MAINZ, Germany – Ariane Friedrich, a 28-year-old German high-jumper currently training for the 2012 London Games, is taking on more than one Olympic-size challenge: she is also publicly challenging an alleged stalker. The athlete from Frankfurt says that she recently received an email with a sexually explicit photo from a stalker.
In what some see as a controversial move, she chose to out the stalker on Facebook –- posting his full name, excerpts from the email he sent her and his hometown.
“It’s time to act, it’s time to defend myself. And that’s what I’m doing. No more and no less,” Friedrich wrote on her Facebook page on Saturday.
In Germany, where strict online data protection laws exist, Friedrich's decision to “name and shame” her alleged stalker is receiving broad attention and has triggered a heated debate about the moral and legal implications of the online allegations.
Fears of a Web mob
Friedrich, who is not just an athlete, but also a police officer, also filed a legal complaint against her offender, according to German media reports.
While the move has triggered lots of positive responses from her fans on her Facebook page, with posts calling her “courageous,” there was also growing criticism.
“As much as I can understand your anger about the stalker, you as a police officer should not just pillory somebody on the Internet,” one person wrote on Friedrich’s Facebook page.
“The reaction of Mrs. Friedrich is of course understandable, but she reacted too fast,” Dr. Thilo Weichert, a data privacy law expert in Kiel, Germany, told NBC News.
”It needs to be checked first, if the named person is really the correct one. Anybody can use a wrong name on Facebook,” Weichert said.
On Monday, many of the critical Facebook posts referenced a recent incident in which the equivalent of a lynch mob turned against a 17-year-old in the northern German city of Emden after police had arrested him for questioning in the murder of an 11-year-old girl.
The teen was later declared innocent and released, but the social media storm led to a gathering of an angry crowd in front of the police station. Afterward the boy and his family felt so harassed that they moved to an undisclosed location.
Don’t need the distraction
Friedrich’s coaches aren’t exactly welcoming the move. On Saturday, Guenter Eisinger, her coach and manager, tried to downplay the incident, saying he is concerned that the growing media attention will negatively affect her preparations for the Summer Games.
“The issue has nothing to do with the public,” Eisinger told German news agency dpa on Saturday. “We can do without any stress factors.”