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Blogging can be a risky business

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Saturday January 12, 2008 )

I was just reading about a terrible incident where a Chinese blogger was beaten to death by city inspectors for filming a confrontation with villagers. It’s an extreme example of some of the risks of blogging, but by no means isolated. Blogging can be a risky business wherever you live.

China’s Xinhua news agency reports police have detained 24 people and are investigating more than 100 in the death of Wei Wenhua, a 41-year-old construction company executive. The attack occurred when Wei took used his cell phone to record a protest.

While this sort of thing mightn’t come as a too much of a surprise as it happened in China; I know of bloggers elsewhere who have suffered as a result of their online pursuits. One close to home was Darren Rowse of ProBlogger who was stalked and had his property damaged – and Darren’s not the type of guy to go out of his way to offend anyone. Another incident that springs to mind occurred to Kathy Sierra, well known blogger and geekette. She was subjected to some pretty disgusting attacks that left her very much rattled; to the point the police were involved.

As bloggers, we have this amazing vehicle to voice our opinions. That same vehicle can also attract unstable individuals who can fixate on us and go beyond just a boisterous online exchange. It’s one of the many reasons to stop and think about the possible ramifications of a post before hitting the submit button.

I’ve never been stalked as the result of anything I’ve done online, but it did happen to me once many years ago. It was a horrible experience. Even with a restraining order on the person in place, that didn’t discourage the person too much.

Tip: never argue with someone who is freaked out and has a carton cutter in their hand.
Bonus Tip: having a keyboard wrapped around your skull hurts; avoid the experience.

I’m all for transparency in online business and blogging for that matter, but I do believe we need to take some simple precautions to discourage disturbed individuals from winding up unannounced on our doorsteps – or coming through a window.

A very simple strategy is to never post your residential address *anywhere*, not even on your domain name records as this information is publicly accessible via a WHOIS query. Very early on in my online career, I established a post office box – it’s a tiny (tax deductible) price to pay for the additional security it can provide. Another good security precaution is never to post your residential phone number anywhere – it’s just too easy to trace back. A good and cheap option is to establish a number via a service such as Skype. You can pick from many different locations. Cell numbers are usually okay to use too, unless reverse lookup is available in your country. Even if your residential number doesn’t appear anywhere online, ensure it’s an unlisted number.

Additionally, some home security doesn’t go astray – which can take various forms – just don’t be silly enough to post what you have in place :).

Something else I’ve found very curious over the years is the habit of those involved in promoting money-making programs to post the figures of what they’ve earned; or what they’ve been able to buy with their earnings. Sure, it might help establish a bit of credibility with newbies (the more savvy know a person can pull any figure out of their butt and that ferrari the bank likely owns 95% of), but it can also make you a target. If you start boasting of making a 6 figure income from whatever program; it’s like screaming “Steal from me, I’m rich!” or “sue me, I can afford it!”.

In summary, as in any aspect of life, when blogging, don’t go out of your way to p**** people off unless you are prepared to face the consequences, don’t start a fight you can’t finish and if you’ve become rich from your online pursuits; be careful how you flaunt it. These things won’t guarantee you a looney-free existence, but they will surely help :)


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