Patterico's Pontifications

1/23/2013

A Compelling Piece About Cyberstalking — And How It Could Have Been *Much* Worse

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:41 am

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a fascinating post about cyberstalking. The piece is truly compelling and there are far too many worthy passages to excerpt them all. I’ll summarize it, but invite everyone to click through and read it for themselves.

The author of the piece is a creative writing professor and freelance writer, who was stalked by one of his students. After her graduation, she begins an email correspondence with him. When it turns amorous, he distances himself, as her emails become more frequent and obsessive.

The stalker then starts talking about “unleashing the fury.” She then begins emailing the professor’s colleagues, telling fictitious stories about affairs he has had and sexual practices he has engaged in. She begins writing other acquaintances of his and accusing him of plagiarism. Her accusations to others always have a more measured tone than her private crazy correspondence to him, and she adopts a knowing and confident attitude about the stories she tells. The libel moves to Amazon reviews of his book, and soon she is insinuating that he may have raped her. The professor watches his online reputation go to pieces, and he starts to wonder what effect it is having on people he knows.

You don’t have to be a writer to imagine how it feels to find yourself the object of a malicious attack on the Internet. An ordinary negative review is depressing, but it doesn’t flood you with this sense of personal emergency, as if not only your book but your life, or at least that large aura of meaning that accumulates around your life and gives it value, is in imminent and dire peril.

Call that aura your “character,” call it your “good name,” your “reputation,” your “honor.” Whatever it was, as I read the review on my screen, I seemed to be seeing the first stages of some irreversible damage spreading into this nebulous yet indispensable entity. However crudely Nasreen may have been deploying the gestures of critical theory and gender studies in her attempt to brand me as a monster, it seemed to me that she had mounted a successful attack. Needless to say, her description of “The Siege,” like all her other accounts of my work, bears little resemblance to the story itself, but who was going to check? The semblance of an annihilating critique had been created, and for people browsing the Web, that is all that matters.

The multiplying effect of the Internet—the knowledge that anything on it can be infinitely reproduced—further increases one’s alarm at this kind of attack. So too does its odd nature as a mass phenomenon in which, paradoxically, one participates in the blindest, most solitary manner. Who else has seen what you have seen? Who believes it? Who finds it entertaining? Who has posted it elsewhere, e-mailed it to a friend? One never knows, but where malice is involved, one quickly succumbs to the worst suspicions.

As I read it, I recognized myself in that passage and several others.

If her aim as a “verbal terrorist” was to replicate the conditions of the nation at large inside my head, with its panics and dreads, its droning monomania, she succeeded triumphantly. Possibly the monomania was the worst of these effects: the increasing difficulty of thinking about anything other than Nasreen. In this respect her obsession with me achieved perfect symmetry: I became just as obsessed with her. I couldn’t write, read, play with my kids, do almost anything without drifting off into morbid speculation about what new mischief she might be getting up to.

Then there was the paranoia. This manifested itself in a number of ways, but the source of them all lay in Nasreen’s uncanny ability to orchestrate other people, or at least the illusion of other people, into her attacks. Paranoia requires a social context, and Nasreen’s incorporation of my personal and professional associates into her campaign supplied that very efficiently. It also requires a constantly shifting boundary between what one knows for a fact and what one can only imagine, and this too Nasreen supplied. All she had to do was introduce the concept of smearing my name and furnish a few concrete examples of having done so, and my anxious self-interest could be relied on to expand the process indefinitely.

The calculus was simple: If a person is prepared to falsely assert X about you, then why would they not also falsely assert Y? Why, in fact, would they not assert every terrible thing under the sun? And if that person has already demonstrably reported those terrible things to your agent, your boss, your colleagues, then why might they not also be in the process of reporting them to your neighbors, your friends, or indeed (as in due course she did) your local police station?

As horrifying as this man’s experience was, I thought to myself: he has no idea how easy he has it in several ways. One crazy cyberstalker can turn your life upside down — especially if they are smart, as this woman was. But the professor could always explain this to people by saying: “I have this one crazy woman who is stalking me.” Everybody understands that.

What if he had several?

He claims that she appeared to orchestrate matters so others appeared to take part in the attacks. But none actually did.

What if they did? What if she had recruited other cyberstalkers?

How could she have accomplished this?

Politics.

Instead of accusing the professor of deviant sexual practices or plagiarism, what if she could muster a paper-thin accusation that he had engaged in some political atrocity? And what if, instead of a writing professor, he were a politician or a political pundit?

If she had enough political allies on the other side of the aisle, she could make any crazy accusation and find a handful of people who would buy it. Think about it. How many times have you engaged in political arguments where people turn off their brains? Any piece of logic you offer is brushed aside. All that matters is the team.

What if you could recruit a whole team of cyberstalkers — all to aid you in a purely personal dispute?

Brett Kimberlin is a master of this technique. When he was in prison, he wanted nothing more than to get out. So he created a political story: he had sold pot to Dan Quayle. It was an outlandish accusation that was eventually rejected by the journalist who investigated it the most deeply — but it made a bold splash. People were only too happy to believe that Dan Quayle had smoked marijuana; it evoked outrage based on perceived hypocrisy. The scam worked. Doonesbury wrote comic strips featuring Kimberlin. A former U.S. Attorney General took his side.

It was all about getting out of prison, and making the federal government seem like a political enemy so he could portray himself as a political prisoner. But it worked. It suckered a lot of people.

Kimberlin never forgot that lesson, and when he tried to remake himself as a political activist, and people talked about his past, he targeted them. And he was smart enough to couch it all as a political dispute.

In this way, he was able to recruit partisans. They helped him create phony stories about his targets, all with a political veneer to attract suckers. The stories appealed to the reptile portion of the brain that turns off logic. By convoluting the story and making it sound political, he not only recruited allies in his cyberstalking, but he also encouraged bystanders to react by shrugging their shoulders. Whenever it seems like you have a partisan political dispute, judges and other bystanders want nothing to do with it.

The technique extends to attacking anyone reporting on the story as well. This frightens some journalists. There might be others who are intrepid enough to report the story, but if they’re attached to an organization, lawyers will keep them from reporting the most damning evidence, out of fear of being sued. As for the other journalists who report the story, attacking them makes them subject to an accusation that they are only writing about the story due to politics or personal reasons.

It is a very clever strategy. It takes clear-eyed people to wade through the convolution to the original source of the attacks: a desire to cyberstalk and smear anyone who dared write about the man’s past.

This is why I fiercely resist describing Kimberlin’s very personal campaign as political, even as I note how political partisans are getting roped in by his fables. This is why Stacy McCain resists being pulled into the story as a participant when he is trying to report it. They want to make it seem political. They want reporters to seem like participants. We are resisting their cynical techniques.

Go read the piece, and put yourself in the professor’s place. Then imagine 5 or 10 Nasreens instead of one, multiplying their slander across the Internet.

Welcome to the life of anyone who takes on Brett Kimberlin.

25 Responses to “A Compelling Piece About Cyberstalking — And How It Could Have Been *Much* Worse”

  1. Ding.

    Patterico (8b3905)

  2. For what it’s worth, things have gotten much better, as people have learned about these people and how crazy they are.

    Patterico (8b3905)

  3. “Here I was, a standard-issue liberal with unimpeachably correct views on everything, casting the shadow of some leering, reactionary bigot.”

    Yeah, sucks when that happens.

    If you go to the comments, you get the idea that “Nasreen” might be hanging around there.

    MikeHs (1a2353)

  4. Glad to hear things have gotten better.

    I’ve heard advertisements now for at least one company that monitors what is said on the web about a person or a business and acts to offset misleading information.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  5. Instead of accusing the professor of deviant sexual practices or plagiarism, what if she could muster a paper-thin accusation that he had engaged in some political atrocity? And what if, instead of a writing professor, he were a politician or a political pundit?

    Yeah, but, to some extent, therein lies the difference.

    Taking the 10, 000 ft view, people take their politics seriously, indeed passionately, and most who fancy themselves “political activists,” are all the much more so serious and passionate. Which includes sociopathic nutjobs like BK.

    Then, when one, as you, publishes a politically-oriented blog, expressing pointed ideological views, it serves as a honeypot, attracting attention from all manner of passionate political observers and activists. Which includes sociopathic nutjobs like BK. And when the blog is notable and effective, as yours is, it potentiates that effect.

    Or, as HL Mencken put it, politics ain’t bean bag.

    Not saying it’s right, or that you shouldn’t vigorously and aggressively defend yourself, just sayin…

    G Joubert (6b1747)

  6. Or, for comparison sake, can we even begin to imagine the sorts of harassments someone like, say, Rush Limbaugh has had to endure? Things that occurred behind the scenes, things that we never heard about because Limbaugh wanted to not publicize?

    G Joubert (6b1747)

  7. Gulp. Been there, got the TRO, saw it do no good.

    The crazy people, they are crazy. Killing them isn’t (usually) allowed. Get help the instant you wonder if this is happening.

    I don’t know if I’ll read the linked article or not. Talk about triggering. But if you have not been stalked, I’ll urge you to do so. The best way out of this trap is to see it and then avoid it.

    htom (412a17)

  8. I’m going to have nightmares.

    htom (412a17)

  9. I spent some time blogging about an online bully called Jacqueline Sperling.

    In that case, even knowing one of the victims, the story presenting by the bully was a disturbingly consistent narritive.

    Sadly, when it went to court the judge bent over backwards to judge that the bully had fallen just under the last hurdle needed to grant a restraining order, and she took that as a licence to continue unrestrained.

    My sympathies to our host.

    scrubone (e7e0ea)

  10. (Oh, and if you google the name, you can see at the bottom of the page someone decrying the suffering of the bully.)

    scrubone (e7e0ea)

  11. The BK’s of the world need to be locked away somewhere where they can never see daylight, or another person, again.
    In the next cell should be the world’s supply of internet hackers.

    askeptic (b8ab92)

  12. G Joubert,

    You have completely and totally missed the point of my post — and in so doing, have provided an object lesson that makes my point for me.

    My post about Kimberlin was not politics. It was journalism about a person’a past.

    More particularly, my subsequent coverage of him has centered around exposing his tactics. Again, not partisan politics, but journalism.

    But he has convinced people — even you — that this is a garden variety political dispute. And that causes you to shrug your shoulders.

    I’m warning against using a manufactured political dispute to mask cyberstalking performed for personal reasons.

    Patterico (90595d)

  13. Or, for comparison sake, can we even begin to imagine the sorts of harassments someone like, say, Rush Limbaugh has had to endure? Things that occurred behind the scenes, things that we never heard about because Limbaugh wanted to not publicize?

    I’m not entirely sure what your point is. Has he been targeted? You bet. Is his harassment extensive? No doubt. Then again, his voice and range of support is also far greater. I dare say the ratio of harassment to ability to fight back is higher in my case than most.

    To my knowledge Rush has not been swatted. Which of course I cannot prove was done by Kimberlin or his supporters. But if it wasn’t, someone worked hard to make it look like it was.

    Patterico (fcc20b)

  14. Several years ago someone reposted a letter I wrote that was published in a local newspaper. He added disparaging comments about me and included my street address and place of work, information that he had apparently looked up on the internet. This was from a total stranger based solely on his disagreement with my position on a local issue.

    After he refused to remove the personal information about me, I contacted his ISP, and fortunately the post was removed. I couldn’t imagine the hell you’ve been through.

    aunursa (7014a8)

  15. “For what it’s worth, things have gotten much better, as people have learned about these people and how crazy they are.”

    And this is ultimatly how my friend got her bosses confidence back – once she served court papers the person who’d tried to get her fired went balistic on her blog. Ultimately, that mask of sanity can’t be universally maintained.

    scrubone (e7e0ea)

  16. Patterico,

    Just so you know, I’m not trying to argue with you. I hope I didn’t miss your point, and I don’t think I did. I know this isn’t a garden variety political dispute, which is the camouflage BK hides behind, and it leads to others just write it all off as mere political bickering, which it isn’t. I get that.

    I’m trying to add the point that those engaging in political commentary, criticism, and opinion-giving, be it Limbaugh or a noteworthy blogger, attract a special sort of kook not elsewhere seen: kooks who in addition to being kooks are also imbued with the fervor of being True Believers. And by calling them “kooks” I’m not minimizing their dangerousness or maliciousness. These people will do just about anything for their cause, with an ends-justifying-the-means mentality. That’s how you picked up BK and whomever it was that swatted you. These are not your every day stalkers. These are obsessed amoral activists.

    In addition to not being taken seriously because “it’s just a political dispute,” there’s another thing at work too. Those advocating for conservative views are usually marginalized. Imagine a role-reversal. If it were tea partiers who were doing the lawfare thing, or if you were a liberal being attacked in the same way by conservatives, I can’t help but think that those in authority, including LE and the courts, would be pursuing and taking the whole thing, including your case, more seriously.

    G Joubert (ff1789)

  17. How about focus on the actual circumstance, the tea party was slandered with words they didn’t say, actions they didn’t take, certain parties forced the Bush administration to release Gitmo detainees,
    the most recent ones, were behind the attack in Benghazi, and previously another, directed the underwear bombing plot, for AQAP, we could refer to a stream of bogus lawsuits directed at a certain political figure,

    narciso (3fec35)

  18. G Joubert,

    Gotcha. Sorry if I jumped down your throat unfairly; I thought I had detected a “man up, politics is a tough business” flavor to your commentary. If that’s not what you meant then I guess I overreacted.

    As for your point that liberals would get more attention: it’s hard to shake the suspicion that you are right. After all, look at what our friend the stalked professor says in his piece:

    The Amazon postings came down, but others went up, portraying me as a racist, a thief, an all-round creep. Here I was, a standard-issue liberal with unimpeachably correct views on everything, casting the shadow of some leering, reactionary bigot. “It’s worrisome that he teaches at colleges … .”

    Ah. See, I have been called a racist, a creep, a scam artist, and plenty of other things by the Kimberlin/Rauhauser crowd. And it was every bit as untrue and unfair when they said it about me as it was when Nasreen said it about our friend the professor. And yet, it seems, because I hold views that are not liberal, and that the professor does not consider “unimpeachably correct,” it appears that the very same lies being told about me should not occasion the same surprise as he felt when they were said about him.

    Is that sort of feeling widespread among the left? I bet it is fairly so, yes.

    Patterico (8b3905)

  19. Indeed, Team Kimberlin tries to bait those of us following his saga with personal attacks. Several comments made about me would probably make good fodder for a defamation suit, but, as Stacy McCain points out, that would make me a part of the story rather than an observer reporting on it.

    I don’t think that I should take their bait.

    W. J. J. Hoge (9c4b9d)

  20. This whole thing is going to come crashing down on them

    EPWJ (c5f1fc)

  21. Indeed, Team Kimberlin tries to bait those of us following his saga with personal attacks. Several comments made about me would probably make good fodder for a defamation suit, but, as Stacy McCain points out, that would make me a part of the story rather than an observer reporting on it.

    I don’t think that I should take their bait.

    My main problem is figuring out how to establish damages when the defamers have no credibility.

    Patterico (8b3905)

  22. This is what drives me mad when I think about the Walker v. Kimberlin et. al. cases being dismissed. The judge bought into the “it’s an internet political fight” narrative that BK was spinning.

    I have the feeling that the judge leans a bit to the left too, so he was willing to give his fellow liberal a little bit more slack…or not allow any slack to the conservative…while deciding the case.

    Grrr. It still pisses me off. pardon my french.

    Monitor (b25807)

  23. Good post, Pat. Good discussion so far, too. This story interests a lot of people, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

    I think Mr Joubert is correct that the ‘right wing extremist’ smear has managed to marginalize this issue with some officials in a way that thwarted justice. For example, it’s pretty shocking that local Maryland papers didn’t cover the frame-up of Aaron. Between the lines of some of the transcripts I do get the impression that some internet activism is more equal than others, in a way that limited what to me should be a lot of outrage.

    Team Kimberlin does a great job getting the message out there to folks that there are consequences for refusing to just stand aside to let people be wronged by them. In my personal experience, they try to make clear that ‘this isn’t between us and you, if you just shut up now’. Then if you don’t, they post a few comments about your painful demise, a photo of your house on a terrorist fansite, mention your loved ones. In Patterico’s case the logic of this kind of thuggery is clear. He’s got this huge blog and shines a bright spotlight. In my case, the political conspiracy smears and other smears seemed ridiculous. What do they even care if a commenter on a few blogs criticizes them? Well, apparently they were trying to send a message to other people.

    But there’s a lot of good out there. So many folks finally stood up and started speaking up. Unlike with me, they had already seen the ‘consequences’ when they decided to get involved. Eventually there were many, some of them quite well spoken (like Mr Hoge). How do you tear down dozens of people with nasty conspiracy theories without sounding like a maniac? You don’t.

    It’s a huge relief for me. I’m not a talented blogger or writer, and I also simply do not have the time if I were. But I don’t need to sweat that anymore. Hundreds of folks at minimum care about this (based on the Popehat poll). That’s been the cool part of this largely frustrating and sad story. Whenever the smearing and the lawfare and the attacks on family are mentioned, my first thought is that so many people saw all that and decided they needed to take a stand. There is still something really powerful still alive in this country that won’t let evil pass unanswered.

    Some of the people wronged have turned out to be jerks or maybe mentally in some kind of trouble, but on balance I’d rather help out a nutty jerk than give pathological evil a break.

    Indeed, Team Kimberlin tries to bait those of us following his saga with personal attacks. Several comments made about me would probably make good fodder for a defamation suit, but, as Stacy McCain points out, that would make me a part of the story rather than an observer reporting on it.

    And they are judgment proof. And a lot of these attacks do not convince anyone worth worrying about (no damages). At least that’s my reaction to some of the stuff they’ve said about me.

    Dustin (73fead)

  24. The judge bought into the “it’s an internet political fight” narrative that BK was spinning.

    Yep. Their strategy was better than I had thought it was. I didn’t think that kind of explanation would waive all the harm done. I honestly don’t think it would if the partisanship were reversed, but maybe/hopefully I’m wrong about that.

    There were other defects which opened the door, but I think the reason that door was utilized was that ‘this is all a political thing’.

    Dustin (73fead)

  25. This is so much worse than what I went through in the late 60′s. How is it that the people doing these things are not being put away, either for psychiatric care or in prison?

    htom (412a17)


Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.1983 secs.