Cyberstalking, the topic of last week's column, is a huge issue that will become the next major technology topic of discussion. After addressing the basics...

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Cyberstalking, the topic of last week’s column, is a huge issue that will become the next major technology topic of discussion. After addressing the basics last week, it makes sense to examine some of the subtleties.

To define cyberstalking we need to say what it is not. There are conflicting social forces at work here. There is the temptation to use e-mail as an avenue of flirtation, where you can put things in writing that you could not say face to face. And in these politically correct times, the last thing you want to do is offend people or invade their space.

Reconciling the two is pretty darn simple. If you write a flirty note and the recipient asks you to cease and desist, you are not a stalker. That is, unless you write another flirty note. These cease-and-desist notes aren’t easy to read or, for that matter, to write.

But these little social ups and downs are part of life. Being able to handle them is what separates the nuts from the rest of the cake.

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There is another behavior that may feel like stalking but really isn’t. When people meet, they often enter the names of their new acquaintance into a search engine to see what floats to the top. This has become pretty standard behavior, to check out either a prospective business contact or a potential date.

This, according to cyberstalking expert Jayne Hitchcock, is not stalking. Rather, the tendency to check people out in this way makes a lot of sense — for your safety and theirs.

But Hitchcock has one helpful suggestion: If you search online to gain personal intelligence, don’t tell the person about it. At least not on the first date.

Coming from the other direction, there are ways to protect yourself from potential stalkers or irritants. Run a search on yourself and attempt to remove any mention of your e-mail address or phone number from random pages.

This will cut down on your spam and lessen the chance that someone who doesn’t agree with you will start sending daily annoyances.

Joelle Ligon of Seattle took it a step further. The former victim has become a respected anti-stalking activist, so when you search for her name, there are hundreds of mentions of how she fought back and won. By being in the news, she developed an identity that would discourage future stalkers.

Everyone — cyberstalkers and the rest of us — searches for people on a regular basis. What separates us is what we do with the information. This is relevant because Ligon made news that had the effect of punching up her persona.

That makes a good deal of sense. You see how tough she is, so you’ll leave her alone. Trouble is, a stalker who doesn’t know when to stop won’t always pick up a subtle hint.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type “Inbox” in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.