Last week my personal identifying information was removed from a cyberbully’s website. While it is gratifying that finally this neighborhood bully has backed down to pressure from the Los Angeles City Attorney's Work Place Violence Unit – afforded me because of my position as a Neighborhood Council Commissioner – it disappoints me that some of the other people he listed remain vulnerable because they are not public officials. The City should go further and protect the ordinary citizens who Mark Ryavec continues to harass through his online campaign.
This incident is particularly egregious because each time those listed protest his campaign, Ryavec amps up the intimidation and harassment by declaring us drama queens, accusing us of playing the sympathy card, "getting a good laugh" about my pending divorce and saying that we are the ones seeking attention. This is quite a predicament; we, (the three targeted women) either call attention to his refusal after repeated attempts to delete our personal identifying information, or we are silenced. That is the very definition of cyberbullying.
What better place to find information about cyberbullying than the internet, the modern medium that made it possible? According to Wikipedia, “examples of what constitutes cyberbullying include communications that seek to intimidate, control, manipulate, put down, falsely discredit, or humiliate…” That started a couple of years ago, when details of my personal struggles were published on Venice blogs in an effort to embarrass me.
But the cyberstalking in Venice has gone even further with the "enemies list" published months ago and remaining under the ruse of being a "campers' guide for the homeless" on the Venice Stakeholders Association website, directing people to private homes.
Municipalities and states across our country have passed laws protecting citizens against these kinds of online attacks, and it isn’t just a civil matter. The National Crime Prevention Council has weighed in, and the California criminal code is clear: we are not allowed to cause harassment of anyone by posting personal identifying information, and "Harassment means a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that a reasonable person would consider as seriously alarming, seriously annoying, seriously tormenting, or seriously terrorizing the person and that serves no legitimate purpose."
There is no legitimate purpose in directing people to private homes. This is right in line with the tactics outlined in Wikipedia's article on cyberbullying: “Common tactics used by cyberstalkers are performed in public forums, social media or online information sites and are intended to threaten a victim's earnings, employment, reputation, or safety. Behaviors may include encouraging others to harass the victim and trying to affect a victim's online participation. Many cyberstalkers try to damage the reputation of their victim and turn other people against them.”
We have seen tragic real world consequences in the national news – and Venice is not immune to this kind of online pile-on. One anonymous commenter on a news story about the camping guide suggested he’d like to slit my throat. There are documented incidents of strangers with unclear intent continually showing up at the addresses of several of those included on Ryavec's list. He refused the calls of many in the community to remove the other addresses.
He has attempted to silence me in other forums, too. It's become par for the course that when I sit on a panel or am interviewed by the media, the producers have to contend with Ryavec's barrage of insults for allowing me to participate. Thankfully, these pros understand that such tactics make it all the more important for my voice and others to be heard
When I won election two years ago to serve as president of the Venice Neighborhood Council http//www.venicenc.org, I expected challenges on issues throughout my tenure. I knew there would be plenty of ad homonym attacks given the passions involved. My last post here "A Call for Civilitiy-A Love Letter to Venice" generated so much debate I became one of Patch’s Top 100 national bloggers! That’s what democracy is all about.
I never dreamed, though, that I’d face this kind of sustained, personal harassment—and that others would simply because they’ve spoken up about difficult neighborhood and regional problems. This matters so much because the bullying has extended to anyone who disagrees with my opponent's positions—who, we should remember, lost the privilege of representing Venice by a substantial margin. I received over 750 votes out of 1,219 cast in a City-run, unchallenged election.
Disagreement and rigorous debate are critical to democracy. As president, I am vigilant about maintaining civil discourse at Neighborhood Council meetings because if people are afraid to speak up out of fear that they might be the next target, they will lose their voice and the whole point of the Neighborhood Council will be lost with it. To make room for democratic debate, there is no room for bullying.