I’ve discussed ways to protect your privacy but those are not foolproof. In every case, your own judgment is your best bet. If you’re stepping out of your house, you should know about the dangers that could befall you. Similarly, if you’re on the internet, you’d do well to be mindful of its pitfalls. Even if you don’t always have a way to avoid them, forewarned is forearmed. Here are some of the strange creatures you might meet in the dark alleys of the internet:
Spammers: are the earliest and most prolific culprits of the Internet. Spammers hit your mailbox, your blog’s comments section and even your Twitter account with a barrage of unrelated and undesirable messages. Their most common sources are pornography, gambling and shady get-rich-quick schemes. The most vicious of these can cause bigger, unseen damage such as virus plants, server overload and even account blocking. Spam guards are now hygiene features of email inboxes as well as blogging services. Twitter doesn’t have a foolproof way of filtering out spam so your best bet is to report anyone who bothers you. Whether you want it or not, somebody online is very interested in enlarging your anatomy, sending you money from far-flung destinations and offering you the company of beautiful women. *Sigh* Shrug, hit delete and move on.
Bots: are automated programs that run on the internet and whose sole purpose is to send out bulk messages in the form of comments, instant messages, tweets and other communication. Bots must be the anti-Internet God’s way of punishing us sinners since this is a gizmo that you can’t kick, shut off or run over with your steamroller. There’s not much one can do with bots except ignore them. CAPTCHA is a feature that asks users to type in a featured word, so as to weed out the bots from the human users.
Link-baiters: fall under the spam purview too except that they’re more devious. Link-baiters will disguise themselves as genuine commentors. Their comments, tweets and instant messages will be couched in general niceties that could fool the recipient into trusting their source. Link-baiters are dangerous for the same reasons (viruses, online information capture). The only way to avoid link-baiters is to develop a ruthless eye for what is genuine and what isn’t. I’ve compiled a list of some of the link-baiting comments my blog receives, as reference. I’ve been taken in by some of them but I realised they were link-baiters when I discovered identical comments on different posts and blogs from different sources. (Of course, my ego took a dip and so did my comment count after I weeded them out. Reality, thou sucketh.)
- “Cheers you pro. Come visit my web page, you will enjoy it.” (obvious he hasn’t read your post, isn’t it?)
- “Useful information, many thanks to the author. It is puzzling to me now, but in general, the usefulness and importance is overwhelming. Very much thanks again and good luck!” (on a post about my mood!!)
- “Valuable info. Even I accidentally found your site, I bookmarked it.” (flattering but since the link leads to a porn site, I know it’s not true)
- “I always like to have a read about such things, my blog is related if you want to have a look round it please feel free. I have added yours to my bookmarks.” (porn, gambling, casino, health pills..you name it)
- “This is one technology that I would love to be able to use for myself. It’s definitely a cut above the rest and I can’t wait until my provider has it. Your insight was what I needed. Thanks” (Not a tech-blogger, sorry)
- “Advantageously, the post is actually the greatest on this noteworthy topic. I fit in with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your forthcoming updates. Just saying thanks will not just be enough, for the great lucidity in your writing. I will immediately grab your rss feed to stay abreast of any updates. Good work and much success in your business efforts!” (I don’t write about business at all!)
- “You had some nice points here. I done a research on the topic and got most peoples will agree with your blog.” (on a humourous ranting post..I’d like to know what kind of research was done on that!)
- “Perfect post, which everyone should be interested. Already I threw myself your blog to bookmarks in my web browser.” (and my blog’s back is broken by the impact of that throw!)
- “Thank you for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do some research about this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such great information being shared freely out there.” (on a post about an evening with a friend. Glad to know books are being written about it!)
- “With thanks for this instruction great assessment; this will be the sort of step that continues me although out the day.I have permanently long been wanting close to for your web-site proper soon after I observed about these from a near friend and was happy when I was inside a position to come across it correct subsequent to trying out for a while. Being a knowledgeable blogger, I’m pleased to discover out other folks taking gumption and including towards the neighborhood. I just desired to analysis to display my gratitude in your post as it is particularly pushing, and lots of world wide web writers do not get the credit score they need to have. I’m optimistic I’ll be again and will send out a few of my contacts.” (I have no idea what this means. Interestingly, the exact same comment comes from different sources and IP addresses on different days)
Stalkers: are the other longest-running danger of the internet. Just like their offline counterparts (which have also existed long before the internet was dreamt up), stalkers are creepy and dangerous. The internet makes you more accessible than ever before. Information is available at a click and linked and stored in ways that you can’t track or delete easily. Most people, especially bloggers, unwittingly put themselves in precarious situations and at the mercy of stalkers. It is hard to walk that fine line between sharing information and TMI. A stalker could gain access to your contact details and use them to harass you. But worse, they may use it against you in ways that you don’t discover till its too late. Pepper spray doesn’t work on the internet so be wary to the point of paranoia about sharing photographs, contact details and other personal information. Cyber security is still in its nascent stages so you’re best off protecting yourself beforehand.
Trolls: are the mean little villains of the blogosphere. No one really knows who they are or why they’re here (I’m betting on Independence Day’s hungry-aliens-on-rampage theory). There’s never really any good explanation for why they attack and when and how. The only (and even this is feeble) excuse I’ve ever heard is “If you’re popular, some people get jealous. It’s their way of seeking attention.” Having been at the receiving end of trollish attention, I know that’s small consolation. One day you’re cruising along, happy and set with your blog’s stats and boom! The next minute that nasty trolls turns up with his (or her) wicked comments.
Twitter isn’t free of its trolls, either, as certain members of the Indian twitterverse know well. A certain user established a following for herself based completely on anonymous, mean, below-the-belt remarks hitting out at various known twitter profiles. She succeeded in causing a lot of bad blood in the then close-knit circle of Indian Twitter users when suspicions and accusations flew back and forth. She also amassed a following for herself among people who thought her antics were ‘cool’. Well, it takes all types, trolls and their supporters. Incidentally her account has either been deleted or deactivated and the desi Twitterverse breathes easy again…for the time being.
Common wisdom advises ignoring trolls. I wish I could be as lofty and say the same but I know how frustrating and hurtful anonymous, personal attacks can be, especially when they are unjustified. All I can say is, if you find yourself facing a troll attack, ramp up your defense (activate comment moderation, block sender etc) and speak about it. You’ll very likely get a lot of people saying you’re wasting your time but at least you’re bringing it out into the open. There might be a way to trace the person and punish them (cut their internet lines!!) or at least collude with other victims. Much sympathy if you’re reading this and nodding in agreement.
Pirates: are what the music and film industry are trying to warn us against becoming all the time. They seem like they happen to others, don’t they? They only attack major labels and bigtime writers, right? Wrong! Anyone can steal content that’s available online. It’s a simple matter of knowing how to copy and paste.
The print media has been a notorious culprit in this, by stealing photographs from blogs. My only solution (and it’s not a great one, I warn you) is to watermark pictures with your URL before uploading them. There are ways to block mouse right-click options but my more tech-savvy friends say that there are ways around it. There’s no foolproof method to prevent content thieves but at least make them sweat it out for a bit before doing so.
A surprising number of people try to palm off other people’s work on their own blogs and sites too. Copyscape lets you track when your content has surfaced somewhere else online. My suggestion is to call the culprit out on this immediately. Blog-pirates are trying to ‘borrow’ your glory and are sensitive about the impression they make. Shaming them is the best way to get them to stop. Rule of thumb – if they haven’t taken your permission to replicate and adequately acknowledged you (with link and any other references), they can be called pirates.
While on this, also ensure you don’t set yourself up for piracy accusations. It may be a simple matter of using a picture from a Google Images search, to illustrate your post. But keep in mind that someone took that photograph, somebody created that image. And if you don’t seek their permission and credit them adequately, you do them a disservice. It’s really easy to be caught out on this so don’t get complacent.
Identity-thieves: are the most baffling criminals in this Hall of Shame. Trolls are just mean but identity-thieves must be plain stupid as well. These are people who don’t just steal bits of your content but attempt to copy your entire online existence.
Last week, my friend Soma found a twitter account that had an identical bio to hers and replicated all her tweets. I once found a blog that targeted the concept of this blog by trying to establish itself as what women really wanted. All baffling since the internet is the easiest place to access the original. And why would anyone treat you with anything but scornful disdain, for being a me-too?
The internet abounds in weird people but there is much joy to be had, too. Keep your blog safe and your faith, intact. I’ll see you around the blogosphere!
“IdeaSmith is the online avatar of Ramya, an ex-business analyst on sabbatical. She loves stationery but she bid a fond goodbye to office spaces a year ago. Now she alternates between sampling panipuris, winning Monopoly games and airing her grievances on the Twitterverse.