Can you help me stop the cyberbullying on my blog?

By | March 2nd, 2015

I know as much about bullying as the average father of three young children. Which is to say, I’m a subject matter expert. But Stephanie Kong’s request for help may not be easily solved, and I’m hoping you can help me.

Kong publishes a small personal website called Obedient Chinese Daughter, which has attracted its own troll. But Kong believes she knows this critic and says the company that employs him won’t help her put an end to the unwanted visitor’s angry comments. She wants me to step in and do something about it.

As a reminder, Should I Take The Case? is a completely unvetted reader request for help. I need your help deciding if I should get involved.

I should probably start with a huge disclosure. I really don’t like cyberbullies and trolls. I’ve dealt with them on this site and, on occasionally, on other sites. Last week, my moderation team made the exceptionally difficult decision to suspend two long-time commenters for posts that violated our policies. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done on this site.

But they weren’t trolls. Those are in a class by themselves, when it comes to being difficult. I like the way Lindy West dealt with her troll. (Warning: this link leads to an audio story with salty language, and that’s putting it mildly.)

Something tells me this one won’t end the same way.

“About four months ago, I received on two separate occasions some rude comments on my personal blog,” says Kong. “The second one had a lot of information related to my former employer, leading me to realize it was a former colleague. Upon clicking the IP information, I realized it was coming from a small health-related startup and was therefore coming from a colleague whom I had tried to distance myself from starting in 2013.”

Related story:   Should I delete this story?

Some of the comments can’t be republished on this site because of their offensive language. Others include hurtful rejoinders like, “You are the biggest hypocrite” and “You are seriously an idiot.”

Kong went through the usual steps. She contacted the employee directly, to no avail. She got in touch with the employee’s supervisor and received no response. Finally, she wrote a letter to the CEO of the alleged troll’s current employer, a Palo Alto, Calif., healthcare company called HealthTap. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m disappointed that your company, one that claims to employ only people who respect others and wants to improve the health and wellbeing of your customers, did not step in to communicate to employees how company time and computer equipment ought to be utilized.


I write because research shows that 25 percent of females report being cyberbullied and often with dire physical and psychological consequences. I am able to ignore unkind words of the anonymous HealthTap employee but I would like to think that your company is taking steps to communicate digital expectations to your employees so that they are not continuing to use the time and technology — that they should be using to grow your business — to cyberbully or otherwise behave in impolite ways towards other people.

Kong also sent evidence — the offending posts, along with screenshots.

The reply? Nothing, she says.

I find that odd. I can understand the employee ignoring the request. After all, he’s the alleged bully. But his supervisor? And the CEO, too?

Kong just wants an acknowledgment. She wants to know that something is being done to stop her alleged bully.

I think, ultimately, I was hoping the company would have said to me, “We got your communication. We’re going to look into this because we agree that this isn’t how we want our company represented and how we expect our employees to behave.”

I am surprised that despite an email to an employee, a letter with all the evidence and also two emails that I sent via their website, I didn’t receive any confirmation.

On their website, they have so much information about how their company functions: the transparency, the respect, the importance of the integrity of each team member. I just feel like they owed me — me being a proxy for the public, as who knows how much more this individual may be doing this.

This is an interesting case. It raises issues that I don’t normally cover on this site. Chief among them: Are employers responsible for employees who act inappropriately, even when they’re not on official company business, but using company property? What does a company that touts its “transparency” owe someone who isn’t a customer?

I’m also reminded of our current situation on this site. Do we have a duty to stop hurtful comments from being published, even if they are true? I think so. That’s why I’m trying to stop the snark. That’s why two commenters have been suspended. We don’t have to look like the rest of the Internet.

But other than acknowledge the correspondence, what can a company like HealthTap do? Even if it promised her it would deal with the employee, would that be enough?

As someone who has dealt with bullies my entire life, from schoolyard thugs to the Department of Homeland Security, I have a lot of sympathy for Kong. I want to help. But will a few words be enough for her?

Should I take Stephanie Kong's case?

View Results

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  • LFH0

    You are dealing with at least two important, but separate, issues.

    First, an employer is usually liable for the acts of their employees when those within the course and scope of their employment. It does not seem likely that the person accused of trolling in this case was doing it within the scope of their employment, and with the accuser having to rely on “IP information,” it sounds like the accused was purposefully trying to disassociate his personal comments from any views of his employer. I don’t see a problem with Ms. Kong relying the relevant information to the employer, but I don’t think that the employer is responsible for the accused has done in the past (and the employer may be relying on advice of counsel to not respond). There is no reason for Mr. Elliott to take up her case.

    Second, I found troubling Mr. Elliott’s question-and-answer, “Do we have a duty to stop hurtful comments from being published, even if they are true? I think so.” Too many people have twisted our sensibilities so the “feelings” are more important than “truth.” Many universities establish rules that prohibit “hurtful” language on campus, as have some countries (e.g., Canada). Expressing a comment that radical Muslims who blow up airplanes are inhumane might be hurtful to some people (i.e., evil-doers). It would be wrong for this blog to prohibit the expression of truth because someone might possible feel hurt; truth should always be permitted.

  • chrishansenhome

    There is a difficulty here. The offender, if stopped by his/her employer, can just continue on a personal computer at home or a smartphone. So contacting the company is probably not going to produce the desired result. This is possibly why the company is ignoring her requests for assistance.

    The only way to stop this behaviour would be to enable comment moderation for all comments (not just the ones from this particular individual, as s/he can just log in with a different username and continue to offend). This will not spare the blogger (sadly) from the hurtful comments. However, such comments will not be shown on the site to others.

    Once the offender realises that his/her comments are not being shown publicly, it’s likely that s/he will lose interest in paying attention to her blog.

  • Brooklyn

    Saying that radical Muslims who blow up airplanes are inhumane would not be wrong, but making pejorative comments about Muslims in general would be very wrong indeed. You’ve given this example before on Chris’s blog and this makes me fear that you fall into the latter category. I hope that’s not the case.

  • Brooklyn

    Years ago, before the Internet, I was getting obscene and threatening calls from a disgruntled mechanic (he’d tried to hang onto my car even after the insurance company had settled the claim). I was young and at my wits’ end since he knew where I lived and I often had to come home from the university library late at night. The police refused to investigate. It was my father who called the guy’s employer and raised holy hell. Unlike the employer mentioned in the article, the garage-owner told the mechanic that if he got one more complaint from me, he would be out of a job. It worked – the problem was solved. So I think it might be worth pressuring the employer in this case to intervene; surely the troll wants to remain employed and it’s not in the company’s interest to be known to hire such people.

  • Jim

    This is a unique issue for your site. What are you really going to be able to do in this case? The employer is not going to respond to you in detail because if this is some type of harassment they open themselves up legally depending on what they say.

    Sure you can step in, but the likelihood of it doing any good are slim to none and it looks like slim is leaving town.

  • jay smith

    In my opinion, internet trolls (stalkers, etc.) are mentally unbalanced and complete cowards. They are socially ill equipped to convey their feelings towards others without hiding behind the anominity of the Internet. They write things that they would never say to anyone’s face. Just like a schoolyard bully, they won’t stop until you show them you are willing to stand up to them and punch them in the nose (literally or figuratively)!

    If this woman has enough evidence identifying the person (or company) where the comments are coming from, she needs to take it to the police. If it doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal complaint, then she needs to take it to an attorney. A potential civil case against the company where this electronic garbage is coming from will force the company to take action. Companies exist to make money. Company executives don’t like wasting their time babysitting idiot employees (I know I didn’t!). However, they dislike dealing with hostile attorneys even more! Once an attorney sends a letter, the company will be forced to respond. Then, like most companies, they will examine whether it is cheaper to fight a potential lawsuit or address an internal issue (which should fix her problem).

  • Sam Varshavchik

    If someone’s doing it from their company’s computers, they’re certainly doing it within the “scope of their employment”. That’s what the referenced “IP information” is all about. Their employer is definitely on the hook for this.

  • BillCCC

    I say that you should leave this one alone. You are not the internet police. If this person is harassing her there are many other avenues to follow such as contacting the ISP, publicizing the name and company of the offender or even contacting the police. This appears to be a personal issue, it might end badly for you if you stick your nose in without knowing both sides.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    “what can a company like HealthTap do?”

    Is that a trick question?

    They can certainly fire the employer who is engaging in online harassment from the company’s network, from the company’s computers, on company’s time.

    This is obviously a small company. In a big, Wall Street 800lb gorilla, a complaint like that will be resolved probably within 24 hours. Information Security would look at the proxy logs for the employee in question, verify that he was engaging in online harassment, and then frog-march him out of the building within 15 minutes.

    I know from experience (not personal one, not involving me, of course).

    If this lady has a paper trail of contacting the company, informing them of their employee’s harassing and stalking, and the company doing nothing, there’s a remote possibility that she could find an ambulance chaser to go after them. This is not the type of a case most ambulance chasers specialize in, but it’s possible, and would be the quickest way to resolve the situation, and making, perhaps, a little bit beer money.

  • MissFitz88

    Stick his nose in? That’s hardly a fair comment considering he is an advocate, not a busy body. I agreed with you up to that point.

  • BillCCC

    IMHO getting between two people who are having a personal conflict without knowing the details would be sticking his nose in. If this is a case of a jilted lover or two people that just don’t like each other then it is none of our business.

  • I understand. You’re right, I would probably be an unwelcome presence. I’m writing this because I’ve been asked for help, not because I want to get involved in other people’s interpersonal conflicts.

  • John Baker

    I guess my questions are:
    1. Is he doing it from work or on work equipment? If not, I’m not sure what an employer is supposed to do. In fact, if the employee isn’t using anything associated from work, their maybe nothing they can do.

    2. Why not just ban him from your site?

    3. How certain are you that its the individual?

    Without answers to all of those questions, I think you are treading on dangerous ground. Regardless of what he’s doing, I think the employer route is only appropriate if the employee is using the employer’s time, equipment or resources to do it or abused those things in order to start (like an employee stealing your address / phone number to start the harassment).

    I also think that their are some more appropriate / less vindictive avenues to follow before she gets to the employer (if he’s not using their time etc) like just banning him from the site. Almost all commenting software has some troll stopping features built in. Just us them.

  • LFH0

    I’m not sure what crime is present for the police to get involved, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in a civil case is usually difficult to prove.

  • LFH0

    That the offender could go elsewhere was part of my unstated reasoning for concluding that the offending act was personal and not within the scope of employment.

  • Why doesn’t she just moderate comments & delete? Maybe I missed something in the post. Also, i had one guy with a personal vendetta and my webmaster was able to block his IP address so his comments go right to spam.

  • LFH0

    The example was given in order to illustrate the point that even a comment that would overwhelmingly be supported by nearly every American, that there would nonetheless be someone who would find the comment hurtful. Thus, a standard relying on hurtfulness is, in my opinion, not effective, and more likely unnecessarily chilling to open debate. (And I don’t believe that I have expressed any pejorative view in the foregoing.)

  • Joe

    I voted no. This is a consumer advocacy site, so unless you’re fresh out of consumer issues with rental car companies, airlines, hotels, etc., it would seem to run contrary to your mission. I can unfollow and block people on social media, is it really so difficult to do with a blog?

  • Vox_Rationis13

    As the company might “examine whether it is cheaper to fight a potential lawsuit or address an internal issue”, the LW also needs to figure out whether it’s best to ignore / delete those comments or pay for a potential lawsuit. And if this happens again with someone else, is she supposed to hire a lawyer each time? Best to ignore the trolls, just as every other small website owner has to do.

  • LostInMidwest

    I don’t think you should get involved. My upbringing makes that a non-issue. Imagine this scenario: 16 years old girl decides to show up on a most crowded and most popular beach in a bikini. She gets laughed out of town by her peers (teenagers).

    Cruel? Oh, yes. Does she have a Constitutional right to show up wherever she wants dressed however she wants and not be laughed at? Nope. Never did.

    My point is that showing your body on a popular beach will prompt comments from mediocre (majority) population – just like a Blog on unrestricted portion of the Internet will. You need to go to the equivalent of a Private Club to find different kind of people. Discrimination goes both ways and I say welcome to discrimination – at least it keeps the riff raff out. So, long story short, she can start her blog somewhere else and keep the riff raff out and admit only whom she wants to admit.

    If that is not appealing because it doesn’t attract enough eyeballs, then the lady might actually desire to have a cake and eat it too – the sooner she learns that that is not possible in this Universe, the better off she’ll be.

    So, no intervention.

  • AJPeabody

    My experience is that most bullies give up if there is no reward. Since the reward is usually the distress of the victim, going after the bully through the employer is in its way a reward to the bully. Getting the guy fired could lead to escalation into the real world if the guy is unbalanced, so further pressure is probably to be avoided.

    The best thing is to do is to appear to be ignoring the cyberbully. Block the IP address, block the bully from the blog, and look like he is totally ignored. In the absence of reward he is likely to give up. However, if he is obsessed, there may be some real life stalking. This means having to preserve the paper trail and involving the legal system and the police. I hope it does not come to this.

    Voted no.

  • Kurt Akemann

    Instead of trying to mediate things, my advice would be to refer Ms. Kong to someone who can help her IP Block this troll. That’s the best answer with a persistent troll. Blocking a company’s IP may also get their executives’ attention in a way an email cannot.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Definitely help this lady. I know the authorities are slow and not always willing to take up cases like this but I wonder if the threat of legal action might actually be what it takes in this case.

    As for the snark issues on this site, it is regrettable but I haven’t seen all that much of it lately. I am beginning to believe part of the issue is an inconsistency on this site’s part in how posts are handled. Not long back all comments were being approved before posting but that didn’t seem to last very long as I haven’t seen the “waiting for approval” message in quite some time. I wasn’t sure that was even necessary at the time but at some point you just need to find a policy and stick to it.

  • Thanks. It looks a lot easier than it is. We only placed all comments in moderation when the trolls are out in full force. But it’s labor-intensive, because a moderator has to approve every comment. We are moving to a better system tomorrow, which should fix this problem.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    So, if I’m a jilted lover I should be free to cyber-bully my ex from my workplace with total impunity? If it were coming from a personal IP address it’d be a bit different but this lady it being cyber-stalked from a company. At the very least the company should shut that part of it down so the nutcase would at least have to do it off work hours.

  • mspswede

    If Ms Kong has been able to track the IP address to this company, that means that the troll is using company resources for this attack. If the company does nothing, then I would take that to be implicit sponsorship of this behavior and they are liable.

  • John Baker

    How do you know that they don’t have an open / public WIFI hotspot that someone is using?

  • BillCCC

    I am commenting on whether a consumer advocate should get involved in this case not whether a cyber bully should be allowed to do anything.

  • mspswede

    That is a very good point! However, I have found few companies with completely open wifi hotspots. Typically, there’s a ‘Guest’ network or similar. If they did have an open hotspot, it seems that it would help them to respond to Ms Kong with that info so as to distance themselves.

  • BillCCC

    If you wish to get involved as a private citizen by all means do so. If you are asking whether Christopher Elliott as a consumer advocate should get involved then no, stay away.

  • MarkKelling

    The article mentions the comments were from “About four months ago” but no mention of continued commenting. Have there been more? Do they continue today?

    Maybe the company got the message and disciplined the offender after the first correspondence. There is no need for a response which could open the company to numerous legal issues. Maybe the commenter fulfilled his/her purpose and has moved on to other troll-like activities.

    I don’t see anything to be done here other than point the LW to someone who might be able to help with iP blocking or other Blog maintenance functions that could filter out most of the offensive posts when they do occur.

  • MarkKelling

    From a company. Not by a company. Someone can sit at a coffee shop and bully away using the internet access there (free or restricted access makes no difference). That is not the fault of the coffee shop neither is it the fault of the company that someone used their internet to bully as long as the company is not promoting this type of action.

    And no, no one should be allowed to bully anyone else.

  • John Baker

    Beyond that… shes probably pulling the IP address off the comment (hint Disqus does it too). Depending on the skills of the person involved, you can spoof an IP address as well. So, I wouldn’t say that simply because the IP address points back to the company means it has to come from the company.. Probably yes… but not definitively. Just like her pointing back to an individual. She thinks its him but without anything definitive. I’m betting the HR department at the company wants a smoking gun before they take any action instead of a whole lot of circumstantial evidence (and there’s a lot here).

  • Ken

    The company is not a coffee shop. It’s a healthcare company that provides medical advices online, so it’s very unlikely the office provides a free Wi-Fi to a passer-by.
    The company most likely deals with PHI and it most likely has a strict policy on its network use.

  • Ken

    The LW was harassed online by someone, possibly a former co-worker, who used the company’s network. This would for sure violate codes of conduct and policies on network usage in my workplace. If I were her, I would file a complaint in a certain department. It’s a pity a small start-up doesn’t have such a mechanism.
    The case certainly merits mediation, but doesn’t sound like a consumer-advocate issue. I voted no.

  • sirwired

    Assuming the behavior does not cross the line from merely obnoxious to truly vile and/or illegal, I would not expect an employer to police the personal internet lives of their employees. (Indeed I would be reluctant to even WORK for an employer that would do such a thing.)

  • Annie M

    I think you should take the case. If this employee were downloading pornographic websites onto their work computer, would the employer do something at that point to stop the illegal activity? The employee is using their work computer to do this harrassing, the employer should treat it as such.

    When I worked at a large company, if employees were caught on their computers doing anything other than work, they were held accountable. I am talking about people who were using EBay during the work day, and one employee WAS going to pronographic websites and was fired.

    Take the case. If the bullying contains threats to the blogger, she should also contact the police. Perhaps that would get the employer to do something.

  • ESCism

    There are technical ways to make this far more difficult for the offender… why doesn’t Ms Kong employ those first? Someone who is that determined to offend isn’t likely to be overly swayed by requests to stop. I would have deleted the comment, ignored the poster and pulled out every technical approach available to block them.. If they’re doing this on company time, the company has some responsibility. Otherwise, none.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    For all intensive purposes if a company has been made aware that someone is using their resources in cyber bullying and does nothing about it, it IS from the company. Unless you think a healthcare company has an open wifi network like a coffee shop and it’s some passerby using it, which is ludicrous. She contacted the company and heard absolutely nothing back. That speaks very poorly of them.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    This case is a prime example of the pitfalls of the internet. Anyone can become a personality on the internet. Anyone can, and will, say anything they please about the personality. Currently, there’s little that can be done about it. I cannot imagine any employer taking any action against their employee because a blogger was unhappy. Perhaps a direct supervisor could mention it and advise them to stop harassing the blogger; I don’t think an employer would respond to the blogger at all.

  • MarkKelling

    There was no mention that the offensive comments continued after the first couple times and none since the company was contacted. So either the company did something like reiterating their policies to the employees about inappropriate internet usage or cut off access to certain sites including the bloger’s, or the commenter fulfilled whatever purpose they had and moved on.

    Yes, some response from the company would have been nice even if it was just a form letter saying they got the message.

    Several medical clinics in my neighborhood have open WiFi that is useable by patients while in the waiting rooms. If someone were to post to a blog from there, the IP would trace back to that company. While I am sure the internal networks are not part of the public WiFi, all an IP trace would tell you is that the posting came from that company. Many companies have “guest” internet access for visiting vendors to use for sales pitches and the like. While not truly open like some coffee shops setups are, they are not as secure as the internal networks and could be used for NSFW activities.

  • MarkKelling

    The comment would most likely take the form of “Hey, we noticed you have been spending an excessive amount of time visiting non-work related websites during your shift. You should stop.” This gets the message across (unless the employee is truly dense or just doesn’t care) without any specifics that could lead to legal repercussions.

  • Lindabator

    And most companies would not address any action taken against an employee either way. Opens them up to a bucket full of legal problems.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    Downloading pornography is not illegal.

  • jennj99738

    This is an incorrect statement of the law. For an employer to be responsible for the acts of its employees, the employee’s actions must be in furtherance of the business itself not an act of self-interest. Simply using company property, i.e., the computer, does not make the employer responsible. There is a case where a security guard, on the job, was drinking and used his company gun to shoot another employee. The employer was held not to be responsible for “playing around.” In this case, we don’t know what the “bully’s” work responsibilities are to ascertain whether the blog comments were within the scope of his/her employment with the company. I actually doubt that the posts are within the commentator’s posts are within the scope of employment and therefore, the employer is not responsible.

    Also, there is nothing for the company to be on the hook for. The commentator is a troll, obviously rude, insensitive, etc. but that doesn’t make the postings a crime and unless the commentator is posting defamatory statements, they are not actionable civilly either. We don’t have nearly enough information to know any of this.

  • Nathan Witt

    I’m stuck on the part where the LW is upset about comments on her blog. Look: When you put yourself on the internet, where anyone and everyone can and will say whatever they want from behind the anonymity of a keyboard, you’re going to get nastiness from time to time. You’re also going to get strongly-worded vitriol from people who have a perspective different from yours, and some of the time, that perspective may be valid. People might be nasty to me in response to this comment, and if they are, I started the conversation, and if I can’t stand the possibility that someone will be hurtful or nasty, I don’t have to post. Sending several messages to someone and his or her employer (!) when the LW didn’t like what she read suggests to me that she may not be the best candidate for an online presence.

  • Nathan Witt

    There are laws that address this. If someone’s harassing an ex, it doesn’t matter whether they’re using a computer, the postal service, the telephone, or post-its on a windshield. A legal case can be started and restraining orders can be issued. I suppose it might be interesting to know whether a company could face any liability if the harasser was using that company’s property to perpetuate the harassment, but my point is that some communication is illegal, and the system will deal with it; some communication is not illegal, and unfortunately, it’s not against the law to be a jerk.

  • chrishansenhome

    I have written IT Equipment usage policies for several companies, and there is always a clause making it a disciplinary matter to use company equipment for harassment or other inappropriate communication. The examples I always use are obscene jokes or pictures sent from a company email address, but harassment would also “qualify”. Having harassing and inappropriate email and comments coming from company equipment can expose the company to both legal action and public opprobrium. It wouldn’t matter whether the harassment could be coming from personal computer equipment under other circumstances. If the company involved had such a policy, then this person was violating it.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    I’ve used 3 different names on this site because you’ve changed the requirements for commenting and I keep having to make new accounts. I used to use my real first name. LeeAnneClark made 2 ad hominem attacks in response to my comments. Because my name starts with J a commenter who went by daisymae accused me of being John Baker (I am female by the way, but just having a name that starts with J, which is very common for first names was enough.) This commenter continued to harass me every time I commented for weeks until I stopped commenting and eventually went to an anonymous name assigned by disqus. I emailed you about this at the time and your response was “I agree comments were bad today.” (This past response is also the reason I declined your recent request to contact you outside of comments.) I’ve noticed that LeeAnneClark remains allowed to comment on this side despite subsequent personal attacks on commenters (though none lately) and a commenter who I believe is daisymae continues to comment. Yet you are not banning users for what you deem to be “snark.” I’ve also read your commenting policies and they mention that users whose comments are flagged will be banned. You’ve warned me that my comments have been flagged and you’ve stated a reason they were flagged. However, disqus does not allow users to state a reason why comments were flagged. As an example, I have flagged your comment above so that you can see that flags come with no context. Just 2 weeks ago I received a rude reply with a personal attack from a commenter named Brooklyn. He edited his response, but I had already received the original in my email. He used the excuse that he edited it quickly because he thought he was replying to another commenter. I flagged his comment, but he received no warning from you. I’ve noticed that he continues to comment on this site and complains about other commenters. He is the one making personal attacks, but again, your policy is only applied to the commenters you have an issue with and to what you deem snark. I’ve worked for top ten websites and an email provider, including moderation, policy enforcement and content approval. I can tell you that your commenting policies are unrealistic and your definitions of troll, cyberbully and snark are extremely narrow. The fact that you would even ask if you should take this case just illustrates exactly how far in the wrong direction you’re looking.

  • charliebgolf

    As the owner of a business I do not tolerate my employees using work computers for anything of a personal nature, unless it is approved by me. The last thing I need is my company IP address and info showing up on the type of activity utilized by the person mentioned in the post. On the down side for the writer is that the person can still do this type of thing on their home computer and then there is really no one else that might be able to help her. I do know that quite a few blog programs are out there where she can at least remove offending messages as soon as they hit, and there are probably some where the responses have to be approved before going on line.

  • John Baker

    Whoops …. Sorry to get you harassed. Gotta love the bad old days of the weekly TSA blog post.

    FYI … I think LeeAnne did have a time out for awhile. At least she went through a period where she didn’t post. I’ve just seen her start posting again in the last few weeks.

  • SallyLu

    I don’t know the exact legal ins and outs, but I do know that my company requires our employees to take an annual sexual harassment course and in these courses it always states repeatedly that if anyone is doing harassing from work email, the company may be held responsible.

  • jennj99738

    It really depends on the situation and it’s not clear from your post what “held responsible” means. If an employee is using the computer to sexually harass someone outside the company, the employer would rebut the presumption of employment by showing that the activity was not within the scope of his/her employment. Not all harassment is actionable. Obviously, the employee could be terminated if the employer found out about the harassment. It really is situationally dependent. These courses don’t take into account all possibilities or recent case law.

  • Joe

    Double dipping on the posts today, but an anecdote:
    I had a bully once when I was seven. I told the teacher and she did nothing. I told my parents, and they told me that weak and insecure people sometimes hide behind a facade and suggested I try ignoring the bully. That didn’t work. I told my parents again, and this time they said that when no else is willing to stand up for you, you have to do it yourself. So the next week the bully came back and shoved me from behind, so I turned around and punched him as hard as I could in the nose. He bled, he cried, and he left me alone from that day on. So block this commenter’s IP address or change your settings to manually approve comments. In other words, put your big kid pants on, stand up for yourself, and do something about it. Don’t sit around and wait for someone else to fix the problem for you.

  • Chris Bray

    Just right, and thank you for the wisdom and perspective of this comment. Public discussion can sometimes be harsh — so what? If someone calls me an idiot, I’m going to die? Grown-ups don’t whine about “bullying.”

  • Jason Hanna

    I’ve run online forums, I worked for a company that wrote online forum software. This person, and Chris to an extent, are looking in the totally wrong direction.

    It is not an employers’ responsibility to stop online harassment. I’m shocked they even wrote to the company. Might a company do something about it? Possibly.. If it were a violation of their company policy to be using company computers for personal items. But, those policies are mainly in place to prevent porn surfing at work or similar. I am not surprised at all that there was no response from the company. If they forwarded it to their IT department, which they would have to do to track which employee it came from.. They’ve probably got better things to do.

    The onus on stopping unwanted comments lies with the blog owner. It’s just the way of the world.. If you post something, and allow anyone to comment on it.. They will. And you’ll get a section of the population that comments JUST to rile others up. So, you utilize mitigation tools.. Block anonymous comments.. If they have to sign up for an account, they will generally find something better to do. They can block the IP address of the offender.. Not hard to get another IP, though.. There’s badword filters that you can flag comments.. You can put people on moderator approval.. There’s tons of ways to stop the comments from being seen by the general public.. almost none to prevent the owner from seeing them, tho.

  • Daisiemae

    Did this “stalker” threaten to kill her or any of her loved ones? Did he threaten to assault her in any way?

    Did he threaten to burn down her house? Did he threaten to bust out her windshield?

    Did he post nude photos without her permission?

    No?

    Everything else is freedom of speech. Anyone who can’t handle that should not be posting on the internet.

    This entire discussion is completely ludicrous.

    (Oops! There I go with my cyber bullying!)

  • EvilEmpryss

    Company time, company property, company business. They can’t stop him from posting the stuff on his own time from his own computers, but they sure as heck are responsible for policing what he’s doing on company time.

  • I agree. Most modern blog software has the ability to block IP addresses from comments. I know on my own blog I have a comments policy of what is and is not allowed. If the poster willfully violates the policy then I simply delete the post.
    On the other issue – hurting someone’s feelings. That bothers me. The truth always hurts and it shouldn’t be suppressed. It needs to be done in a fact based manner though – “you are a thief” is a personal attack while “you were convicted of embezzling” is a fact based statement. That statement would be very relevant if it were a political blog and the person were running for office.
    Too many times I’ve seen personal attacks on this blog Vs fact based statements discussing the issue at hand. Sometimes the personal attacks come from the moderators.

  • SallyLu

    To clarify, by “held responsible” I mean that if a complaint is made to the harasser’s employer and they don’t do anything or don’t enough to prevent the harassment, they could be sued.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    Nothing to be sorry for, you didn’t do anything. I’ve never had an issue with your posts, though I admit I don’t read all of them. Ironically it’s probably the people who complain the most about being offended who make sure they read them all. I do think that there is a double standard in the way moderation has been and is being applied. But I suppose once we’re all banned that will resolve itself!

  • Daisiemae

    Please don’t ever call me an idiot. If you do, I may drown myself in a tub of champagne.

    But first, I’ll tell Mom!

  • Joe_D_Messina

    In any of your scenarios you still have the same base problem of the company’s resources being misappropriated and likely by someone from within the physical confines of the company. (Sure, in theory it could be maybe from the suite next door or somebody in the parking lot but odds would it be it’d be somebody on premises given wi-fi typically doesn’t reach all that far.) You’re correct that it is possible the harassment from that IP stopped after she contacted them–the letter doesn’t specify either way.

  • jennj99738

    Suffice it to say, I cannot take into account every avenue available in a lawsuit but as an attorney, I would not take that case. Anybody can sue anybody in the U.S. but that does not mean every suit is valid. That’s all I’m going to say on the subject because everyone also has their own opinions about the law.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    You can’t imagine your employer taking any action if they became convinced you were engaged in potentially illegal activity using their resources? Many companies have it written into policy that employees aren’t supposed to do anything personal-related on company time and equipment. (Most don’t even attempt to enforce it but they still have it in writing just so when problems come up…like something along these lines…they have a basis to take action.)

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It’s freedom of speech coming from your own computer at home. On the company’s dime using their internet and probably also their computers it’s quite likely in violation of some policy and freedom speech would offer no protection if the company decided to act.

    And stalking laws do not require an actual threat of violence. Simply continuing to contact people once they’ve told you to leave them alone will constitute stalking in most cases. (Doesn’t mean the authorities will typically do much in such cases, but the laws are written to allow them to take action before people start threatening to kill you.)

  • Mel65

    I voted no. Not because I’m not sympathetic–I am. I was cyber-stalked for 10 months and it was hell at the time. But, because 1) this is a consumer advocacy site. The OP didn’t have a business issue that she needs resolved. This to me isn’t an appropriate case for this forum, in my oh so humble opinion. and 2) I don’t think it’s necessarily solveable; *if* the troll is who she thinks, what does she think he’ll do if she gets him FIRED? Slink quietly away to ponder the consequences of his actions? Up the ante? And lastly, it’s a public blog; does she think everyone must agree with what she writes? Surely there’s a way to block him from posting? Everyone assumes that he’s abusing company time and equipment. But perhaps they don’t have a documented acceptable use policy and are pretty lax about what people do on the internet during lunch or coffee breaks? I’m often on this site during down time at work. Is that abuse? Or only if I’m being nasty about something? The guy sounds like a jerk, but if he’s as threatening and abusive as she seems to indicate, is a consumer advocate who she REALLY needs to be turning to??

  • LonnieC

    I think that an important element here is that the employer has been notified about its employee’s use of company property to harass someone. With that knowledge, the employer may have a legal duty to stop that usage if it is against company policy to use its property for personal purposes. And if it is not against company policy to use its computers for personal purposes, then the company may have some responsibility for what the employee does with its computers. At the least, the company may be legally liable for allowing an illegal use (cyberbullying?) of its property by a third party. That may be a factor of local law.

  • LonnieC

    Perhaps just exposing the matter to light may help end the bullying. The employer may decide to step in because of the bad publicity. Or it may just increase the problem because of the attention the bully is getting. It may be worth a try, however.

  • DavidYoung2

    I think the problem for the employer is that the employer now has reason to believe their employee may be abusive whilst on company time and utilizing company resources. Think of the liability if this employee becomes abusive to a co-worker, customer or vendor. The employer now knows, or should know, that an employee is potentially abusive.

    If I were an employer, I would write them up, suspend them for a week without pay, and let them know that such behavior on or off the clock could be construed to be disreputable to the company, and it must cease immediately. Or they’ll be terminated for cause.

  • LonnieC

    To be fair, writing can be difficult. Some folks don’t express themselves very well, and what may have been intended as humorous or cute can look quite different in print. Some times it’s just easier to ignore the bad stuff, unless it gets excessive or ugly.

  • Brooklyn

    Chris, you’re always an unwelcome presence for one side of the case; otherwise you wouldn’t be doing your job!

  • Brooklyn

    This reminds me of a student, years ago, who complained to me that her family had had to move three times to get away from Hispanic neighbors. Apparently it had never occurred to them that they could have stayed where they were and gotten to know the people next door. Similarly, you didn’t have to change your name three times; you did it because you kept getting warnings for breaking the site rules. Don’t break the rules (which Chris gets to interpret as it’s his blog) and you can keep your own name.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    Yes, I did. The name I used for the first commenting system didn’t work with the second one. Then when the third commenting system came in, I did choose not to use my real name anymore, because both I and another commenter were receiving negative replies and having our comments attributed to each other. So I did have to change it the first time. These were not all disqus accounts, Chris has in the past allowed comments by other methods. I’ve never hidden my IP and I’ve used the same email address when commenting via all three methods. See what happens when you assume?

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    In the incidents where I was repeatedly accusing of being John, I didn’t say anything humorous or snarky. LeeAnneClark just disagreed with my opinion, called me names, and that was enough for daisymae to both respond to my comments and make several comments on various posts accusing John Baker of having multiple accounts. She had an issue with mods allegedly having multiple accounts. I tried to address this via email and as I said, I got an unsatisfactory reply. The comments where I was warned that they were flagged were after Chris started requiring commenters be logged into disqus, and I decided that using my real name was clearly going to be an issue that the mods could not/would not handle. As I said below, I have never hidden my IP address and mods do have access to IP addresses. If they wanted the issue to stop at the time, they could have easily seen that John Baker and I do not use the same IP and probably don’t have the same ISP. I bring this up because this case is about tracking and identifying commenters by their IP address.

  • Chris Bray

    If you’ve gotta go, drowning in a tub of champagne is probably one of the better ways to do it. Even better? Tub full of Laphroaig.

  • Grant Ritchie

    “Tracking and identifying commenters by their IP address”? That sounds awfully “1984”-ish and I don’t think any of us have or would do something like that. We’re just average folks trying to tiptoe through a minefield. Hopefully, our new SolidOpinion commenting platform will improve matters.

  • Chris Bray

    Posting a comment on a blog is like writing to a newspaper — it’s speech in a public forum, not personal contact. If you run a blog that isn’t password-protected and restricted to a private audience, and your posts are open to commenters, then you should expect people to read and comment. If you speak in public, people will respond in public.

    Posting a comment to a public comment thread isn’t the same as calling someone’s house or flooding their email inbox, surely.

  • Wilma_Betty

    Nothing to do with the gist of this discussion, just thought I’d point out that the expression is “for all intents and purposes.”

  • Travelnut

    I was hoping emanon would show up today, but since I don’t see anything… I saw your shoutout in another thread. By the time I saw it, the conversation had been closed (?) so I couldn’t reply to you. Also it seems I can’t send a PM. Anyway. I was happy to see you say you were glad I was still around. Virtual hello to you! Thing is, unfortunately I think I have one foot out the door now. Maybe one foot and three toes. I completely get that it’s Chris’s board, Chris’s rules. I’m still unclear how far one can go before one runs afoul of the new rules, and I agree about the inconsistency. What upsets me most though, is not only are posters being suspended, they are being publicly called out and then suspended. I would hope there is a better way than shaming long time posters that many of us have come to see as online friends. Not sure why it couldn’t have been dealt with as a private offline conversation. I still get a lot out of this board but I may not participate much anymore.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    Isn’t that what the LW is doing, attempting to keep track of and identify a commenter based on their IP address? Another question, will I be required to continue to use my same disqus assigned name on the new commenting platform? If you read the comment below you will see that I used a different name because I break the site rules. I wouldn’t want to mislead anyone while using a reputation based commenting system.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I voted no. If this person is posting nasty comments to her blog, she has options:
    1. Block the IP
    2. Find a new blogging site that allows friends-only posting
    3. Ignore him and he will go away.

    If the guy is just being an annoying ass and not threatening her or posting revenge porn, she has no recourse but to see the three options above.

    Remember, it’s the internet. And the internet has an attention span of about 15 minutes.

  • Peggy White-Davis

    Yep, I vote to ask you to take it on, Chris. If only from the perspective of the reason for being, boiled down to this: One of the biggest reasons for our being is to help others. And if it’s going after a segment that is out of the norm, the “prime objective” is still being honored. When a situation is “made right”, it can have viral implications. People start to think, “Well, if here, then maybe there.” What have we got to lose by trying? More importantly, what do we potentially stand to lose if we DON’T try?

  • Badcat Besseya

    IP bans are quite problematic, particularly with IPV4, (vs. IPV6) simply because most addresses are shared in dynamic pools, rather than belonging to one user (or family). You may find yourself banning random users, rather than the one you’ve targeted.

    I run a number of email lists, some with the same core group of users for more than 15 years, and find it easier to recognize the style and delete, either automagically or manually. But I deal with relatively few trolls or bullies and can put individual users on moderation quite easily. That appears to be more discouraging to the bully types than an outright ban.

  • Altosk

    Agreed, and IP addresses are problematic because they can be spoofed, but in this case…I think asking a consumer advocate to deal with someone annoying a user on the internet is just…well…dumb.

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