Moments ago, I placed an order for my first set of Mini moo business cards. I spent hours choosing the fonts and art. However, it should be noted, there is a gap on my business cards, a blank space for a phone number or address... it's blank because I am a woman.
It is not easy being a professional lady especially on the internet. The web creates a far reaching platform for ideas which can reach millions of people. Unfortunately, with a large audience, visible women can be targeted by creeps, trolls and in the case Anita Sarkeesian a vicious cyber mob.
It is certainly not fair women must worry personal safety on the internet, but we can take action to protect our privacy so we are not silenced or forced to hide. My own personal story of cyberstalking is at the end, but first here is how can you prevent stalking and what to do if some weirdo starts stalking you.
How to prevent stalking
Be careful with your personal information
Never ever post your home address on a website, blog or social media. Ever. The only reason you would need a physical address for would be e-commerce, but for that you can rent a PO box. Also, be careful with your personal phone number and email. It is good practice to have a business phone number and email. Bonus a business email looks very professional. Alternatively, create a simple contact form for your site where a person can submit their information in order to contact with you.
Check your Whois
It's a good idea to google your name, phone number and address to see what information pops up, but if you have a website it's very important to do a Whois search. When you register a domain your home address, phone number and email might be automatically posted to the Whois directory. I looked up my old domain using Tucows. Sure enough my personal information including my current and last home address was posted there. I contacted the domain register pairNIC and received instructions on how to enable the domain privacy. Godaddy requires you to purchase a privacy registration. Currently I'm with Squarespace which I believe automatically includes privacy protection.
Password Protection & Security
Use good password management and difficult reminder questions. "What city you were born in?" isn't helpful if your hometown is on your facebook page or mentioned on your blog.
Watch Out for Phishing
A weird phone call, or email? Don't give out your information or location. For freelance jobs you will have to fill out a W4 with your Social Security number. In these cases use your best judgment. How did you meet the client? Can anyone vouch for them? What pops up on a google search? It's good to know who you are working for no matter the situation.
Don't post your face? Some sites advised against posting personal photos. This I believe is a personal choice. I find the idea of hiding my face, because some weirdo might see it is overprotective. But that's me.
How to Stop a Stalker
Keep a Detailed Record
Download or print emails that are sent. Screen capture social media attacks. With calls write down the time, the number and what was said initially said. If they call back don't pick up, just write down the time and date. Don't respond to emails or other communications.
Trap those Calls
You don't have to change your number. You can use an app service like Trapcall. It will unmask blocked numbers and you can blacklist numbers so they don't get through.
Social Media Blocks
Unfriend, unfollow, or block them. Flag inappropriate posts. In serious cases, report them directly to the websites they are using stalk you. Be sure to follow up in 72 hours, to find out if they were given a warning or their account was closed.
Call on your support network to talk to about this. But choose those people wisely, as Brene Brown says "we share our stories with those who have earned the right" A lot of guys (and ladies too) might have trouble being empathetic. Having friends on alert is good in case virtual stalking becomes physical stalking. And here's a link for when stalking turns personal.
It came from the Internet! My personal stalking story
Three years ago, I spent a night on the cold concrete floor of the Denver Airport. I had missed the last connecting flight on the way to the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Conference in Olympia Washington. Finally arriving in Seattle the next morning, dead tired I went straight to bed. My phone rang. I didn't recognize the number, but I was the programs coordinator for the conference and thought it might be a speaker needing help. The voice on the other end was high pitched, tinny and possibly female. I couldn't understand what it was saying. "What?" It asked me if I was horny. "You've got the wrong number" I mumbled as I hung up and fell back to sleep. The next day driving to the conference I got another call. This time a highly accented male voice, was asking me about my website. At this pointing I didn't even remember the other call and thought this might be a possible client. Something felt weird. He ask where I was located to which I replied vaguely, New York. He asked about drawing nude women. At this point I stopped him "Have you actually seen my website? There are no people on it." It was then he asked me if I wanted to be fucked in the ass. Shouting curses I hung up. And then realised... that's probably what the creep wanted. EW! So for the next four weeks I kept getting unregistered calls at all times of the day and night. I was already under a lot of stress from the conference and the constant creep calls left me deranged. To get through, I would let all my unknown calls go to voicemail and turn my phone off at night. As soon as I got home I set up Trapcall on my phone and eventually the calls stopped. I was left little paranoid, but a lot wiser.