Given the break, you might think that I'd given up blogging - I'd actually shifted mode of communication. I'm sort of switching back, this post is about why. For those of a 'too lazy; don't read' disposition, the short version is I had switched largely to Twitter, but due to a family and friends harassment by a stalker, I've recently abandoned it. Anything using my real name will posted here, and that will largely be tech or professional type stuff largely. Anything else - be it personal, friends, volunteering, etc will be under a pseudonym, entirely unconnected to my real name.
As noted, I'd switched over to systems like Twitter. This seems like a great idea after all - everyone else in tech uses it, it's where all the cool discussions happen. What could possibly go wrong?
Without beating around the bush, I and my family have what is best described as a stalker. Like most stalkers, this person is well known to us, and like many stalkers, use any avenue they see as a route to abuse. That's why this site use a static blog system. It's why comments here are pre-moderated. It's why switching to Twitter was a bad idea in retrospect.
I'm not about to go into details here as to who, what, why, but will touch briefly on how, where and when.
Living with Stalking
The 'when' is essentially on-going over a period of of about eleven years. Sometimes there is a break - due to courts being kind and giving us some piece and quiet - but these tend to end - suddenly, without warning, and in entirely unwelcome ways. Then the abusive contact tends to be extremely intense for a period of weeks, months or longer. (Yes, we've involved courts at times, but there's practical limits - especially if the person involved is willing to libel judges)
The 'breaks' lull you into a false sense of security. Maybe this time they'll see the insanity of their actions and just leave us alone. However, you can repeat 'leave us alone' over and over again, dozens of times and they simply won't get the message. The point here is as a result, you can be completely lulled into a false sense of security, and then you get a contact from your stalker, and BAM you're instantly back into that frame of mind, as if there was no break at all... (Last year, the longest break was a couple of months)
Yes, this is very wearing, but it is what it is.
The 'where' is literally anywhere they think they can get hold of you. When we lived down south, this person knew where we lived. After one set of court protection was up, in order to gain a few weeks extras grace, we went on holiday abroad. When we got back, we put the house on the market, since this person had previously turned up our doorstop. We sold our house, and moved into rented accommodation. When the opportunity to stay working with the R&D came up, but move 200 miles away, we took it (a win-win scenario). Overall, in order to protect our privacy, we've moved house 3 times.
Online - GoogleStalk
When it comes to online however, every year it's harder and harder to stay unfindable. If you're in tech and want to stay connected, having some kind of public presence is almost obligatory. In professional circles, can you avoid linkedin? Innocent thanks for helping with community projects and youth groups leave an online trail. In short, the only real way to stay unfindable is to only use a pseudonym for everything online. Any system that requires your real name (which you must be searchable under even if you're 'also' allowed a pseudonym), well that's off limits. (Google, I'm looking at you) You also can't talk about things that could link back to you.
If you are findable, then this provides your stalker with information. Information our stalker twists round in their head to be used against me, and others who care about me. I could go into details, but I'd rather not.
The point is though but when you run your own server, and you see accesses to your website daily, at all sorts of time the day, and night (1, 2, 3, 4, even 5am) for months, and you have positively verified those accesses them, then it's a healthy paranoia. (Much like walking on pavements rather than the middle of the road is a healthy paranoia)
Online Stalking Consequences
To be forced only use a pseudonym online to avoid this is the equivalent of being forced to don complete head to toe disguise when you leave door. It's the online equivalent of being under permanent house arrest, because anything you do or say can and will be used against you as abuse. It's like being forced into the actions of being an agoraphobic without being one. You can't join in conversations with friends, because it will be used against you. You can't express delight at the actions of your family and shout it to the world, because it'll be used against you.
You can't really even talk about your work of things you do there except very carefully, in a very circumspect way. This is a problem of course. Like many places, at work one of the expectations we have is that we'll do things that are public, talk about our work publicly and openly, and I worked for many years to make public release of our code simple, and normal. A huge part of working with open source, again, public participation. If it's to do with work, this has to be under a real name, largely because in practice, otherwise people simply don't trust you.
So why break radio silence on this blog now ?
Well, as noted, I switched communications styles nigh on 2 years ago. I guess I switched to Twitter because it's more informal, friendlier, more personal, relatively immediate. While it can cause misunderstandings, they can be resolved quicker too. Also, back then, Twitter appeared to be heading down the right path (though they've veered in the wrong direction). I'll cover the details on that another time, since Twitter was the tool of abuse, not the abuser.
I mention Twitter though because in the lead up to Christmas our stalker broke one these silences for whatever reason, and once again making our lives hell (which continued throughout the Christmas and new year period incidentally off twitter). This time though I'd gotten used to talking to friends on Twitter and complained about the stalker's actions to my friends on Twitter, preserving the stalker's privacy. I gained kind supportive messages from people I know as friends, professionally, from work, and from the open source community.
At this point however, this individual decided to start sending abusive messages to these kind supportive people. By responding to my comments about the stalker's actions the stalker felt they had the right to attack them. Now it's one thing to attack me, but another to attack my friends, colleagues, etc.
My immediate action (after reporting the abuse, again) was to switch my account to protected - meaning only those who were following me could see my tweets. The stalker's account was already blocked, but I had reason to believe they were using another mechanism to track tweets. (The account that they were tweeting from didn't follow anyone, it was solely used for abusive purposes)
I then came the conclusion that the way I had been using Twitter no longer viable, and that leaving tweets there would just leave me to more abuse, so I deleted all my tweets from previous 2-3 years. Every single one. I did let my Twitter followers know what was going on (in more general terms than this post!), but to honest I doubt more than a handful really noticed, though some definitely did, and were very supportive.
I then had to decide 'what next', which of course means 'what now?' (Given Twitter is now untenable)
While I took that action nearing 3 months ago, and it does seem to have its intended effect (remove that twitter id as a target), we received an ongoing barrage throughout that time. As a result, I've been deliberately slow to decide what next. (Also, better things to do than deal with this crap)
Short version: real name for professional (or similar) stuff, or where using my real name matters, and only used where I have reason to believe I'm able to sufficiently trust the system.
Pseudonym for everything else. Neither account to ever reference the other.
Things with my real name on, will only go on systems where I can premoderate replies. As a result, my Twitter feed will switch over to bring largely unused, except for posting links either to this blog or things I read that are interesting, though I may well instead save those for a weekly interesting links blog post.
On the flip-side, not having my pseudonym linked to me, my name, or my employer should be interesting. While out doesn't mean complete freedom of speech, it will allow me to say more than I've said in a long while.
So, if there's no online link between the two (or more :-) identities, how will my friends know it's me talking to them? Simple: I'll tell them, happily and freely. I know I can trust them not to link the pseudonyms to me. Get in touch if I don't :-)
It sucks to have to do this, but the alternative is to cease using the internet as a social medium, and that would such even harder.