“Light Stalking” and other misnomers.

You may, or may not be aware of the online piece recently written for the Guardian by Kathleen Hale.

As a precursor to what I’m about to write, Kathleen seems like a generally cool person that I wouldn’t mind hanging out with. She is clearly a clever person, with a lot of talent, and an interesting disposition.

Not to mention she’s a really decent storyteller.

You can read her piece here. (Please read her piece before continuing on; I don’t want your opinion tainted by my own.)

Catfishing is the use of false or misleading photographic evidence to elicit information from another person. It is not just about impersonation. Creepy men and women have long used that method to get compromising information or pictures out of other people.

Ms. Hale was not catfished. She did, however, Catfish the person who was impersonating someone else.

Ferrett Steinmetz, from theferret.com, wrote a reaction to the article, and it was a very decent read. However, he calls out Ms. Hale for using the term catfishing incorrectly, and assigns to her a motive that may or may not be true. I am unsure of her motive for using the term.

Perhaps she was trying, as Mr. Steinmetz believes, she was trying to imply that there was a relationship with the author. Perhaps she was trying to capitalize on some of the buzz around the word back in May and June when Catfishing was in Time Magazine and on MTV. (Catfishing trend data according to Google.) Or perhaps she was just confused about the meaning of the word, and used it incorrectly.

I find that when analyzing a piece like this, it is best to take the work as written, instead of casting your own aspersions and assumptions onto the piece, as best you can. Obviously, humans have bias. Understanding and recognizing that bias is important for full discussion and understanding. Now that we have that out of the way, we can move on to the actual merits of the piece.

(Speculate freely on why the Guardian didn’t correct her on its usage; though, as it has nothing to do with the article.)

Jane Litte, from dearauthor.com wrote an interesting piece about this article, and I highly recommend you read it. She provides an excellent breakdown of the salient pieces of the article, flavored with her own opinions on the actions taken. She also provides a fantastic opening on why pseudonyms are still so widely and popularly used.

Ms. Hale did something very bad here, and the problem with her article is that it plays off as a nicety. Or perhaps something that everyone does. Or maybe, even, that it’s just light and playful. Randal Milholland, web comic artist of SomethingPositive.net, hit the nail on the head when he called out her phrasing in the article.

Her describing her actions as “light stalking” is an attempt to pass dangerous and imbalanced choices off as cute. They aren’t.
Randal Milholland

I think that was the thing that hit me closest to home when I was reading it. Ms. Hale starts the article off painting a picture of a writer who may have a drinking problem, who is scared, and feels overwhelmed with the big changes. This is all understandable, as it is the writer’s first book.

She is, of course, referring to herself, and this is one of the things that made her seem likable to me when I read the article.

We shift from this to a seemingly accidental discovery of the user in question having given her a bad review. “I wonder,” I thought to myself, as I read the seemingly unintentional hop, skip, and a jump across three websites (Twitter to Blogger to GoodReads). “Does she do this for everyone she interacts with online?”

She then makes a comical, (if not completely true) opinion about wanting to correct her books, in the same blasé manner that the reviewer was upset about, coming across as almost sarcastic in her wished-for reply.

But still, none of this is red-flag throwing. People click through other people’s links all the time. They see other information about other people when they share and link their accounts.

I, for example, am quite easy to find. My online moniker, “Damadar” and my real name, “James Cordrey” are easily tied together and information about me is readily available. (I apologize in advance if you search for information about me.)

She obviously did some research before admitting, several paragraphs later, that she was engaging in “light stalking”, and I cannot, in any stretch of the imagination, think that this is anything other than an attempt to play off what she was doing as okay.

The average person might think of “Light stalking” as finding a link to her blog on her Twitter, clicking it, and then clicking on her GoodRead’s profile and reading through that information. A little looking, and then tossing it out to the side.

Ms. Hale, with her mother’s help, found other information about her. Specifically, a “tell-all” site that informed users about bad GoodReader users, Bad Authors, and the like.

What’s funny… Well, as funny as an internet stalking case taken to real life can be, she gets half way through the article before she writes the words, “DO NOT ENGAGE” in big letters, hearing back from another author who spoke under conditions of anonymity.

This entire article is nothing more than a prolonged engagement, detailing the entire situation, and trying to come out smelling like roses. The fact that this did not trigger in the Author’s mind when she wrote the words, or the Editor’s mind when he saw them, baffles me. Especially since the Author claims to have learned her lesson about engaging with “trolls”.

Note: Ms. Litte’s review details the lack of substantiated evidence to her claims of the Reviewer being a troll, and is definitely worth reading to get a good look at why we can’t always take someone’s word about something, especially when they are a good storyteller.

Her actions remind me of Opposition Research. You follow everything the person has said, in public and in private, just to see if there’s a shred of information you can use against them. You become very familiar with them, and everything they do. It gives you a great leg up when you’re planning to have a debate, or argument, or political race against someone.

There’s a quote here that puzzles me. She spoke earlier about a conversation going “Off the Record”, (which she quoted pieces from based on anonymity, presumably provided.)

“Is this even real?” I Gchatted Patricia.

“YES THERE IS A CAREER-DESTROYING PHASE IT’S AWFUL. DO. NOT. ENGAGE. Omg did you put our convo back on the record?”

This doesn’t make sense in the context presented. Either this conversation happened after the events, in which case it has been placed in-timeline at the wrong place, or it bespeaks of a larger motive in the conversations back from the beginning. The fact that the “user went invisible” after thinking that the conversation was “on the record” somehow seems even more confusing, since at the time, Ms. Hale was only trying to find out information on the Reviewer.

The crux of this comes down to her actions, though. She eventually went to the woman’s house, and confronted her over the phone at the woman’s place of work, actually attempting to gain information from her.

It was weird, that when the police van drove past, she didn’t realize that the fear she felt was a warning to change her behavior. She seems self-aware. She mentions regularly how her actions were horrible, but always with a slight tinge of explanation for why she did them.

Horrible actions are horrible. The explanation for why you did them shouldn’t matter, unless you’re attempting to be sympathetic to the reader. (Again, that’s a piece of personal bias from me.)

I feel that is reinforced by her later desire of the piece. See, earlier, when I mentioned that Mr. Steinzmetz had an assumption for her use of words, I mentioned bias. I have a strong bias of my own about why the piece was written, pulled from one of her quotes.

On the one hand, I was satisfied that [Reviewer] was a catfish. But part of me still longed to hear Judy say, “I am [Reviewer]” and to explain, and then to laugh about it with me so we could become friends through admittedly weird circumstances. The mystery didn’t feel 100% solved.

This quote, right here, is the saddest, most scary part of the entire post. This, to me, seems to be the entire pretext for this article. A way to reach out to the Reviewer one more time, and say, “Hey, lets connect, please? I want very badly for you to acknowledge that I exist. That we are friends. That this whole creepy piece of myself that I can feel isn’t real, and just a funny misunderstanding. Please?”

The absurdity of that claim notwithstanding, I think this is the core of what most stalkers want. They want validation from the person they are focused on. They want to be accepted, understood, and rewarded for their tenacity.

That’s precisely what The Guardian did by publishing this piece. Not only did they help a stalker continue to push herself into the life of the person she was stalking, by calling her out by name and casting allusions to how to find her, but also by rewarding her.

Ms. Hale got everything she wanted out of this article. She got fame. She got attention. She was, as she put it, “validated”. People have defended her actions, people have shamed her actions. She’s a punchline in comments on her own article. The Guardian is bringing in a lot of Advertising Revenue from this piece, and Ms. Hale gets to say that she had the last word.

Ms. Hale is a stalker, and she was provided with a platform that allowed her to further impose herself on another person’s life, while making it seem like she was just trying to tell her tale. The Guardian should make sure that she has all the psychological help she needs, because this behavior is very sad.

This should also serve as a warning to any aspiring author. This can happen to anyone. I’ve had my own brush with it in the past, though not with a bad Reviewer. It is a scary and dark road to walk down, and it only takes a single misstep before you’re up to your eyeballs in information you should have never had.

Think before you act. Think long and hard about the consequences. Whether you’re directly involved, or playing a bit piece as the platform, all of your actions should be to help promote yourself, and promote a healthy environment for you and others to grow in.

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