If you only read one of my posts, please read this one. A slight departure from my usual blogging which I try to keep work/job/career/employability focused.
I have ummed and erred over whether I should write about this but when telling friends about it they said it is good “blog fodder” and that other people may benefit from my warning. I love using social media both for work and personal stuff but I recently encountered something that made me super scared. Apologies to my friends who saw my cryptic status about “a harsh reminder about the dangers of social media” all will be explained.
I wanted to write about this, not for attention but so that people I know recognise that there is a darker side to posting frequently or in detail on social media. Perhaps this is mainly aimed at people younger than myself but hey I’m in my twenties and only just got this hammered into me. It all sounds a bit dramatic but it’s not that bad now time has passed. I also think there is a point to be made about learning from my naivety and also about how people, especially women can be reluctant to report these sorts of things to the police.
So what happened?
I used to have a page on a social media site which come people use as an alternative to Linkedin. I had forgotten I even had a page on there until December of last year when I received several messages from a local man asking me to contact him. At first it was “likes” and “[x] is impressed by your profile” the messages then became more pressing asking me to contact him (phone and address were given) because I “look lovely” I was less than impressed and so deleted my account.
I thought that was the end of it. I should have reported him to the social media site but thought deleting an account I had forgotten about anyway would mean it was out of sight, out of mind.I should have reported him to the site while I was still a member.
However this was not the end of it. A colleague of mine checked my pigeon hole at work for Christmas cards and bought back two envelopes with handwriting I didn’t recognise. One contained a Christmas card with a simple, non threatening message along with a photo. The other was a lengthy CV and character references. This was obviously an attempt to verify who he is. But I am not interested.
All he had had to contact me was my name and occupation, that was enough for him to google my work address and have post sent to me.
This doesn’t sound too harrowing a tale right? Just weird…
How did it make me feel?
I was scared, having previously suffered with anxiety and panic attacks and having similar experience with unwanted contact before this was upsetting. I tried to hold it together in front of my boss and colleague. I had to report it to the police (local police, I did not use 999). The person on the phone was helpful and calm and logged it as “unwanted or unwarranted contact”. However it was evident that this person had not done anything illegal so the police weren’t about to approach him for sending messages online or letters. They advised me that if anything else happens of a similar nature to call the same number and if he approaches me to tell him he has been reported and to call 999 if he tries to harm me. While I was on the phone the person I spoke to said “you sound remarkably calm about this, I am guessing that’s not how you feel inside?” I replied “that’s about right” it was important I kept it together and was clear and concise in my replies so they could get adequate detail from me.
I didn’t feel safe for the next couple of days going to and from work however I had the Christmas break coming so I used that as a “refresh button” and decided I wouldn’t be worried about it come the new year.
A silver lining??
Things he sent me were not received by me until over a week after he had sent them. In that time I had not been approached at all.
None of this was sinister or threatening. It was only past experiences that made me upset. This is clearly (and hopefully) a person who simply isn’t aware of the consequences or perceptions of their behaviour. They could just want a pen pal or correspondent, they may want a job or to assert their experience or knowledge somewhere.
This is backed up by the fact that since I started writing this post I have received more mail in my work pigeon hole, without a note or message. I don’t feel as intimidated or scared by it as on the face of it, it is anonymous and doesn’t bear any threat. I have had to report to the police again to keep them updated. The last phone call I made to the police I was asked “what do you want us to do about it?” again he had not done anything illegal. I can see now why I have been reluctant to report things of a similar nature in the past and why other women may not see the use in alerting authorities if they experience unwanted contact such as this. However I must stress the importance in reporting this sort of thing! It is vital authorities know so that if things do take a turn for the nasty they can act on it and you have been clear from the start.
What else did I do about it?
I reported him to the site despite the face I am no longer a member. They replied quickly and issued a warning to the user. I don’t know what that warning contained or if he paid attention to it but they did what they could their end and I am grateful for it.
Aside from telling the site and calling the police I made sure I talked to people about it. I told some friends and my parents (not all at once just when I had the chance). I was not going to bottle this up. Friends were supportive and brilliant, I was interested to learn that some people I spoke to were not overtly concerned for me until they read that he is a MUCH older man. I don’t know whether this is because they have a perception that I am quite an out-going individual who can “handle themselves” or because of cultural/societal assumptions about age difference or appropriateness. One person said “doesn’t he know you have a boyfriend?!” like that’s a reason for someone to leave you alone…
I thought about contacting him, replying to one of the letters simply to say “no thank you, please leave me alone” but I don’t want to dignify this with a response as it may lead to him believing channels of communication are open and that his behaviour is in some way acceptable. Ignoring it isn’t enough and should I receive anything else I will request the authorities do something.
I considered deleting myself from the internet from this link you will see that is a lengthy process http://www.wikihow.com/Delete-Yourself-from-the-Internet I have since decided it is not worth the hassle.
This has all led me to make a “new years resolution” to post less frequently on Facebook. I know a lot of my friends say I dominate their news feed and I don’t think I am completely aware when things I post in groups are in fact public. I will no longer be tagging myself in locations or posting mundane statuses on facebook. I have stripped back details about my work on my online profiles and tried to remove my full name from places as well.
I know I can be annoying on facebook and I think perhaps part of that is to do with feeling isolated now most of my friends have moved away from here and also to do with how opinionated I get about things in the news. Twitter remains the place where I post everything from mundane updates to blog posts. This blog will continue as I use it for work.
If you’ve stuck with me and read all of this I want you to know that I can sort of laugh at this now but at the time it was terrifying. I want to thank my friends who comforted me and my colleagues at work who were there for me when I freaked out at my desk.
The internet CAN be dangerous/scary but not if you use it properly. I don’t think this message should tell people to run away from it but just be cautious about your online image and how your portray yourself. It’s OK to post for friends etc and to keep in touch but you should keep track of what you put out there.