Cyber Stalking: Anything But a Modern Love Story

The Styles section of this Sunday’s New York Times featured Amy Klein’s essay, “My Very Own Cyberstalker,” in its weekly Modern Love column. In the essay, Klein, a journalist, recalls meeting a fellow reporter, Luke Ford, who then writes about her in his blog. At first, the reporter’s posts seemed innocuous, e.g., he wrote that she favored skirts when she in fact never wore them and that she was shy. Then, his posts escalated into the frightening–“I’d like to bonk Amy on the head with a Talmud and drag her back to my Aborigine-style hovel and make her mine.” He also began to criticize her work as delusional and shoddy. The blogger apparently continued his fixation with Klein for years, and at times, Klein worried that his writing hurt her reputation.

With her history with the cyber stalker thus recounted, Klein’s essay then veers into the unpredictable and, by my lights, deeply disturbing. Klein attests that “it was oddly flattering to have someone obsessed with me, even someone like Luke Ford.” She explains that when the reporter finally began to fixate, and blog, about other women (i.e., younger reporters whom he deemed hotter than Ms. Klein), she was sad. She asks “why had he dumped me?” and admits to missing the attention.

Klein’s essay is stupefying and offensive. Klein seemingly equates her cyber stalker with a love interest and, in the process, makes light of a deeply serious problem—cyber harassment—that afflicts countless women every year. According to a 2006 study, individuals writing under female names received 25 times more sexually menacing comments than posters writing under male names. And Working to Halt Online Abuse reports that, in 2006, 70% of the 372 individuals that it helped combat cyber harassment were female and, in half of those cases, the victims had no connection to their stalkers. In response to cyber attacks, women tend to go offline or write under gender-neutral pseudonyms to avoid further harassment. Victims of cyber harassment also feel a sustained loss of personal security. In short, cyber harassment is anything but a modern love story. Such coverage trivializes the very real problem of cyber harassment and, in turn, sends the odious message that such stalking is not only acceptable but indeed desirable.

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6 Responses

  1. Katie says:

    Thank you for writing this – this is the kind of NYT Style section that gets really maddening. Not only did it make light of cyberstalking as you pointed out, it seemed to spend most of the second half reinforcing, entirely without critique or question, the old trope that women should be grateful for the attention they get, wanted or unwanted, particularly if they’re not young or conventionally pretty.

  2. Dana Nguyen says:

    Yes, thank you so much for this insightful post. That article was infuriating, and to me the discourse surrounding cyber harassment very much tracked how sexual harassment victims’ claims are often disbelieved and devalued. Also, such an article really undermines important conceptual and legal victories in the framing of harassed victims’ rights–either it’s all in our head, or we secretly want the attention and flattery. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Thank you again for writing a counterpoint.

  3. Kaimi says:

    I agree, Danielle. Thanks for pointing out the problems with the article. I’ve passed this along to some friends, and discussed the article in other forums. It’s a really problematic article.

  4. Danielle Citron says:

    Serious thanks, Kaimi, Dana, and Katie, for your supportive and illuminating comments. It is amazing that the Modern Love column published that essay with all of the submissions undoubtedly available to it. I sent my post to the editor there, but who knows if the response ever gets acknowledged. My article, Cyber Civil Rights, (which will be coming out in the Boston University Law Review in the spring/summer), will tackle how so often we brush under the rug online attacks of women and other vulnerable individuals. I would love your comments on the piece, which I will soon post to SSRN. Thanks, Danielle

  5. Bengt says:

    Danielle,

    Thank you for your rebuttal of the Klein article in the NYT and also thank you for all the work you do on cyberstalking and cyberlibel. Thousands of women’s have had their work and presence expunged from the Internet because of the attacks and slander they’ve been subjected to and rightly anticipate they will have to endure. This is especially true of those who work for the human rights of women, e.g. feminists and others.

    There is a rigorous self-censorship resulting from observing the many examples of male terrorism against women which consequently inhibits many women activists, writers, organizers, et al, from being able to use the Internet to exchange ideas and communicate with others.

    I’ve also seen that women of interest will not list themselves in Wikipedia as many who have have had their entries distorted and their reputations smeared. The cumulative effect of all this is that women are deprived of having any intellectual, political or cultural influence via the Internet on their own society. Instead, they are defined by men on the Internet as bimbos, harridans and bubbleheads in advertising,the arts and by the average Joe.

    BW

  6. carol Christoffel says:

    I befriended a man on a website tht promotes himself as a Native Prophecy keeper, pipe carrier,etcet. I even offered him a place to stay briefly when he fell on hard times. The man turned out to be very depressed and a mooch. I had to put him out. Later on his website when he began lashing out at anyone disagreeing with him on anything he began threatning to “prove” or print copies of my financial records, used abusive and vulgar names and false information on myself and others and urged tribal people to kill an Elder that he named a witch. Since calling out people as witches can,in fact, in tribal areas cause threats to ones life, he basically was trying to incite a murder.
    Quickly this man when challenged on his outragouse claims became psycho, ranting and ranting. No amount of reasonable posting seemed to help. Clearly he had “flipped” from inward deprssion to outward depression,RAGE. What can be done about the personal threats and dirty lies to myself and others? Or his trying to incite a crime? He goes from state to state under variouse names. I am afraid he might attemt hacking my computer next.
    Can I report him and to whom?