Don’t you just hate it when we LL&L ladies toss out the occasional “serious” blog post? Well, I’m sorry, but it’s about to happen again.
A few weeks ago a fellow author friend texted me in a panic. Someone had written to her and the content was familiar. Too familiar. Eerily familiar. Like stalker familiar. We talked about it a bit and realized that this person had probably spent an awful lot of time reading her social media. Not just her status updates and tweets, but her comments on other people’s status updates. They read all these random bits of her commentary and it was enough to piece together a frighteningly accurate picture of her life.
This kind of thing can happen to anyone, but when you are a public figure—as we authors are—the risk of connecting with someone who takes things a bit too far is significantly increased because, in our attempts to reach new readers, we intentionally interact with strangers. Not only do we interact, but we try to connect and when we feel a connection has been made, we oftentimes let our guard down.
We forget that we are talking to a stranger who can easily misrepresent him- or herself, and sometimes “fans” hide in the shadows and never present themselves at all. We comment on things that we don’t connect with other things, forgetting that others might.
Remember when agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg was attacked while on her way to pick up her kids from school? As a refresher on the case, she rejected an author who knew enough about her schedule based on her social media usage to know when and where she would be AND what she was driving.
Crazy can present itself anyplace and anytime and from anyone. We can’t protect ourselves 100% of the time, but there are some things we all need to remember. About.com has a great article on online safety, but here are few quick reminders:
- Whether you sell 50 books or 500,000, once you are published, you are a public figure and strangers are suddenly much more interested in your life.
- Social media is your friend, but it can also be your worst enemy. Never share names and locations of your children or family members on your public persona page.
- Using apps like FourSquare or Facebook Check-in confirms your location and can disclose more information than you may intend. If you frequently check in at a coffee shop or restaurant, you’ve just made it easier for people to find you and subsequently follow you to other locations. Like your home.
- Photos of your children are cute, but save those for your personal account where you are sharing them only with your “real” friends and family.
- Just because you delete a post, doesn’t mean someone hasn’t already copied or shared it. Once on the internet, always on the internet so think before you post.
Okay, so I may sound paranoid. But that’s because I am. Fourteen years ago, I had an ex who just wouldn’t let go. Things got bad. Very bad. When I finally went to the police to report what was happening, the officer taking my report made a very firm suggestion: Move before something bad happened.
I did and never looked back. But the paranoia lingers and when I hear things like what happened to my friend, it makes my pulse race and my hands tremble. There is a fear that comes with being stalked, a vulnerability that shakes you to the very core and it never really leaves.
The CDC estimates that one in six women will be stalked in their lifetime and an author’s chances of gaining this kind of attention is significantly higher because we are putting ourselves out there. The best way to avoid attracting unwanted attention is to make it too difficult for someone to find you to give you that attention.
Be smart. Be safe.
And I’ll stop being so serious before next week. Promise. 😉