#trolls #privacy #twitter #Ifoundyou?
January 31, 2014 12:10 AM   Subscribe

Long story short: an anonymous twitter user started harassing me. Twitter troll has no followers so I guess was made up for the purpose of harassing me and a friend. No biggie, I've blocked. Slightly perturbing however is that the troll referred to something I've only talked about in private. How could troll know this and how do I protect myself?

I am very very private online, the only public profile is a professional website that links to a tumblr scrapbook and my twitter account, and my mefi account of course, which is pretty anonymous. Facebook and Instagram are completely private, which is where I do all my life talk freely.

It's all fairly innocuous, but the troll referred to my very specific and new hobby of spoon carving which I haven't mentioned anywhere in public, because let's face it, most people would find it boring (THEY'RE WRONG!) before they proceeded to tell me to fuck myself, among other things. I don't feel physically threatened in any way at all obviously, but I do find it a touch unsettling they found this out when I am meticulous about online privacy (or so I thought?).

Any suggestions about how they might have found this information and tips for how to check myself out online and more importantly, protect myself? Honestly at this point they either hacked something or googled the heck out of me but I really can't see it being the latter, given the privacy measures I take (also, all I've done is instagram one spoon carving pic - and that account is definitely private).

(I kind of find it hilarious that the supposedly secret bit of info about me I'm being vaguely threatened with is spoon whittling but it's unsettling nonetheless)

Thanks everyone.
posted by mooza to Technology (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried Googling your name and screen names + hobby and seeing if you get hits? It should turn up anything to do with you and that hobby. Or using something like Pipl?

If you don't get hits linking you to the hobby, it's probably not an online trail, it's probably someone you know in real life. It's could be hacking (I guess) but it would be bizarre for someone to access your system with the purpose of telling you to go fuck yourself and make fun of your hobby. Stealing your identity or such, or your financial details would be the main target.

My feeling is that it's someone that knows you. I'd go through instagram users or real life friends and see if there is someone that might be capable of doing this.

I'd report it to Twitter, actually. It might be tough to contact them, but, I'd tell them that one of your followers made a dummy account with the purpose of harassing you, and that they know real life details that they shouldn't. Say that you are worried, etc. They should have details to IP addresses and can track down who it was. Whether they will give you that info or even do anything about it is another matter though. But at the least they may be able to discipline the user or remove them as a follower.

As for staying safe, there's not a lot you can do except never use your real name, work details, never add random users as instagram friends, etc. Basically use a philosophy that everything you post may be seen by everyone. If in doubt, don't post.

Good luck.
posted by Dimes at 12:31 AM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Not sure if I was entirely clear about the Twitter thing-- basically my assumption is that the main account of the perpetrator is probably a follower and still following you, but under a different account than they used to harass you with-- since as you said, that's all they did with it. In that case, both the troll account they created and the main account should share an IP address that twitter can find in common.

By the way, I forgot to say sorry this is happening to you -- that someone went to the trouble of doing this to you is unbelievable. That really sucks, and I think spoon carving is cool.
posted by Dimes at 12:38 AM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

late in the evening when you are completely relaxed, sit back and contemplate your circle of acquaintances. run over them this way and that in your mind, because you have an adversary who is trying to fuck with you, and relaxed contemplation will help you identify anomalous points of conflict.

also, you have excessive social media exposure. dump either facebook or twitter, and use different names over the others.
posted by bruce at 1:01 AM on January 31, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'd cross reference with your Instagram followers, and follow everyone else's advice. Also agreeing that spoon carving is cool and you should not have to fuck yourself because of it.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:10 AM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

An easy way to check yourself is to try to view your Facebook and Instagram accounts using a browser that you don't normally use (so you're definitely not logged in, there are no lingering cookies, etc.). That will give you an idea of what a random stranger would see.

Has your Instagram account always been private, or was it public at some point? I'm 99% sure that I once clicked a direct link to a post on a person's Instagram account and I was able to see the post despite the person having recently changed their account to be private.
posted by neushoorn at 1:16 AM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's someone you know personally IRL, I'm sure of it.
posted by rubbish bin night at 1:33 AM on January 31, 2014 [20 favorites]

Isn't it maybe that someone at wherever you've bought tools or materials for your hobby, or who was there and watched you buy them (or whatever similar situation - heard you mention your hobby, or whatnot) has her/his tabs on you? Meaning: a casual or semi-casual in-real-life cross-your-pather.
(like for instance the dude who invariably sits on some chair half behind the counter in model train shops making wise comments, who never actually belongs to the staff)
posted by Namlit at 1:36 AM on January 31, 2014

this question isn't anonymous
posted by mannequito at 1:57 AM on January 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think it's someone you know too. Or more likely someone who knows someone you know.

An anecdote: years back my college published a 'slag rag' at the end of each term. Anyone and everyone was fair game, all contributions were anonymous, generally pretty lighthearted stuff. I included a throwaway comment in it one term about my opposite neighbour, who used to hold rather earnest meetings in her room. At which they always ate a particular brand of cookie, which got mentioned in the comment. I knew this because we used to leave our waste paper bins outside our rooms for collection. My neighbour was horrified that someone *in* her circle had poked fun at their meetings, because the only way they'd know about the cookies was if they participated. I fessed up quickly and apologised. What I had thought was a tame detail included for comic effect signalled something very invasive.

In short: your troll knows something unique about you. They know that mentioning this is invasive and will upset you. Your online and offline lives are not private. Knowing small details allows people to unlock other details via search. A good example is how people can be tracked across handles, email addresses and so forth. If one were so motivated, one could parse any Mefite's contributions and possibly gain enough info to identify them. My address isn't online. But knowing my email can get you to my address because of my WHOIS listing. Another search via address can tell you who I live with. Another search can confirm it's my wife. If her FB or other online settings are more open then that's a way in.

Also: people talk to people about people. Spoon carving is kinda cool. It's exactly the kind of thing a 'friend' of a friend might know about you. Because your troll knows it's nearly impossible for you to track back that they, the troll, know this fact, them mentioning your hobby invokes threatening intimacy but maintains the troll's anonymity.

So don't panic. Ignore the troll. Keep a weather eye on your friends. Know that the perpetrator is likely someone within their friend group or on the outside edges of your social or professional circle. They are unlikely to be in your inner circle if the best they can come up with is spoon carving as a sign they 'know' you.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:59 AM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Who did you talk to about this? It's one of them. Either that or someone that they've talked to.
posted by tel3path at 2:53 AM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Mention some detail to each person you've talked to about your spoon-carving. Make it a different detail for each person. Track what you said to whom.

Then see which detail the troll mentions next.
posted by tel3path at 2:56 AM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Facebook and Instagram are completely private

There is no such thing as a "completely private" Facebook presence. You may want to check your assumption that you have it locked down.

One friend has to share or tag that photo of your newest spoon carving. Boom.
posted by spitbull at 4:14 AM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Thanks everyone for the advice and thoughts and spoon carving validation.

- I am not online friends with anyone I haven't met/know IRL. A work colleague/friend and I tried to facebook friend each other last year and I wouldn't even come up in a search for her (we don't have mutual fb friends). My mefi profile is not connected to my real name or other profiles, I have different usernames all over the shop.

- without going into the boring detail, I am 99.9% if not 100% sure it's not someone I know. Actually I'm positive.

- Spoon carving is harder than I thought!

I'm just going to chalk it down to weird magic and triple check all privacy settings and...google myself I guess? So odd though.
posted by mooza at 5:00 AM on January 31, 2014

without going into the boring detail, I am 99.9% if not 100% sure it's not someone I know. Actually I'm positive.

Sorry, but you can't know this. I had something similar happen to me many years ago, I was convinced it wasn't anyone I knew. Turned out to be, and I was kinda crushed by having to remove that friend from my life.

If there is a limited number of people you have discussed spoon carving with, and there's no other way to link you to spoon carving online, it is someone you know.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:28 AM on January 31, 2014 [12 favorites]

My other thought is that your troll could be the partner/spouse/roommate of one your friends, and for some reason are that person is hassling you. Your friend might have mentioned spoon carving in passing, and they went after you with it. This kind of thing strikes me as a jealous boyfriend/girlfriend thing for some reason.
posted by kimdog at 6:37 AM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was thinking something similar to kimdog; someone who is not your friend on Facebook/Instagram could use a device belonging to someone who is, and see your posts that way.
posted by neushoorn at 6:43 AM on January 31, 2014

Dimes: "Have you tried Googling your name and screen names + hobby and seeing if you get hits? It should turn up anything to do with you and that hobby. "

THIS. A lady's profile on a dating website intrigued me - she claimed to be editor of a magazine with a nonsensical title. It was a joke (and funny), but it turned out she'd used that exact same line before - so I was able to figure out her real name... which freaked her out (that's why I let her know), and she changed it immediately (good!).

If that doesn't work, definitely try the different-variations-for-each-friend idea. But do it through email, or keep records - your worried brain could confuse something, and hurt an innocent friend.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:11 AM on January 31, 2014

Have you checked your computer for malware recently?
posted by mosk at 8:59 AM on January 31, 2014

Have you set up your system so that you do not receive flash cookies? If not, you do realize that they are browser-independent and that the information stored in them can be viewed by different sites, right? So that if, say, you had been visiting site X seeking info on spoon carving, and (unbeknownst to you) it left info in a flash cookie on your system, and then you visited forum Y where, for some reason, a mod or admin wanted to f**k with you, they could easily do so by revealing information (left by different sites as you traipse across the internets) they had gleaned from a flash cookie. I explained this to an Apple store worker one day and his face turned white.
posted by tenderly at 11:28 AM on January 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are you using "spoon carving" as an euphemism for your real hobby? I hope so, because if not you are leaving crumbs for your harasser.
posted by mlis at 12:16 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am 99.9% if not 100% sure it's not someone I know. Actually I'm positive.

Well then, if there's no way to find it out online, I guess they must be sneaking into wherever you do your spoon carving and watching you, or are looking around when you aren't there. Maybe you should set up a hidden camera. Or someone you don't know overheard enough of your conversation in public to find you online and bring up spoons -- but you haven't mentioned it anywhere in public.

Either that, or they know someone who knows you that blabbed about your spoon carving, or you are wrong and they actually are someone you know. I frankly can't even imagine how in the world you would rule out that it's someone you know... Maybe if you know a very small number of people and are monitoring all their internet access, or something.

Frankly, you might be better off having someone you know doing this than some random stranger who's gotten a sudden fascination with you. If you really are that sure, you might want to monitor the area around your house or apartment. Check for malware too.

Twitter troll has no followers so I guess was made up for the purpose of harassing me and a friend.

What has your friend's experience been with this?
posted by yohko at 2:33 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know you say you are 100% sure it is not someone you know. However, I offer this anecdote on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

Yesterday my wife said "You've got to hear what [13-year-old daughter C.] just told me. It's hilarious!" It turns out that C. had created a fake Pinterest account referring to Gollum from "Lord of the Rings" and she was using it to troll a friend from school. She left all sorts of messages no this friend's Pinterest page, and they all sounded mean the same way Gollum would talk.

She laughed and said "She mentioned it at school today and I pretended I didn't know anything about it." For the record, the friend thought the Gollum account was funny and wasn't put off by it.

If a 13-year-old kid can set up a fake account to harass someone she knows, it could certainly happen to anyone.
posted by tacodave at 3:05 PM on January 31, 2014

The call is coming from inside the house.

They know you IRL!
Side-note; I seriously love that your new thing is Spoon Carving. I was talking to someone a few weeks ago and said that I had an appointment that wouldn't allow me to meet said person at such time, when asked what appointment was-I stated I had to meet a spoon carver for some custom work to be done. A total lie. BUT Awesome.
I knew they existed. I just knew it.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 5:03 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Someone who knows you, or knows of you, in real life is far more likely than an online random. Unless you told everyone you know not to mention your spoon whittling to anyone else, I think it's totally possible that someone you know only peripherally is harassing you.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:51 PM on January 31, 2014

Have you put any links to the new hobby in your tumblr/pintrest or whatever?
posted by geek anachronism at 7:40 PM on January 31, 2014

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