55 minus 48: The darker side of the early years

Posted: 30 June 2019 in 55 minus, life, don't talk to me about life, personal, tech
Tags: , ,

I’ve never been stalked in real life; And I’m not for a moment suggesting in the entry that follows that being stalked online comes even close to the horror and fear that accmpanies someone being stalked ‘in real life’, in person, in other words.

But I’ve been stalked online, and received what I considered to be genuine, credible, threats, and it’s not pleasant, to put it mildly.

It’s happened a couple of times – two where I’ve gotten the authorities involved – and in retrospect, what strikes me isn’t how surprising it was that anyone gave a shit about me – which should still be utterly shocking, lets’ face it – but how… genuinely vulnerable it makes you feel.

The following is about one of them, in the early days of my time online.

Back in the day, I helped run a couple of CompuServe’s Forums. One was the UK Current Affairs Forum, prevously the UK Politics Forum. Another was CompuServe’s Jewish Forum. I was a member of half a dozen Forums, but they were the only two where I actively helped run them.

On the whole, my experience in Forums were great ones: I learned a lot, made some good friends, and they were great introductions to the pleasures and pitfalls of putting opinions out there. Some of the friends I made as a result of my presence in CompuServe Forums are friends to this day.

(I recently joined Instagram, which is a flat out weird one for me, and when I went though my contacts, as to who to follow, some of them were people I first met back on CompuServe, some over twenty years ago…)

So, yes, most of my time on CompuServe was fun, and objectively beneficial.

But then there were the less pleasant aspects; take the time we booted someone from the Jewish Forum for persistent breaches of Forum Rules.

Every Forum had its set of rules. Some were simple: don’t abuse, don’t post sexual images, and… that’s about it. Some had long sets of rules, dozens of them, covering everything from “use your REAL name here” to the maximum size of images posted in messages.

The Jewish Forum, for example, didn’t have that many rules. But one of the biggies was no proselytising, no “you’re all wrong and should accept Jesus into your hearts!“. (For the reasons why a Jewish Forum would have that rule, see here and here.)

Now every Forum, every message board, had their idiots, their abusers, their ‘I have my rights!‘ crowd.

The trick was to control the harmless idiots and expel the harmful ones. Most times, I think we got it about right, most of the time. And when you don’t, when you over react, or under react, the lesson you then learn is possibly the most valuable of all.

And to be fair, when you did sling someone out, most of them just licked their wounds and either apologised… or moved on.

With some, who were thrown out of forum after forum, who joined merely to abuse and insult, you soon realised that their etire purpose was to abuse and insult in the hope they’d piss off people enough that they’d get thrown out. It was a wish I was more than willing to grant.

But even among this group, most were sensible enough to know that it was more sensible to try their luck in another venue, rather than try again in one they’d already polluted.

But there were some who would be so offended by our showing that there were consequences to abusing others… that they’d become determined to hit back. They’d be so upset, that their ‘freedom of speech’ to abuse and insult was infringed, that their determination to abuse and insult would be redoubled.

And one chose to make it his business to trash me and attempt to trash my reputation.

Among the more charming messages written to (or about) me on at least six other Forums, using one or more of his 18 separate IDs (!) were:

Alas we meet again.I’M glad YOUR brothers DEAD.Just remember I hate you,brit.

 

We know where you work.where you live.we hired a pi.the games are just starting.its all in good fun.i hope you continue to play along.i will win.you will lose.i’m going to help you lose your job.lets make a bet on it.

 

I hear your mother was a whore and you are really a nazi.i think its time for you to lose your job.lets make a bet that you will be un-employed in one years time. So many people hate that you don’t where or who or what is against you. Your mother is a coward and so are you. We made printouts of your photo and sent them to all kinda intresting places bitch.

 

Can i fuck your wife in the ass ?.your son can watch.

 
And the latest? Oh, this one will cheer all of you out there that read comics…

Why are you into comics ?The word around the office is that you use comic books as bait for meeting minors.

And remember, this was merely beause we threw him out of The Jewish Forum for abusing others, breaking the rules, and, not for nothing, proseltising.

I’ll admit to being slightly amused when he turned up on yet another Forum, with an ID of “GOPSenate” suggesting that I was a danger to American National Security.

As another member, commenting that he didn’t know how much of a danger to National Security I was: “After all,” he continued, “if you can’t trust a guy who shows up out of nowhere with a bagful of incoherent abuse and return address of ‘GOPSenate’, who’s left?”

His final messages before I’d finally had enough suggested that I was a paid up member of a pedophilia advocacy organisation, that I installed spyware on every forum member’s computer, and that the police were investigating taking my son away from me.

I was lucky, I’ll acknowledge. I had the resources, the anger, and the experience to do something about it.

So I did. I downloaded all the archive messages, and did a search for messages he’d posted in other forums…

It didn’t take me long to find the state in which he lived. It took me a bit longer to find, and confirm, the city in which he lived. It took me a lot longer, back then, to narrow it down to the suburb. I already had an idea of his real name. Even back then, once I had his location, it was relatively easy to confirm it.

And that, together with a small payment to their white pages, gave me his work and home addresses.

After that effort, it then took me only about five minutes to find the contact details for the local police department.

Given that the call came out of the blue, and the police detective they put me through was obviously – back then – less than familiar with ‘the internet’, he was great. He listened calmly, took notes, and asked me to fax through the ‘message… board… posts?’

I did, the following day, and that evening got a call back from a more senior detective. I still remember thinking that his voice didn’t so much express anger or upset through words but as an low, very low, but persistent growl. He was not happy. He was very, very not happy.

Not with me, he hastened to assure me, but that a resident of His Town (the capitals were implied) was

1) that abusive
2) that insulting
3) ‘that damned stupid’

The insulting he accepted was unpleasant, but… the nastiness was unpleasant but…

However, the going into the Jewish Forum and proselytising “well, now, that’s just not… that’s… no. Just, no.” And the stuff about children. “Well, now, that needs to… Stop.”

He explained I had two options:

I. I could make a formal complaint, it would go through the usual processes, and if charges followed — he was sure there was some law being broken — I’d likely have to come over to testify if it went any further.

II. I could ‘leave it with’ him, and he personally guaranteed I’d hear no more from the, he hesitated before saying the word, “…the man.”

I chose the latter.

I have no idea what happened next. I have no idea if – or whether – the senior police detective went to visit the resident of his town… no idea whether he put the fear of god into him, no idea whether he threatened him…

But after a year of constantly abusing, constantly insulting, constantly re-appearing and insulting and abusing, he… disappeared. He just stopped.

So, I’ve no idea what happened.

Well, that’s not quite true.

I’ve an idea or two.

See you tomorrow, with something else.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

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