Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, group, or organization.
It may include false accusations, defamation, slander and libel. It may also include monitoring, identity theft, threats, vandalism, solicitation for sex, doxing, or blackmail.
There are different types of cyberstalking –
- Stalking by strangers.
- Gender based stalking
- Stalking of intimate partners.
- Stalking of celebrities or public people.
- Stalking by anonymous online groups.
- Corporate cyberstalking.
Ina and David Steiner are a married couple from Natick, Mass. The couple run a website called ECommerceBytes.com. Ina does most of the reporting for the site, while David handles the business side.
Some more information about their business – EcommerceBytes is an online newsletter and e-commerce trade publication founded in 1999, four years after eBay was founded.
Initially called AuctionBytes, the website offered advice to buyers in the early days of internet commerce. In the years after its founding, the website became a resource for sellers on a number of platforms, from Etsy to Amazon, a kind of trade publication for anyone whose business is selling items online. It is read primarily by sellers, but also by some corporate staff, including some who posted comments on their website.
The website not only offers advice, but also critiques of the corporate and policy changes at eBay and other e-commerce platforms.
The website has around 600k readers. Ina and David say that most of those readers are people who sell on sites like eBay and Amazon. Many executives who work in e-commerce also have the site on their radar.
In January 2019, a hedge fund called Elliott Management purchased a significant investment in eBay. After this happened, they sent a letter to its board of directors requesting changes, such as replacing the CEO, saying that eBay “as a public-company investment has underperformed both its peers and the market for a prolonged period of time.”
The purchase of the investment led to stress within the company to produce better results.
Ina was writing continually about eBay at the time. In April 2019, she reported that eBay’s then-CEO Devin Wenig was paid 152x more than the typical eBay employee.
Steve Wymer, who was eBay’s Chief Communications Officer at the time, read the article and said that eBay was going to ‘crush this lady.’
The CEO Devin Wenig also told Steve via text (regarding Ina), ‘take her down.’
Steve went to the head of eBay security Jim Baugh, with his concerns about what Ina was reporting.
He said in a text to Jim that Ina was a “biased troll who needs to be BURNED DOWN;” that he wants “to see ashes;” and that Jim should do “whatever it takes.”
The harassment of the Steiner’s started in August 2019.
On the morning of August 8 2019, they started receiving strange emails. They got emails from newsletters that they had never signed up for – from Sin City Fetish Night, the Satanic Temple, the Communist Party, and dozens of others.
The Steiners were also harassed on Twitter.
“It was basically ‘shut up, or else,’” Ina said. “And it was, it was as blatant as that.”
Three days later, they got a strange phone call.
“Somebody left a voicemail for us, saying they couldn’t fulfill the order for a wet specimen. And David was the one who called. And he said, ‘What is a wet specimen?’ And, and it was a pig fetus,” Ina said. “That’s when I really, my heart sank, because I thought, ‘Who might be angry at something I wrote?’ And I couldn’t figure it out. I mean, we were, we were desperately trying to think, ‘Who could it be?’”
Pornography was sent to the Steiners neighbors, but it was all addressed to David.
Their home address was also put online as the location for yard sales and orgies.
The couple were also sent a book to their home address titled ‘Surviving the loss of a spouse.’ A bloodied pig face mask was also sent to their home.
“It was a death threat. And to be followed up a few short days later with a funeral wreath, an expensive funeral wreath,” David said. “It only confirmed that these people were going to hurt or kill Ina.”
Packages and threats kept coming for weeks. Some of the contents of the packages included live cockroaches and spiders, as well as huge orders of pizza. The couple were so terrified that they slept in separate rooms, so that if one of them were injured or killed, the other would have a chance to call for help.
When it would get dark out at night, that’s when I would really be terrified,” Ina said.
At one point, the perpetrators went to Ina and David’s house with the intent to install a GPS tracker on their vehicle. The garage was locked, so a plan was made to come back later and break in to install the GPS.
The couple became afraid to leave their house after they noticed a vehicle had been following them. One day, David took a photo of the vehicle and the license plate and this is what broke open the case.
Sergeant Jason Sutherland and Detective John Haswell of the Natick, Massachusetts police department tracked the license plate. The number traced back to a rental agency where Veronica Zea, an eBay employee, had rented the van.
“I don’t know, I can’t describe how flabbergasted we were,” Ina said. “eBay? I mean, what was an eBay employee doing in a rental van, following David?”
“It didn’t take us an hour to realize the ramifications of a public company trying to destroy a journalist. They were attacking the First Amendment, freedom of the press,” David said. “They wanted to destroy Ina and our publication.”
The FBI took over the case. In June 2020, the then U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling announced the indictments of several eBay employees and contractors, including Veronica Zea.
James Baugh of San Jose, California. He was eBay’s Senior Director of Safety & Security. Baugh pleaded guilty in April 2022.
In September 2022,he was sentenced to 57 months in prison.
His lawyers said James had faced “intense, relentless pressure” from executives – including Devin Wenig – to do something about the Steiners. They argued that James was a “tool” who was used by eBay and then discarded when “an army of outside lawyers descended to conduct an ‘internal investigation’ aimed at saving the company and its top executives from prosecution”.
David Harville of New York City. He was eBay’s former Director of Global Resiliency. He pleaded guilty to his participation in the harassment in May 2022. In September 2022 Harville was sentenced to 24 months in prison.
Five former employees were charged but not arrested. Each of these individuals was charged with conspiracy to commit cyberstalking and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses. All of them pleaded guilty to the charges. They are:
Stephanie Popp of San Jose, California. She was formerly eBay’s Senior Manager of Global Intelligence. She pleaded guilty in October 2020. In October of 2022, she was sentenced to 13 months in prison.
Stephanie Stockwell of Redwood City, California. She was formerly the manager of eBay’s Global Intelligence Center (GIC). She pleaded guilty in October 2020. In October 2022 Stockwell was sentenced to 24 months of probation.
Veronica Zea of San Jose, California. She had served as an eBay contractor working as an intelligence analyst in the GIC. She pleaded guilty in October 2020. She was sentenced to two years’ probation with her first year to be served in home confinement and a $5,000 fine.
Brian Gilbert of San Jose, California. A former police captain, he had been a Senior Manager of Special Operations for eBay’s Global Security Team. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit cyberstalking and conspiring to tamper with a witness in October 2020. As far as we can tell, Brian is still awaiting sentencing.
Philip Cooke of San Jose, California. He was charged in July 2020, in distinction to the others, who were all charged on June 15, 2020. He was a supervisor of security operations. Cooke had formerly worked as a police captain in Santa Clara. He pleaded guilty in October 2020 and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release (including 12 months of house arrest),on July 27, 2021.
Following the investigation, the US Attorney Andrew Lelling said the plan to target the Steiners, was a “campaign of terror.”
There wasn’t enough evidence to file criminal charges against Devin or Steve, even with the texts they’d sent.
“People say things like that all the time, especially senior people in companies. It’s not the same as, ‘I am knowingly joining a criminal conspiracy to cyberstalk a couple in Natick.’ People use loose talk like that all the time.”
Steve Wymer was fired for cause by eBay and now runs the Boys and Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley. He has said his texts were mischaracterized and that he learned of the employees’ conduct only after the fact.
Devin Wenig resigned from the company in September 2019. He said in a statement to 60 Minutes that he was appalled at what happened. He said had he been aware of it at the time, he would have stopped it. He got a $57million exit package when he left.
“At this point, an independent investigation has said that Mr Wenig had no knowledge and the prosecutors in the case have made it clear that James Baugh was responsible. Devin never told anyone to do anything unethical or illegal and if he had known about it, he would have stopped it,” a spokesperson for Devin said in an email.
In July 2021, the Steiners filed a civil suit against against eBay Inc.; former CEO Devin Wenig; former Chief Communications Officer Steve Wymer; the seven defendants in the criminal case; and Progressive F.O.R.C.E Concepts (PFC), an independent security firm. That case is still ongoing as of August 2023.
The lawsuit claims that Wenig and Wymer “provided the other Defendants with carte blanche authority to terminate the reporting of the Steiners by whatever means necessary, with Defendant Wymer expressing ‘… I want to see ashes. As long as it takes. Whatever it takes.’ Defendant Wymer promised the defendants he would ’embrace managing any bad fallout’ if the plan went south, further directing, ‘We need to STOP her.’ All of the horrific, vicious and sickening conduct that followed was committed by employees of eBay and PFC, while acting in the scope of their employment under the authority of and for the benefit of eBay and PFC.
To date, eBay has not been charged with any crimes. The company said in a statement to 60 Minutes that the conduct of the former employees was wrong, adding that eBay has cooperated fully with the government investigation. The company posted 2022 sales of nearly $10 billion.
eBay recently gave a statement about the crime to 60 minutes:
“The misconduct of these former employees was wrong, and we will do what is fair and appropriate to try to address what the Steiners went through. The events from 2019 should never have happened, and as eBay expressed to the Steiners, we are very sorry for what they endured.
“As noted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office when this matter first came to light, eBay cooperated fully with the government’s investigation, noting that ‘eBay was extremely cooperative with the investigation in helping state and federal authorities figure out what had happened and collect evidence of the crime.’”
The Steiners say the terror campaign stole their sense of safety and caused devastating consequences to their business and finances.
“What eBay – the defendant and other co-conspirators, both indicted and unindicted – did to us has changed me forever and I don’t think the old David is coming back,” David said.
Ina said “”It… it… it felt like corporate terrorism, because we were terrorized. And it was very calculated. It was very vicious,”
Both James Baugh and David Harville apologized to the Steiners for their actions before their sentences were handed down. James told the Steiners he hopes that they will forgive him some day.
“I take 100% responsibility for this, and there is no excuse for what I have done,“ he said. “The bottom line is simply this: if I had done the right thing and been strong enough to make the right choice, we wouldn’t be here today, and for that I am truly sorry.”
With the rise of social media, cyberstalking is prominent amongst children and teenagers. And often, these are the most vulnerable victims of cyberstalking, who do not have the emotional tools to deal with it.
Nate Bronstein was a 15 year old boy who was enrolled at a prestigious private school in Chicago – the Latin School. He took his life in January 2022 after relentless cyberstalking and bullying.
The tuition at the Latin School costs around $40k per year. The school has notable alumni including Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, many senators and successful businesspeople.
Nate had previously been enrolled in the Francis W Parker School and he moved to the Latin School in August 2021. The main reason for the change was that Latin had guaranteed it would run in person classes and not remote classes – remember this was still fairly peak Covid time.
His mother Rose said “He was OK with moving to Latin,” she said. “He said, ‘I’m sure it won’t be a big deal because it’s pretty similar to Parker.”
“We said, ‘You’ll still have all your friends from Parker, and now you could have friends from two schools.’”
When Nate changed schools, Rose has said he was ‘excluded socially’ from the beginning.
In September 2021, Nate asked another student at Latin about the Homecoming dance and he was told that he was not allowed to join in.
After just two months at the school, Nate was so unhappy that the family arranged for him to return to his previous school, Parker. This wasn’t able to happen until January 2022, but Nate was happy about the upcoming move.
Nate’s family have filed a $100m lawsuit against the Latin School and this info is from that:
“Nate’s knowledge that he would be transferring back to Parker in January brought him relief and caused improvement in his mental health.”
The lawsuit document is 66 pages and I will put the document on the blog.
For some reason, rumors had been spread about Nate being unvaccinated for covid. He was vaccinated but a campaign about he and his family being anti-vaxxers was seemingly launched among students.
Things had gotten so bad for Nate’s mental health, that his mother wrote in an email in October 2021 to the school counsellor Anneliese Kranz ‘ I need a psychiatrist [for N.B.], [N.B.] needs to bemedicated.I’m afraid [N.B.] is going to hurt himself or hurt me. Can [you] [please] refer me to one that is available ASAP.”
You can read the entire court document here
December 2021 seems to be when the cyberbullying escalated. On December 13, 2021, Nate received a snapchat message from another student in which he was encouraged to kill himself.
This info from an article about Insider.com summarizes some of the cyberstalking and bullying that Nate endured:
The lawsuit includes screenshots of group texts and messages on Snapchat in which members of the Latin team appear to torment Nate, sending him messages like, “Fuck you, Nate” and “You’re a terrible person.” The meme on Snapchat — which, the lawsuit said, threatened Nate with physical harm — was allegedly shared beyond the Latin School community. “It reached hundreds and hundreds of Chicago-area students,” Bronstein claimed. The lawsuit says he received a separate Snapshot from another student that said, “Go kill yourself.”
On January 13, 2022, Nate was found hanging from the shower in the bathroom at his house. He had wrapped the cord around his neck as a noose. He was rushed to hospital but he did not survive.
“It had impacted him psychologically to the point where he felt helpless and couldn’t handle it anymore,” Rose said. “It’s no different than if these kids had dragged him behind the school and physically beaten him to the extent that he was so injured, he lost his life.”
According to the lawsuit, Nate reported the cyberbullying to the dean of students and no action was taken.
“I want people to know what happened because this is not an isolated incident,”Rose said. “This is happening week after week — we are losing thousands upon thousands of children to suicide related to bullying and cyberbullying.”
Insider contacted the Latin School for comment. A person who answered the phone said, “We are making no comment. We are not taking any of these calls.” An email from Insider went unanswered.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the leading cause of death for 14- to 15-year-olds and the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds.
An estimated 850,000 adults in the United States are cyberstalking victims each year.
47% of cyberstalking victims report experiencing emotional distress, 38% report experiencing anxiety, and 19% report experiencing depression.
78% of cyberstalking victims know their stalkers somehow.
According to a Statista survey conducted in 2021, approximately 11% of US adults have experienced cyberstalking at some point.
The survey indicates that women were more likely to be cyberstalking victims than men. Of those surveyed, 15% of women reported being cyberstalked, compared to 6% of men.
A report from the Cyberbullying Research Center has shown that the percentage of students who reported being cyberstalked rose from 6% in 2007 to 34% in 2019.
According to a study by the National Center for Victims of Crime, over 70% of victims reported experiencing significant emotional distress due to the result of the harassment.
Additionally, 30% of these victims reported experiencing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to cyberstalking.