howto: protect yourself from the craigslist experiment

by Violet Blue on October 4, 2006

A few weeks ago I blogged about The Craigslist Experiment, where a creepy guy named Jason Fortuny posted a fake, explicit Craigslist ad from the point of view of a female submissive looking for rough sex, and then he maliciously posted all of the personal information on each and every one of the respondents to an editable online wiki. Since then there has been at least one copycat — miraculously, Michael Crook is of even lower social caliber, baiting his respondents for further personal information. Reactions around the blogosphere have been strong, even in many ways going uncomfortably far in personal attacks on Fortuny.

Meanwhile, the New York Times seems to have dropped the story. Why? I think it’s because it’s unclear where the ‘good vs. bad’ or ‘guilty vs. innocent’ lines can be drawn here — though while that’s a head-scratching conundrum for most media to interpret, for me that’s what makes this whole situation really interesting. Plus, the entire thing is centered on a very extreme sexual fantasy, and we can never, ever expect any media to discuss something like this in a mature, nonjudgemental or accurate context in our lifetimes. And to me, that’s a big reason why jerks like Fortuny and the aptly-named Crook can exploit a poorly informed, and sexually shamed public.

Think of it like this: when you upload a porn photo to Flickr, you are in violation of their Terms of Use rules and they take it down. When you use your work email address to answer an explicit sex ad, you are essentially in violation of your employer’s TOU. If you cheat on your wife, you’re in violation of your marriage’s TOU. In his “experiment”, Jason Fortuny violated several ethical and social TOUs that many of us accept as basic privacy and communication rules of conduct.

But not everyone outed in The Craigslist Experiment was violating one of life’s TOUs — I’ll even argue that the majority of the people who had their personal info revealed didn’t care, or notice.

So if you’re not doing something you shouldn’t, and you want to answer a personal ad on Craiglslist (even a sexually explicit or edgy one) and protect your privacy, how do you avoid getting exploited for entertainment and sport by creeps like Fortuny? And if you want to place an ad, no matter how explicit, how can you do so safely?

The howto is after the jump.


* * * * * * *

Howto: Protect Yourself from The Craigslist Experiment

* First rule: use a dummy email address. Everyone should have one of these anyway, just for all those lame-ass manditory registration sites that demand your email address and name just to read a news article or whatever — while ovbiously trading their information for the chance to gather your personal info for marketing or spam. So not fair. Use a free online email (webmail) service and make an account you won’t mind getting unsolicited spam sent to from news websites — or one you won’t cry about having someone publish in association with a sexual ad you might answer. Sign up with a name you will want to use in both instances.

* Your email address can be searched for on social networking sites (like MySpace) and on Google for further information; keep in mind what’s associated with your email address when replying to any random personal ad.

* Don’t respond to an ad if you have anything to really hide or lose. The internet is tracable and it’s really quite difficult to keep secrets here. If you’re lying to your girlfriend about your shit fetish and answering CL ads for brown shower enthusiasts, she *will* eventually find out, I promise.

* Read my porn surfing privacy howto for a lot of essential information about safeguarding your privacy, near the end of the article.

* If you’re really concerned about your web privacy, use Tor

* Use common sense when you read a Craigslist ad. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is — meaning, question the authenticity of everything you read on any free anonynmous ad service. Proceed accordingly with the way you respond, how you present yourself to the person you’re responding to, and how much information you reveal about yourself in your reply. Wait until you’ve had more than three emails from the person you’re corresponding with before you offer up anything like what I have listed in the next bullet point.

* Never give a stranger your real name, email address, your phone number, physical address or location at any given time, information that could let them know where you work or hang out, or send photos that reveal your face. This is basic rape and stalker prevention, by the way. We women know.

* “Your pic gets mine” is a red flag. Don’t do it, ever.

* Decide if you’re looking for an actual connection or just an email thrill before you even start writing your reply. If it’s just a thrill, be as outrageous in your reply as you want and have fun.

* If you want the possibility of making something really happen, be genuine about your intentions in your response while being open about your hesitations to play with a stranger. If you are looking for BDSM or otherwise sexually unconventional encounters, learn as much as you can about the specific acts you want to engage in and the associated terminology so you can spot fakes faster. A good number of experienced CD and BDSM practitioners emailed me about the original ad used in the Craiglslist Experiment stating that this was a typical fake ad style used by guys who like masturbating to extreme female-submissive fantasies where they themselves are in the female role. No revelations here for the world of sexual fantasy, but a disappointment for anyone looking for an actual female submissive who likes to play rough.

* Read up about physical, emotional and sexual safety when playing with fetishes.

Tips for placing your ad:

* Posting is much less revealing than replying, but still use common sense. Read all preceeding sections about revealing personal information. Don’t be duplicitous or try to subvert the Craigslist system with fake info, but be smart about what you reveal to all those clamoring strangers out there.

* Know that the Craigslist anonymizing email system is excellent and can be relied on.

* Assume that every kind of awful rotten hateful jackass in the world is going to read your ad and respond to it. Also assume that you will find a few cool people, too. Like operating a motor vehicle, get to where you want to go with your CL ad by driving defensively.

* If your ad is about intense sex acts, learn the right terminology to stay safe and attract people who will play safe with you. Don’t make the mistake in the fake CL Experiment ad and say things like “safe, sane, consensual” and then contradict yourself. Demand negotiation of boundaries.

* If you meet someone, do it in a public place you never ever go to — but check it out before you go so you know if it’s safe to get in and out of, if the parking area is safe, and that there will be lots of people around. Let a friend know you’re meeting someone and arrange for a series of phone calls to check in — better yet, meet your respondent with a friend planted at a nearby table, or even waiting for you in your car.

Update: my dear friend and fellow Fleshbotette Waking Vixen writes,

“**Never give a stranger your real name, email address, your phone number,
physical address or location at any given time, information that could let
them know where you work or hang out, or send photos that reveal your face.**

From both a sex worker and slutty CL’er perspective – if someone refused to
give me any of these identifying details, plain and simple, I would never
meet them. Though I understand that people are concerned about being
discreet (or “discrete” in the popular CL misspelling), this is a big red
flag to me and would make me feel like the person had something to hide.

I think the problem is that past the initial exchange, a certain level of
trust must be exchanged in order for online dating to work. Yes, this opens
you up to being stalked, etc, but without these details you might never get
a date.

Escorts are increasingly using services like date-check.com and
roomservice2000.com – where the client enters their personal info once and
then the sex worker checks up on them through the site. Its a nice level of
security without the personal exposure to another potentially not
trustworthy person. Of course, it also ads a third party to the equation,
which might not be all that desirable.

I’m a little surprised that online daters haven’t started using these
services – or if they have, I’m surprise I haven’t heard of it. I think
internet daters could learn a lot from the way sex workers do things,
personally.”

Violet Blue

The London Times named Violet Blue "One of the 40 bloggers who really count" and Self Magazine named TinyNibbles one of the “Best Sex Resources for Women.” Blue is an autodidact and pundit on sex and technology, hacking and security, porn for women, privacy and bleeding-edge tech culture. She is a journalist for ZDNet, CBS News, CNET; she's an educator, speaker, crisis counselor, volunteer NGO trainer, and the author and editor of over 40 award-winning books.

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