivation for this blog post. Cyber-stalking is also often illegal under Federal(U.S. Code § 223) and California (Cal. Civil Code § 1708-1725) laws.
I am a member of a bulletin board on the topic of beards. Admittedly, it is about as nerdy a thing as possible. I fit the category perfectly because I am admittedly weird about my beard. This I acknowledge. The board attracts all sorts of men from all walks of life from all around the world. I enjoy its camaraderie and singularity of purpose, which is to encourage and support other nerdy guys in their attempts to grow their beards. The moderators do a great job of keeping the board from veering too far off-topic, and for the most part the men on the board are happy to stay on topic since it eliminates social awkwardness and makes it possible for guys to let their guard down and figure out how to grow a beard in a world where razors have ruled supreme for the last century. I credit the board with giving me the support to power through the first few months growing my beard, and so I have remained engaged on the board to contribute back some of the support I received in the beginning. The problem is there is always that one guy possibly suffering from mental illness of some sort who homes in on one person, in this case me, and makes his (my) experience miserable.
This is how it all went down, as I experienced it. I am an introvert, but have managed to be pretty open on the board. It’s been a great exercise for me in an area I am not usually comfortable: engaging socially with other men, especially straight men, who I have always felt somewhat awkward around. Unfortunately, this particular person zeroed in on me like a fly on shit. As it turns out, he’s a lonely old gay guy who lives in the country in a part of the US that isn’t particularly gay-friendly. I have tremendous empathy for his situation, and so I gave him a greater range of tolerance than I would have otherwise. I let my guard down too much and revealed personal details of my life to him in a way that was well-intended, but, in hindsight, unwise.
As it turns out, there are politics in the beard community. There are strong opinions about this and that. I think it’s all very entertaining. This guy started a thread about beard dye, called “Beard Die (Dye is too Kind)”. Obviously he had a strong opinion about it, which is common on the board, and fine as long as it is expressed appropriately. He went on and on with it for a week or so, during which time I heard from several other members of the board who found his comments offensive, like this one, “What is it with this guy? He is obsessed with trying to browbeat people into not dyeing their beards. I don’t understand why he cares so much or why he thinks everyone should do things his way…” I advised him to just be polite and let him spout off his opinion. Finally, I commented in the thread, politely relating my experience using beard dye (no secret to the board or the world, fyi). After that, I continued to engage—playfully, but politely—in the thread, not realizing he was apparently obsessed and incensed by the fact that men use dye on their beards.
I don’t exactly know what was happening on his end, but from my end it appeared that he was so overcome by my polite disagreement with his point of view that in a manic frenzy he took it upon himself to not-so-subtly allude to the personal details of my life I had disclosed to him in confidence. It was way over the line, and I had already given him extra space out of empathy for his apparently miserable life. I felt exposed and betrayed, and realized I could not continue to be on the board without having a blow out with this dim-wit idiot. It was important for me to remain a member-in-good-standing of this community whose camaraderie I had come to value, but I know myself pretty well, and the situation was no longer healthy. So I wrote to the owner of the board asking him to close my threads, and I stayed away from the board for several months. I went so far as to change my password to something I couldn’t possibly remember so I couldn’t log on without going through the whole password change process. I set Gmail to automatically archive email notifications from the board. I went to great lengths to take a big time out.
It ended up being like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, “What am I supposed to do? You won’t answer my calls. You change your number…I’m not going to be ignored!”
After I left the board, he started a thread about me on another board in hopes that I would respond to him there. I have only ever visited that board once, so I never saw his post there. When I returned to the board several months later to read my private messages, I had a message from a moderator on the other board saying my stalker “posted a thread about you in which he wrote about [your private situation]. If you don’t wish for this to be made public let me or [other moderator] know and I’ll delete the thread asap.”
I was pretty astounded, but even more so when I found this message from the stalker himself in my private message inbox, “Are you going to come back? I hope so. I am sure you read my vent on the [other board]. As far as I am concerned that stuff is behind me. I hope we can get you posting. I do miss all of your various mustache posts and just the way you make your thread a fun one to read. I do not know if you will even read this, let alone reply to it. I am sincere that I miss you on the [board]. If you want me to I will gladly delete my ‘Hello Kenny’ thread.”
Blown away, but recognizing the seriousness of the situation, I chose not to engage. I decided the board was big enough that we could both be on there without engaging. I chose to ignore him. I informed the board owner and moderators of the messages I had received, and my desire to just avoid him. I specifically did not ask for him to not be kicked off the board. I have empathy for his life situation, and understand his need for social interaction. I intended to just steer clear of him and hoped, in time, the situation would settle down.
Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, he noticed my return. He started to follow me around the board, often commenting directly after I commented on a thread, except responding to my comment instead of staying on topic with the thread. He was trying to provoke me to engage with him, and I simply didn’t respond. Before too long, he sent me a blank private message with the subject, “Don’t Want To Say Too Much Some Guy Will Get His Panties In A Wad And Ignore Me. Oh Wait That Has Already Happened.”
I responded, “You’re very astute. I’ve read your 3 comments on my thread since I returned, and chose not to respond. I just happened to see this since it was predictable you’d come marching in with your usual badgering about [a board member] choosing to use a product you dislike. Did you ever think maybe it’s not about you? I found your behavior in the die not dye thread extremely offensive and obnoxious. Several members contacted me about it because they were getting upset, and I told them to ignore it. After several weeks, I added my opinion, and then you went ballistic. I live in San Francisco. <em>If I want crazy, it’s right outside.</em> I really don’t care to re-engage with you at this time. I have used the ignore function so I don’t see your posts without deliberately opening them. I am not going to say rude things about you on the board, though, and I would appreciate the same in return. All the best to you, [Stalker].”
At this point in this blog post, I want to be clear in saying I do not blame the board or its moderators for the situation. They have been polite and professional, and honestly, they take no pleasure in having to manage trolls. So I blame the stalker, who is ultimately responsible for his behavior. So, again, I reached out again to several moderators, one of whom responded, “I know you don’t blame us, but I would like to apologize for letting [your stalker] harass you…perhaps we have been a little too permissive with him in the past. I have sent him a warning to leave you alone and I also assume you will be leaving him alone. He agreed. To that end, I have removed the two posts in your thread from him and your response. Hopefully that’ll end it once and for all. Please let us know if he continues to harass you.” I responded with my appreciation, and followed up with a screenshot of this guy stalking me on Google+. I let him know I had blocked this member on every social network I could think of in order to prevent him from contacting me there or anywhere. As I write this, it is amazing to realize how much effort I have put into simply getting this guy to leave me alone.
After that, my life got pretty hectic. I decided to start looking for a new job. I also decided to leave a relationship of 8 years, which meant I had to negotiate a mutual agreement regarding the house and the car. I was Best Man in one of my best friend’s wedding, and six days later I was the Father of the Bride in my own daughter’s wedding in Los Angeles. I started dating. And I moved. I had a lot on my plate, and I didn’t have time to spend on the board, except for a few minutes here and there. It was really all good stuff, just a lot to handle all at once. I stayed in touch. every now and then, posting a few pictures of me and my beard going about all these big things, and promised to catch up with the board as things settled down.
So last week I resigned from my job. Things are settling down, at least temporarily as I am going to take a vacation and enjoy some R&R before getting back to my job search in August. So today I spent some time catching up with the board. It was a good time. I enjoyed being a beard nerd, catching up with the progress of members I know, admiring the beards of newer members I have not yet met, and encouraging some of the more recent members who are just starting out. I made it into most of the forums on the board. I noticed that the stalker was also posting, often in the same threads I had recently posted in, but overlooked it. It couldn’t be possible, I told myself, staying calm. I had barely been on the board in three months, after all. Surely he had calmed down by now, I assured myself.
Eventually, I ended up in a post by a member who was celebrating 12 months of bearded bliss. He mentioned some concerns about privacy since images he posted on the board were showing up in searches of his user name, which was not unique to the board, a situation similar to mine. I congratulated him for reaching a beard world milestone, and related my experience with the privacy concern, to which I have more or less acquiesced, “…I understand the EU laws to protect privacy, and think they are well-intended, but it is virtually impossible to make something on the Internet disappear. The whole system was designed to prevent things from disappearing, though obviously that would mean measures can (and should) be taken to protect privacy. I honestly don’t think it’s possible to literally disappear, though. Removing links from search engine results does not remove data caches years in the making…I started with my ordinary email user name, but soon wished I had used something else. I might consider changing, but after 7300 posts, I think the cat is out of the bag for me.”
I moved on from there to visit a few more forums, wrapping up a day of relaxation, getting ready for bed as it approached midnight. As I checked back through the forums, I noticed the stalker had posted a comment in that same thread in the few minutes since I commneted. I have used the board’s “ignore” function for this member, which automatically collapses any comment by him and also dims any topic he has started. I decided to prove to myself that it wasn’t what it appeared to be. He really wasn’t following me around on the board. He just happened to post on the same topic that I had, which would not be unusual for how the board works. I clicked the + link to open his comment, and here it is, “I would think privacy might also work better if you do not have a link in your signature to your blog that has your REAL name in it. All the rules and regulations cannot do a thing about VOLUNTARY disclosure of ones information.”
Yes, really. Once again, here he is following me around the board, commenting directly after I comment on a thread, responding to my comment rather than staying on topic with the thread, just as he had before, just as he has been warned not to do. This guy has been specifically warned to leave me alone, and I have been asked to notify the moderators if he does not. And so I did just that, with a screenshot as evidence in case he goes back to edit his post, as he has done in the past. But, seriously, I hate having to run and tell on somebody who is out of control of his own behavior, who cannot resist the sophomoric impulse to cross the line, who takes sadistic pleasure pushing people’s buttons. It ruins my experience of the board.
So at this point, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I have taken every measure I can imagine to get him to leave me alone, and he won’t do it. I have taken time off the board, for my own reasons that have nothing to do with him, and he is seemingly waiting to pounce the minute I return. It is a douche-bag-fatal-attraction-cyber-stalker-internet-troll double-feature horror show that never ends, which is ultimately the motivation for this entire 2749 word count blog post, which I have written specifically for this one person to read on MY blog that has my REAL name in it, which I assume he reads since he called such direct attention to that fact <em>which was not unknown to me</em>, and who is known to have stalked me on practically every social network out there.
Yes, I wrote all this tonight, staying up until 4:38 a.m., just so that I can ultimately convey a single, simple, and very direct message to YOU, Stalker, YOU know who you are:
So now, seriously, Stalker, leave me alone, you pathetic fuck. I have reported you to the board and will be sharing a link to this blog post with the board owner and moderators. Enough is enough. You’ve been warned enough times, and I am not playing games with you. You are way over the line, and this is where it ends. If the harassment continues, I will consult an attorney or detective to determine my options to take against you, and only you. Consider yourself warned.