How would you track down someone from an online community?
March 26, 2006 11:38 AM   Subscribe

If you wanted to track down someone you knew from an online community, given only a username, how would you go about it?

Suppose you knew someone from, say, a large community blog. You wanted to walk up and knock on their door one day, for whatever reason. How would you conduct your search/investigation/stalking?

Feel free to imagine varying levels of commitment and resources.
posted by jojopizza to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Post a comment or question to the blog asking for their address?
posted by iconjack at 11:43 AM on March 26, 2006

Send them a private message/internal mail or email if their profile contains their address...

Alternatively, use google and other online search facilities to track them down, turn up on their doorstep and be unsuprised by the hostile reaction you stand to get.
posted by benzo8 at 11:44 AM on March 26, 2006

You contact them through the community. Showing up at their door is deeply creepy and stalkerish.

Is it just me, or have there been a lot of questions in AxMe recently that are this sort of squirm-inducing?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:48 AM on March 26, 2006

This is all pretty basic, but:

- Google their alias -- find out past references to where they live, what they do.

- Find their IP address, do a whois search, which will probably only yield an approximate area -- unless they're using a computer from an institution like a government building or a university.

- Look at friends or linked contacts -- figure out where they live. Do they have references to those aliases? Has the person added any comments?

- If you get a name, try Zabasearch to get other info. They have links to other sites which you can pay money to get information.

-If you have enough information, use social engineering -- try calling them, posing as a telemarketer, government survey, etc.
posted by suedehead at 11:50 AM on March 26, 2006

I'd first start about asking around (using pictures from Flickr) of identifying a "lost relative", whom I knew organized an event at the Elysian earlier. Seeing as how cursory searches for Jo-Jo's Pizza in Seattle turn up nothing, I'd focus on asking people at the meet-up as innocuously as possible what you look like, your name, any details. Seeing as how you organized a meetup there I'd stick around and ask the regulars if anyone matching the description shows up there often. With your name and the neighborhood your in (late-70s homes?) it's just a matter of time before I find you. And I will find you.
posted by geoff. at 11:52 AM on March 26, 2006

Imagine, if you will, that you were the target of such a search...
posted by tommasz at 11:53 AM on March 26, 2006

I do believe that was the point geoff was trying to make, well played by the way.
posted by onalark at 11:58 AM on March 26, 2006

I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that jojopizza is going to stalk somebody, especially after tagging the post with the word "stalking."
posted by Amizu at 12:05 PM on March 26, 2006

Best answer: Google the username, find other places where they've used it, and try to find an e-mail address. Google the e-mail address and try to associate it with a name. If you can't, e-mail the person on some pretext — many people have mail clients configured to show their names in the from headers, and people are also, for some reason, more likely to sign an e-mail with a name, though often only a first name. Once you have a name (and hopefully a general idea of the person's geographic location) finding an address is fairly trivial, and the various avenues with which you can find this information have been explored at length elsewhere.

Of course, the process can be made simpler if you can derive clues from the person's posting history — see tamim's tour de force in this regard.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 12:05 PM on March 26, 2006

Response by poster: Sorry to creep you all out. The purpose of this question was to better determine how to avoid being stalked/found out. I wanted to hear it from the stalker's point of view though.
posted by jojopizza at 12:13 PM on March 26, 2006

Response by poster: geoff's answer was great, in particular.
posted by jojopizza at 12:17 PM on March 26, 2006

Best answer: I second the "be unsuprised by the hostile reaction you stand to get"
First start at the profile .
Then the people who link the this user.
A close study of your subjects posting history reveals many clues.
As geoff points out it is now just a short time till the home and a photo of the subject is revealed.
On preview "see tamim's tour de force in this regard" (meta stalk)
posted by blink_left at 12:19 PM on March 26, 2006

Unfortunately, jjp, recent events (the Ebay scammer in particular) have made Mefi users a bit paranoid when it comes to questions like this. And rightfully so, I should add.

I'd use a combination of psychological/detective means. For example, your posting history talks about your home quite a bit, so that will be helpful later on when we've got a few addresses to narrow down. Email account / username google searches are useful to a lesser extent (depending on how anonymous you've been in your posting history). For instance, you reveal an awful lot about yourself in this post.

An IP address can say a lot about you (your general location, perhaps more if you log in from a corporate computer system). Thus I'd try and trick the target into clicking on an system I controlled that logged IP addresses. I'll bet you clicked on the link above, didn't you? Gotcha.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:41 PM on March 26, 2006

Best answer: I have a follow-up to your follow-up comment so you don't have a false sense of total security about your absolute anonymity. Frankly, there is no one who has posted to this board that I and a few hundred other people here could not track down given sufficient motivation. The motivation would have to be extremely high, since the search might require the "stalker" to spend most of his or her waking moments in the effort, possibly use up all of their money and assets, and likely embroil them in illegal behaviors for the hardest cases, but tracking down the poster could definitely be accomplished.

Anonymizing your IP and screening every thing you ever post anywhere? Sure, that would stop all but the most dedicated stalkers, but there are still ways to find out who and where you are. People have made jobs out of tracking people down since long before there was the Internet, and a lot of them are really good at it. Cops, private investigators, government security figures, they know all the tricks people use to hide that you could think of, and dozens more besides. Some of those talents are available for hire, legally or otherwise.

That said, many people are overly paranoid about maintaining their online anonymity. Ask yourself if it's really worth all the effort and pain to scrub out your unique voice when posting. And why bother if you do have to go to all the trouble. Look, I've had a public address and profile for over twenty years. In past lives I've been a participant in various online flamefests and bitter debates -- to the point of legal action once being taken by me and an opposing party -- and I have never had anyone show up on my doorstep making threats. (No one need take that as a challenge to break the streak). It all seems vaguely silly to me in retrospect.

Sorry if that doesn't make you feel better, but if you consider how small the odds are for even a controversial figure to experience a physical altercation with an opposing party due to uninvited stalking, maybe that will help.

These remarks null and void if you already suffer from a stalker of questionable mental state. Police or appropriate authority involvement is highly recommended in those cases.
posted by mdevore at 2:05 PM on March 26, 2006

For the record, I have had all my personal information (save Social Security number, seriously you can find my phone, blood type, name of bank, whatever) out there for some time now. I have never gotten one person knocking on my door. I read in one guy's blog one time that he was contemplating "I'd like to just show up at her doorstep and surprise her" a long time ago and a quick email saying "You might envision that I would like that, but I would not like that" cleared up that possibility. I think saying "Hey a phone call is fine but a visit is not" is better than people thinking "Oh hey I bet she'd like it if a stranger arrived at her house" in a general sense.

The easiest way to track people is just to pay attention, and assume that there will be times that they aren't. If you have their email address, you email them an image or a link to an image that you've never put anyplace else and then you check the information in your web server logs on who saw that image to get their IP address (assuming they aren't using an anonymizing service) and other info like the type of computer they use. If you surf with anything that has a somewhat unique looking web server footprint (I used to date a guy who had a fairly unique linux distro on his machine) you can then see when they've been looking at your site and what they've been looking at. Once you know their IP you usually know their ISP, their loose location, the times they're online, etc. and you go from there.

In short, I find that trying to maintain anonymity is harder and more likely to wind you up with the guy-on-doorstep scenario than just saying "Here I am, whatever." I've gotten phone calls from strangers, MeFites and potential employers who found my phone number online (it's not listed even) and it's never once been a problem.
posted by jessamyn at 4:41 PM on March 26, 2006

Write a sane and interesting query and email it to the sysop with a request that it be forwarded to the person you want to get in touch with. That person can then get in touch with you.

I've done this several times.
posted by KRS at 2:03 PM on March 27, 2006

« Older UNREASONABLE DOUBT   |   8 ball in the corner pocket - at work Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.