As a child I used to watch Scooby doo – the animated series about a great dane named Scooby and his gang as they go on the adventures in the mystery machine, and at the end of each episode, the monster would be unmasked and revealed as a person – this rings true even today, long after we have stopped watching the adventures of Scooby and the gang. Often, the monsters we fear are people lurking in the shadows, just out of sight, making their presence known just enough to create terror in our hearts.
Sadly with the kind of technology, connectivity and online presence we have, it becomes easier for these monsters to find us online and then use the information we so happily share, piece it together and find us offline as well. Online stalking, threatening, etc., is more common than any of us would like to believe. Unfortunately platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn gives these malicious elements of the society easy access to millions of profiles including their preferences, geographical location, their photos, their family and friends, etc.
Earlier this week, one of my social media accounts was subjected to a slew of hateful, threatening messages from a man I do not know. I have no mutual connections with this man and I am very sure I have never encountered him in my life, ever. Yet, he had decided that I had wronged him somehow and warned me that I had better answer his questions (if I knew what was good for me) before he was provoked to take more dire steps to reach me. He really wanted me to know that he hates me and can easily get to me or my family members. The tone of these messages scared me enough to delete and block this man’s account. However, the very next day he had created (what appeared to be) a new profile just to send me messages. This time the messages were more sinister and sent me to a mode of sheer panic, enough to file a formal report with the local law enforcement agency.
As I read these messages dripping with hatred, I had an out of body experience, I had to re-read it a few times before the malice began to sink in, my body started to shake involuntarily, I started pacing in my office, my heart-rate through the roof, I thought I was going to throw up. I kept wondering how the words of a stranger on a computer screen could have such an effect on me when I was in the “safe” confines of my office.
It felt strange to realize that we live in such a little bubble, completely oblivious to strangers who are watching us and (apparently) their hatred.
I have been a survivor of stalking even before the era of social media, and I ended up moving and changing my numbers and practically disappearing off the face of the earth, fell out of touch with all my friends because I was unsure of which of my friends was giving my stalker information about my whereabouts. I lived in constant fear for many years before finally feeling safe enough to reconnect with my friends on social media.
Today, this same premise seems to have returned for me to handle, only this time I don’t know the monster who lurks in the shadows, or what he wants, or what he’s capable of, and that probably is the thing that is still making me feel terrified.
I am presently living in a state of fear for the safety of my loved ones and myself.
Social media platforms and their ever changing privacy polices make to our information being accessible to more people than we realize. But being a survivor of such a thing in the past, and being a Lawyer myself, I tend to be quite vigilant of the privacy settings, and yet some monsters find a way. Its up to us to be careful, report such abuse and pray for the best, because after all better safe than sorry.
It also begs the question, what is the true price of having an online presence? Could it be at the expense of our own safety? Is it worth it?
Perhaps the scariest thing in the world is you never know someone’s true intentions with you.
Until next time, stay safe.