Cyberstalking in Ireland

I was talking with Matt Cooper from Today FM’s “The Last Word” this evening about cyberstalking (see also this G2 crime article).

As an administrator at, I (and my fellow moderators) encounter this quite a bit, where someone has been tracked down by either an annoyer or a serious stalker and their content or account on is being used as part of a campaign against them. Sometimes we have requests by users to have their account (or a particular post they’ve made) deleted, so that their username (which may indicate who they are) is no longer linked to the posts they’ve made. There is also a responsibility for bulletin board owners to remove users who are threatening or being abusive towards others via their service. Ex-romantic partners may happen on anonymous posts and read something that made them realise who the original poster was, or they find posts in which they or later partners are mentioned, and then regurgitate sensitive bits to mutual friends. Work colleagues may find some personal tidbit about someone which will quickly make its way around the office. Or someone might just be obsessed (e.g. as with Glenda Gilson) or pick on you at random, which may be what happened to Galway writer Fred Johnston:

A well-known Galway writer was stunned this week when he received a sinister e-mail threatening to kill him if he didn’t pay the sender a substantial sum of money. Fred Johnston, an author and poet and director of the Western Writers’ Centre, received an e-mail claiming to come from an individual who had been paid to “terminate” him, and offering to hand over information on the person behind the transaction in return for a larger sum of money.

As I’ve mentioned previously in relation to online social networks, there are a few basic rules that should be followed when posting information online:

  • Use your common sense, and don’t post anything that you wouldn’t give to a stranger in the street. That includes your phone number, your address, your birthdate, etc.
  • Try not to use your real name or your e-mail address in your online nickname or posting account.
  • Keep your work e-mail details separate from accounts used for forums or blogs where you post informally – get a Hotmail or Gmail account for such activities. And don’t give any account password to your partner unless there’s a very good reason to do so (see the G2 article above).
  • Be careful about posting potentially damaging information about your relationships with professional colleagues or friends / family, or personal specifics about yourself (because even though you may be posting anonymously, it can be very easy for someone to put 1+1 together and figure out who you are).
  • If you post inflamatory statements about something or somebody, be aware that doing so under your own name may lead to a campaign of hate against you. And if you post defamatory statements, be prepared for legal action.
  • There is effectively a permanent record of what you contribute to the Web (if you let slip something you shouldn’t about your workplace or family, sometimes even if the original site disappears). It may be on the original site you posted on, in Google’s cache, in the Wayback Machine at, or someone may just save it to their own site or computer. Remember that when you post something sensitive – it could well be there forever – for your parents, your kids, your boss, your future employer to see (even after you’re dead, as we do have some posts from users who are no longer with us).
  • Blogging is a powerful medium due to its open nature and public contributions, but it is this openness that means that whatever you say can be read by all and people can build up a picture of who you are and what you are doing (even if you don’t realise that they are reading / actively following your blog). Some people mistakenly think that their blog is only being read by a closed circle of friends; if it’s publicly accessible, Google / anyone can get it and forward it to others.
  • Do not arrange to meet anyone you’ve only talked to online alone in the real world (see dating guidelines below).

I’m not trying to make people paranoid, but it is no harm to be careful about what you contribute. There is already a huge amount of publicly-available information about individuals ranging from phone book entries to local government planning applications and objections, and it will become easier to link this to less formal information such as blog posts or photos taken (of you, by others) at parties or other events.

Also, Redshift from compiled a very sensible set of personal safety guidelines for those thinking about online dating. If you are considering using the Internet for dating, you should definitely give these a read through.


9 thoughts on “Cyberstalking in Ireland”

  1. Very interesting and well put together action post. While I personally haven’t followed it to the tee, I have pretty much engaged using the same criteria.

    Some years ago I used to post to a newsgroup and ended up receiving very nasty and personal emails from a woman who believed I was dating an ex of hers from the group, I wasn’t. She also emailed others from the group with the same bile about me. I ignored it at the time, but a year ago she actually phoned my house despite being based in the States.

    I learned from that though I never posted anything I wouldn’t be able to either stand by or have thrown at me, I think 🙂

    People can easily put one and one together, I actually realised one of the posters in the newsgroup was a pal of mine from Ireland who now lives in the States. Despite her having a nickname not related to her own. That was mad.

    While I have been vocal in my fears about young people on Bebo etc if they were following guidelines like this I wouldn’t be apprehensive at all.

    Excellent post.

  2. Sirs – I am delighted someone is addressing the problem of ‘web-stalking.’ I remain amazed that the Web discussion site, Indymedia Ireland, continues to profess that it does not have any way of knowing who is posting what, no way of uncovering who may be posting malicious, even hate-filled comments: this is a common and usual defence given by Indymedia Ireland when one protests that they have been libelled or defamed on the site in a posted Comment. It seems incredible that any responsible site where comments can be posted (a) permits unmonitored anonymous contributions, and (b) has no facility through which a contributor must log-in, for instance, such as a password. Logging-in almost certainly, as I understand it, makes it possible for some track to be kept of who the logger actually is. I have been constantly harrassed on the Indymedia Ireland website, and though it is not difficult for me personally to identify, or believe I can identify, the poster of the offending comment, nonetheless Indymedia Ireland maintain that they have no record whatsoever of who posts Comments or of their origins! Is this possible? Any advice?

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