Why I am late to the party

Many years ago I was an avid reader of USENET and, yes, that USENET (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usenet). This was all via modem as we simply did not have the Internet available in Canada in the early 1980s. I remember being able to read “The USENET” before starting work in the morning. This was and is a primitive form of “social media” and, I even eventually had my own USENET node via UUCP (modem) set up at home. Eventually Internet arrived in Canada and, many of us early adopters ended up using it simply for email, archie etc. which was before the web changed  everything.

Early users of the Internet and even of USENET and UUCP mail  users tended to be University or research engineers/scientists. The infamous “flame fests” were prevalent via email and USENET and, one grew used to the common garden troll. I also remember fondly B1FF, Kibo and, Archimedes Plutonium amongst many others.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usenet_celebrity)

The Internet when it arrived changed everything here. I discovered Internet Relay Chat (IRC) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IRC). The same early social media prior to twitter that gained popularity during the first Iraq war (desert Storm). Soon it was made even more popular as kids discovered it using one of the early Windows clients, MIRC. Children of all ages suddenly were unleashed amongst the early adopters who were primarily more sedate Engineers, Scientists and, University students. Childish behaviour lead to much trolling but as trolling via USENET had been familiar to many of us, we knew how to deal with it.

Still, among any large group of people there are going to be a few crazier folks. The anti-social cracker who feeling oppressed by authority would think nothing of using Denial of Service (DoS) tools to get their way. Some would crack phone systems so they could make free phone calls all over the place. Remember, long distance phone calls were expensive at one time. Abusing a business party line service to make phone calls to prank people was a common tactic.

And indeed I was sometimes the target of a prank call at 3am and sometimes got DoS’d for a myriad of reasons. Internet fame is a double edged sword. The absolute worse thing that ever happened to me was being stalked by a user from IRC.

This individual had made up his mind that he would have a better life in North America and hopped a plane to Montreal Quebec then took a bus to Ottawa, to start his new life. I unwisely was not as anonymous as I should have been at the time but I was used to the saner denziens of the Internet. I thought nothing of it when he met some locals and I came along. Then the phone calls started. He wanted to be my friend, I was not interested. Unknown to me at this time he was also chatting up other women from IRC and, as I discovered later, had managed to stay with some of them I was hardly his primary target, but it was creeepy enough. I avoided calling the police on him, I “did not want to get involved”. For all I knew, he was legally in Canada. I eventually discovered he was working in Canada illegally and when he started DoSing friends of mine, I knew I had to act.

I finally called our federal police RCMP and I reported an illegal worker. After some investigation two officers came over in an unmarked car and I sat in the back while I was interviewed. I felt like the victim. I can only imagine what it is like for sexual assault victims.

And that is why I am late to the party. It has taken me years to  get on more modern social media sites. Ironically I came out of my shell to defend people I saw being bullied. I still see the same tactics I saw of dog pile criticism I saw from USENET today  on modern blogs. Nothing has changed with people’s behaviours in 30 years. I still see typical trolls being treated as though they were serious, as this also used to happen in flame fests. Just where do you think the term “Godwin” came from?

The vast majority of people one will meet on the Internet are not  the crazed rapist or murderer we should be concerned about. The difficulty for newbies to social media is distinguishing the dangerous from the harmless troll. The rule of thumb I highly  recommend is the phone call rule; If you get a completely out of the blue phone call, report it.  Also only meet people you know only superficially from the Internet in a group, never ever alone.

Dianora (my old IRC nick) is late to the party but is finally here.

One thought on “Why I am late to the party

  1. Thanks for this post, it resonates with some of my own past experiences. I also started out with newsgroups via modem. I started “blogging” in the late 90′s (although I tried to resist using the word “blog”). About ten years ago I experienced serious harassment from a commenter that escalated quickly. He expressed murderous intentions toward myself and family members; he threatened frivolous lawsuits that compelled me to retain an attorney; he discovered my parents’ home address and emailed me vivid accounts of what he’d like to do with me and others that he deemed politically liberal. I eventually abandoned blogging and have only recently returned to the activity. Perhaps as a result of my previous harassment experience, I deal with a significant level of anxiety about online discussions. In spite of all that, for me blogging fills a basic intellectual need, and I eventually came back to it. It’s good to see others making the same choice. I look forward to reading your blog.

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