You know too much

One of the exciting things about being on the internet is the ability to quickly and anonymously send messages. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive all kinds of interesting emails and notes – some of which border on the stalker.

I got one today, which I hope the sender will take as a light-hearted joke and not an invitation to send me a dead sparrow, that I would like to use as an example and also to make a point or two. I’m not suggesting that everyone who sends emails like this necessarily intends to come across as a stalker, but they don’t do themselves any favours and shouldn’t be surprised when I don’t reply.

Excuse the intrusion, but I stumbled upon your profile, and then was drawn in to your blog, and then got drawn in to your vast web presence.

Is he suggesting I’m fat? Regardless, it’s not strictly an intrusion, but it is a little weird that I’ve sent someone on a little personal tour of me on the internet.

I now feel like I know way too much about a complete stranger.

This is where the “stalker” alarm bells start to ring. How much does he know?

Have a nice time in Helston and (later) Petersfield.

Making sure I know he’s checked dopplr. I’m never quite sure how statements like this are supposed to come across. I tend to imagine circus music in the background.

My web presence extends to facebook and lastfm. That is it. I have no reason to be on anything else, simply because nobody would ever look.

This suggests “sympathise” or feel sorry for me. Also, if you’re suggesting you’re a loner, you’re encouraging that “weird” vibe. I’d suggest leaving a link at most and let the recipient make up their own mind.

Also, you would be the first person called Frances I’ve ever known. Actually NO. No you wouldn’t. I once worked at a summer play group in York with lots of little kids, and one of the little girls there was called Frances, and she was absolutely gorgeous and every day would make a big magic wand out of lego and pretend to be an elf. She would say “I’m a leeedle elvy”.

Comparing me to a small child, eh? I think this is the kinda thing my mother warned me about.

Feel free to ignore this message, I won’t be in the least offended.

It’s difficult to ignore messages that are basically telling you all about your own life, so I don’t think I can actively ignore it – I certainly wouldn’t like to encourage it though given the previous email content.

You know too much

I think what emails like this actually highlight is how easily we’re all putting relatively private data online, openly. If the above email creeps me out, it’s frankly my own fault. I update dopplr with where I’m going (although not specifically when) and allow my public profile to show this. I post all my photos to flickr without any privacy filters. I blog about inane things that happen to me. I post what music I like, what gigs I go to, what I love, what I hate, what I’m called, when I was born, where I’m from, who I spend time with… the list goes on. I make it incredibly easy for anyone to follow me around, and so do most of the people I know on the internet (professionally or not).

I’ve talked to people who work on the web about this before. Most of us have been using the internet for a pretty long time now, and have, in theory, learnt what is safe and not safe to put on the internet. We get concerned for “newbies” on the internet, our parents and children who are such “fools” for putting more than they should do on the internet about themselves and act very condescending towards them as if they’re doing things that we would never do.

We’ve all heard stories now of people losing their jobs over some drunkard photos of them on facebook, or status-updating that they’re not really sick – they’re just skiving, or people who are found out for cheating on their spouses. We think only internet novices do these things, because they don’t appreciate the difference between what should be private and public information.

I think the alpha-nerds can actually be much more vulnerable as they use ever more sophisticated technologies to keep internet up to date with who they are and where/what they do. We should all be taking a lot more care of ourselves, if we really believe that too much information is public.

Safety in transparency?

That might seem a bit scary, but sometimes I actually think it makes me feel a bit safer. If some wacko knows where I am at a given time, so do my friends and family – people who might have a genuine need to know where I am and that I’m OK. If something did happen to me, I imagine I’d be a fairly easy person to track the last where-abouts of, just through my activity. I’m always ambiently connected to an active community, even when I’m on my own.

Incidentally, I did receive an anonymous email a couple of weeks ago (this one I did reply to, actually) that seems like a good place to stop:

First time mailer, long time reader. Your blog ( has completely dried up. Are you OK?

10 thoughts on “You know too much”

  1. If you recall, it was through an open and trusting online presence that the New Orleans whack job found Kristen and I when we were traveling. This was someone with whom I had never had direct contact and whose existence even registered beyond my periphery.

    Point is, you never know who wants this information or why they want it. Since then, I’ve kept about anything personal behind filters. It’s a sound practice, and I strongly recommend it.

  2. Eric: I’d forgotten about that. That was pretty insane/scary.

    I suppose the problem is that some crazy person can just take a look at you on the street and decide to harrass you, too. I remember just walking up a path way behind this fella, who kept turning around to me and yelling at me to leave him alone. I turned off the path just to avoid it getting any more scary.

  3. I was randomly screamed/cursed at by some lady on the street who was having a Christmas day drug binge, or was off her schizophrenia meds the other day, and the whole idea of how randomly dangerous strangers can be has been on my mind ever since — like I’m not already paranoid enough! Now I’m worried about online crazies: cheers for that!

    Anyway the emailer doesn’t sound very very threatening to me but it’s still a good lesson: posting anything on the web is as good as hanging it on your own front door.

  4. You sound a bit agitated by this stalker, well I surely don’t blame you. I stopped blogging a while ago, took a break, still on a break. But yeah as a blogger I guess we have to be prepared of stalkers. Ofcourse we know at times we end up putting too much info on blogs what are we doing? where we went? how we felt? blah blah? but then isn’t that what personal blogs are meant to be? Online diaries with the choice of keeping our anonymity or not? I think you should be cool about it by now, its the choice you made.

  5. Funnily enough, I am on the same lines as this “stalker”. I trespassed your blog and seemed to enjoy it as much but without apologies. Really, keep it rolling, will probably trespass again soon. I enjoy your mild undercover sarcasm, its just like the right amount of salt on a bland english breakfast. ;)

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