One way to deal with blackmail

Most of us have photos that could potentially hurt us. Publicity can (sometimes) help

My most recent geolocation challenge came with several twists. I recently published this article in Foreign Policy, and it seems to have annoyed someone. Without getting into too much detail — as I’d still like to find out the identity of the person — this someone then apparently paid someone else, someone very stupid, to rifle through my social media history and “dig up” something “damaging.” Their best effort was this:

Before saying anything else, I will point out that I have lost work opportunities because my social media content was deemed too sexual/too feminine before. Forget allowing the world to know that I have a pair of breasts (disgusting, right?), in a truly bizarre turn of events, I was even shamed for posting pictures of my cat.

If I was still at one of my old jobs, the photo above would’ve gotten me canned. Not because there’s anything wrong with the photo, but because I’ve worked with some real cretins in my life.

Moving on, as I pointed out in my follow-up tweet, the decision to focus on this photo was incredibly stupid for several reasons — one of them is simply the fact that I’ve posted the photo before:

In fact, as he was trying to geolocate it, JoseMonkey dug up the original tweet for me:

You can see how a previously published photo makes for a really weak blackmail attempt (the “blackmail,” if we can even call it that, involved a demand that I have my Foreign Policy piece taken down — lol no), as the photo was already out there.

There is also the fact that it’s a good photo. Now, we can argue about the fact as to whether or not it makes me look “unprofessional” — like I said, I’ve worked with cretins before, any reminder that a woman has a body, let alone a body that can be somewhat photogenic, horrifies them to no end — but at the very least, it’s not cringe. I really did feel extremely beautiful when it was taken, and I was happy to share it with my audience.

What makes this debacle even sillier, is that I already have a decent platform. I’m not a young journalist, just starting out. I have enough social media presence to where I can come out and say exactly what’s happening, and turn the tables. In other words, I have a degree of power in this situation that a lot of other people do not have.

Therefore, my method of dealing with the bizarre “blackmail attempt” is not one that I can recommend to everyone.

As it is pointed out in this example by Gennady, when you’re someone like Jaromir Jagr, things are even easier:

So, if something similar to what just happened to me happens to you, weigh your options carefully and — if you feel like you need it — reach out to someone who can lend the situation the context it needs. In fact, reach out to someone regardless. I did, just to cover my bases. That’s how I found out what was happening, and that more than one person was involved, which is all I can reveal for now.

I did have loads of fun turning an unpleasant situation into a geolocation challenge, however. As many people pointed out, the location I was in was very much familiar to Google (you can look at more of Brandon’s responses for context):

Though Joe, I believe, technically, did get there first:

And yes, he used Google too:

You might be wondering why this place was so much easier to find than others. Well, it’s a popular vacation spot! People tag it a lot!

Again, there’s something to be said here from a personal safety perspective. If you merely glanced at the photo, you might conclude that the mountains just look like a generic Mediterranean location, and leave it at that. Technology, however, is way ahead of our eyes on this one. This is something to remember when you’re posting pictures. A popular location that looks vague to you may not look vague at all.

If you’ve followed my story closely (as stalkers and foreign intelligence personnel will do, for example) you might have noticed my recent tweets about the last time I was in Greece, when this photo was taken:

As some people guessed, the photo was indeed taken by my then husband:

The picture does not betray what a tense, scary time it was for me. At the same time, my parents were in town, my husband was then medicated, and we were able to drive to Elafonisi together and have a nice day without him screaming in my face or threatening me or otherwise going off the rails.

The sands at Elafonisi are pink from all of the coral in the area, the water is warm even in late September, and, in many ways, it’s the perfect place to say goodbye to someone you cannot be with.

What can we learn from this example? a) Pictures often don’t tell the whole story. My husband and I took plenty of happy pictures together. They never featured my bruises or our endless fights. In fact, many of the people who knew us later used my happy pictures to try to “prove” that I was lying when I alleged abuse. That’s not how it works, however, both because Instagram in particular is a reward machine for showing off your best, most polished moments AND because a lot of people in abusive relationships are going to want to hide the abuse, since the shame is so great and because their spouse will also encourage it.

b) Abusive relationships are complicated and casting an abuser simply as a monster denies their complexity. This in turn leaves us with few real tools to help a victim. Please keep that in mind if you think someone you know is living with abuse.

But it’s not all gloom and doom! One of the best consequences of me going ahead and sharing this picture, have been some of the memes it generated. Please enjoy:

It was a great way to end this whole thing on a positive note! I feel lucky to have such great followers — thank you, ALL OF YOU.

Do you have an online stalker? Write me at nvantonova [at] gmail {dot} com, I may be able to help. Did you learn something new today? Or perhaps you considered this exercise useful? Please consider a paid subscription — just $5 a month makes a huge difference!