The Internet era, exposing information, then getting death threats

Today, I found out Michael Arrington of TechCrunch fame got spat on, but worse, he had death threats against him and his family previously (consequently, he will take a break during February to re-focus). It reminded me of what happened with Kathy Sierra, a while back, which made her stop blogging. Then it reminded me of the events of 2002, in where someone did the same thing to me.

When you’re public facing, and on the Internet, you tend to have a lot of your information spewed online. Social networking sites, and the constant need for you to share with others, helps drive the fact that any stalker can find information about you easily. Some even get their iPhone’s to update the Location field in Twitter automatically (wait, I think twibble on the Nokia phones does that too). We’re geotagging photos. Dopplr or TripIt tells others where you are planning to go – so this problem can also be cross-border.

We’re slowly giving up our privacy, to some extent. And we’re allowing malicious folk to know intimate details of our lives. Details that we wouldn’t mind sharing with a friend, but details that can be used to cause attacks, or even identity theft.

So, my question is: is this an online-only phenomena? I mean, journalists in traditional media do the same thing. OK, they have journalistic integrity, and the editors have strict guidelines to ensure that what is in print, isn’t drivel. Rumours tend not to be published, and everything is fact backed. Blogs tend to lack that, sometimes. Its harder to pinpoint and contact an individual journalist – you’ll just be getting to the editor. In a world where everyone can have the potential to be a journalist, without the integrity of one, is leaving yourself vulnerable online a good thing?

From a personal perspective, my incident about seven years ago hasn’t taught me much. I don’t paste my home address with GPS co-ordinates online anymore on my site – instead I use a PO BOX. But on social networking sites like Facebook, my friends get to see more details. With other people tagging photos of me, you even one even gets to see where I’m hanging out. And when I’m bored, I might tweet where I might be. And with geotagging, co-ordinates start showing up (especially if you have Location Tagger running automatically on the Nokia E71).

How do you deal with potential threats? Do you even think of it? Have you been threatened before?

Here’s hoping Mike has a good break and comes back blogging even stronger. Don’t give up!

  • “.. editors have strict guidelines to ensure that what is in print, isn’t drivel.”, hah.

    In short, no. Privacy and threats to popular people is not just an on-line phenomena.

    People I’ve discussed these issues with who share everything on-line, don’t seem to care much about privacy or the privacy of others. For the most part it’s not an issue for them, because people just don’t care about what they’re doing or who their friends are. So while the information is public, only their “friends” bother to care where they are and what they’re doing. It’s like the kid in school, who tells everybody what they did over the weekend and nobody listens to or cares. Then maybe they will go on a shopping mall shooting spree or something, but I digress..

    On the other hand, if you’re popular on-line, then it’s no different from the rules of being popular or a celebrity off-line. In part, it’s the information you share with others that “market” yourself, but at the same time, anything that you say in public on-line or not will be scrutinized and followed by many. Most people will have learned this lesson in high school or when they start working for a large organization that needs to keep an official or public image/stance. Being on-line just gives people a avenue to be popular, who have never been in this position before so it’s a baptism by fire for them.

    Like celebrities, you deal with the potential problems and threats due to the actions of your public life. I’m aware of it, therefore nobody knows who or how my family and friends look like. I’m also aware that I’m not pissing anybody off (yet) so not so worried about incidents. On the other hand, if you are going to make a statement that some group of people may find highly offensive enough to make threats, then you’ll have to consider whether to make that statement is worth needing to live with police escorts and a monitored phone like any other “celebrity”.

  • definitely had my own share of offline fits, threats & stalkers. but i learn the hard way to deal with it. most of the time, i learn how to deal with “public reactions” while i was still an artist roadie & while i was managing one buck short. and i think artists/celebrities are the right kind of people to write a book on how to deal with public perception, it takes an amount of finesse to pull it right.

    the hard lesson: just deal with it. the only way out, is out. out from the game, out from the race, etc. but if you want to stay in, you got to stay ahead of the race/game/etc, no matter what it takes.


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