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5 ways to tackle cyberstalkers & blog trolls

The essential guide to staying safe online

What to do

In many cases, victims feel they have very little ammunition - whether legal, technological or tactical - to stop the abuse. However, there are some things bloggers and other online contributors can do to try to avoid this kind of harassment or at least keep it from crossing into the physical world.

1. Know the trolls' tactics

According to Wood, the first rule for dealing with trolls is to avoid being deceived by them in the first place. Don't trust anything you receive or read without verifying the poster through known, reliable sources, he says. Also, ignore postings or private emails that are suspicious, such as those that praise, flatter or evoke a sympathetic response.

2. DFTT

This is one of the more important acronyms in the blog world, meaning, ‘Don't feed the trolls’. "Just like in-person bullies, trolls feed off your reaction”, Tim says. "Under no circumstances should you acknowledge the behaviour or repay it with anger or defensiveness. If you don't react, they'll get bored and go away."

Even if ignoring the harasser doesn't get him to stop, at least you won't fan his flames, Wood says. "The more a person responds, the more they teach the stalker about themselves or divulge information they shouldn't," he says.

3. Maintain your privacy

Don't publish any personal information, such as your address or phone number. If you need to, use a Post Office box number. Wood suggests asking your state's motor vehicles and voter registry to put a block on your address and phone number. "Otherwise, any person may obtain them just for inquiring," he says.

Some longtime bloggers, such as Bray and his wife Lauren Wood, a senior technical programme manager at Sun, refrain from posting photos of their children on their blogs.

4. Block and ban

If you're experiencing abuse on a moderated blog, you can appeal to the administrator, who can try banning the troll. Be prepared to include a history of the troll's posts, including full headers.

Some blog services offer technologies that enable you to block offensive participants. Using Wordpress, Silverstein can moderate the comments of anyone who hasn't contributed to the site before, which helps eliminate the hit-and-run type of trolls. "That allows me to weed out 90 percent of the abuse I get," he says.

Another plug-in enables him to ban certain IP addresses. "That's especially good for the really crazy people, if they post one comment that goes beyond the pale," he says.

5. Keep a log

Be sure to keep a copy of anything you receive from the harasser, Lauren Wood suggests. If they contact you by phone rather than email, take notes on what they say and how often they call, she says. "You'll need proof rather than, 'I think he was calling three times a day'," she says. "You'll want a log that says, 'He called at 9:14 pm’."

Above all, when you have an online presence, you need to prepare yourself for the possibility of becoming a target, Wood adds. "Just like in the real world, you need to realise which dark alleys you shouldn't enter at night, and if you do, have protection and know what you should do when," she says.

Adds Silverstein: You're very vulnerable as a blogger. You're out there hanging on the line, and anyone can take a shot at you."

www.computerworld.com


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