I have been slightly scarce for a while (understatement). I make no apologies for this. It turns out that my privacy has been violated with the sole intention to gain access to every detail of my activities with malicious intent.
Let’s get real here; I am not famous, nor wealthy, nor heir to something more desirable than a plastic sock. Hell – I’m not even officially young and up-and-coming by statistical measures. How is it possible that a person’s far-less-than-Wisteria-Lane existence could even be of interest to anyone with a life worth living? I was absolutely stunned by the revelation that I was being “followed” for quite a couple of months now.
The reality is that I have been pretty active on social media for a number of years now. I first went “social” on the YB Mother’s Forum some 9 years ago – never posted photos, was ultra cautious with contact details and information shared publicly. Some of my best friendships today were formed on that forum.
Then came FaceBook. Then LinkedIn. Then Twitter. Then BBM, YouTube, Pinterest and everything else. I have always used the different channels to share different information, with varied “interest groups” e.g. work, friends, acquaintances, family. I consider myself to be quite responsible in what I share where. If I share the information publicly it’s because I deliberately chose to do so. To this day, my most private thoughts are only made known to me, myself and I. Somethings have no place in polite conversation, and definitely not for general consumption.
Who hasn’t Googled somebody other than themself? Who hasn’t clicked through on a link in a profile – and then clicked on other links to a person’s webpage? Isn’t that the beauty of social media anyway? That you are ‘findable’? It’s good for business isn’t it? (You should read Leo Hickman’s article “How I became a cyberstalker?” that was originally published in The Guardian. It is based on his Foursquare experience specifically but you’ll get the idea.)
What is cyber stalking?
Cyberstalking is a technologically-based “attack” on one person who has been targeted specifically for that attack for reasons of anger, revenge or control.
Cyberstalking can take many forms, including:
- harassment, embarrassment and humiliation of the victim
- emptying bank accounts or other economic control such as ruining the victim’s credit score
- harassing family, friends and employers to isolate the victim
- scare tactics to instill fear and more.
The term can also apply to a “traditional” stalker who uses technology to trace and locate their victim and their movements more easily (e.g. using Facebook notifications to know what party they are attending).
A true cyberstalker’s intent is to harm their intended victim using the anonymity and untraceable distance of technology. In many situations, the victims never discover the identity of the cyberstalkers who hurt them, despite their lives being completely upended by the perpetrator. The actions of a cyberstalker are deliberate and focused on the consequences to the victim.
What did they do to me?
Do you know if there is a limit to the amount of WhatsApp messages you can send in one sitting? The answer is none – no limit. The perpetrator sent me a message via WhatsApp. For those of you that don’t know, WhatsApp is a free service – really! How low can you go to harass someone using a free service? Anyway, I digress… When I responded to the message it opened the floodgates to further messages. Once the perpetrator realised I had blocked them from WhatsApp the sms’s started. Now I was moving from irritation to anger. When I didn’t respond to any of the sms’s the perpetrator increased their social media activity.
The perpetrator had been following me on Twitter for at least 6 months. Apparently my constant RT’s and random conversations about the weather and traffic conditions were not as insightful as they had hoped for so they also got their teeth into my FaceBook page. This is where it gets creepy. You see, on Twitter there is far greater anonymity – hidden in the masses of Twitter followers and under the veil of an alias it really is a given that greater caution should be exercised regarding what is posted on the platform. FaceBook reveals a more deliberate and desperate attempt to harvest information on a victim. In my case, my FaceBook page is only shared with people that I really do know and have met for longer than the average World Economic Forum goes on for. I don’t accept Friend requests haphazardly. This means that the perpetrator had to friend my friends which gave them access to my timeline; to encourage their growing list of MY friends they subscribed to Groups, Pages and Fan Pages that I also liked – at a glance their friend request looked pretty legit as they shared so many interests. Once I was aware of what was happening I investigated their FaceBook page – yip, it was starting to looking pretty damn much like mine.
The perpetrator has also followed some of my Boards on Pinterest. Good luck in that space! I hope they appreciate Star Wars, Tim Burton, Doors (as in doorway doors), Elephants and Dragons & Unicorns… They should also check out my Urban Survival Kit board while they’re there to see how I could just be the real Lara Croft…
I only felt completely violated when I was alerted to the fact that my family pictures were being used on another website. Complete disbelief, then anger set in. Anger was good because it drove me to action.
You should also bookmark this link and read Alexis Moore’s account of how cyberstalking resulted in very different outcomes for her.
Cyber stalking is a variety of behaviors that involve (a) repeated threats and/or harassment (b) by the use of electronic mail or other computer-based communication (c) that would make a reasonable person afraid or concerned for their safety (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000). Cyber stalking can include repeated emails or instant messages, flooding victim’s e-mail box, sending viruses, using victim’s email to subscribe to unwanted listservs; sending misinformation to chat rooms; and sending victim’s information and photos to sexually-oriented sites.
Steps You Should Take If You Are a Victim of a Cyberstalker:
- It is imperative that you seek help from your local police department if you are a victim of a cyberstalker. It is also important that you do not delete emails, chats, phone messages, and harassing private message board messages so that you can present this evidence to your local police department. Do NOT call 911 to report a cyberstalking crime. Please visit your local police department for assistance.
- ***SCAN your computer using anti-virus software for Trojans, worms, and email viruses that the cyberstalker MAY have sent you without your knowledge. It’s not uncommon for a cyberstalker to send you a keylogger. A keylogger records key strokes, websites you visited, your passwords and usernames. Please make sure you scan your computer right away. If you can’t remove the virus right away don’t use that computer anymore; instead, use another computer that is clean and free from viruses. FightCyberstalking.org recommends AVG.
- Save evidence: emails, chats, private messages, etc.
- File a complaint with the cyberstalker’s Internet service provider.
- Tell friends and family members you’re being cyberstalked and tell them NOT to post personal information about you online such as your exact whereabouts, links to your other social networking accounts, email address, etc.
- Change your online screen name.
- Don’t use the same old username(s) on message boards, chat rooms, and social networking sites.
- Change your email address.
- Avoid using free email accounts.
- Change all online passwords and change security answers.
- Don’t post photos with identifying landmarks of your whereabouts.
- Avoid using your full name online as search engines may index sites you frequent (e.g., commenting on blogs, commenting on message boards, and using your full name to message people publically on popular social networking sites).
- Use caution when using social networking sites:
Some Obligatory Statistics
- 8% of women and 2% of men have been stalked at some point in their lives (National Institute of Justice, 1996)
- Stalking seems to be more prevalent on college campuses. In one study between 27% and 35% of female students were stalked and between 15% and 18% of male students (Feemouw, Westrup, & Pennypacker, 1997).
- In one study on a college campus, 1 in 10 students reported having experienced online harassment from either strangers, an acquaintance, or a significant other (Finn, 2004). Sexual minorities were especially targeted.
Dynamics of Stalking
- Common stalking behaviors include spying, sending notes or gifts, surveillance, threats, unannounced visits or calls, psychological aggression and coercion, attempting to scare or harass the person being stalked, and even physical and verbal attacks (Davis & Frieze, 2002; Sinclair & Frieze, 2005).
- The primary motives for stalking include power, control, and possession.
- The majority of stalkers have been in a prior relationship with the victim, although some stalkers have only an imaginary relationship with their victims. Offenders often refuse to accept the end of the relationship and to give up their hold over the victim.
- There are some gender differences in stalking. Although historically women have been most likely to be victims of stalking, some recent studies have shown that women are just as likely as men to stalk and even be violent. Men tend to underreport stalking by women because they do not see women’s pursuit tactics as threatening. Male stalkers are more likely to ignore rejection and exaggerate signs of acceptance by the victim.
- Early dating behaviors such as persistence, intimidation, and mild violence may foreshadow potentially violent and aggressively persistent behaviors as the relationship progresses (Williams & Frieze, 2005)
- Stalking is rooted in a culture in which romance is associated with the pursuit of a reluctant female by a persistent male (Lee, 1998). The stalking behavior may be seen by the stalker as romantic rather than intimidating, but the fear experienced by the victim is a more reliable indicator of stalking than the intention of the perpetrator.
- The internet can increase stalking by promoting a false sense of intimacy and a misunderstanding of intentions. Also, the relative anonymity and the propensity for disinhibited behavior can promote greater risk-taking and asocial behavior by a greater number of people (Finn, 2004).
Effects on Victim(s)
Victims should be reminded that they did not ask for this behavior, nor deserve it. Although some people might downplay the effects of being stalked, it can have serious ramifications for the victim. Some effects include: anxiety, mental anguish, physical harm, stress, and fear. Many times stalking forces victims to make changes in their lives such as moving from their homes, changing jobs, or being becoming hyper vigilant.
What you Can Do to Address Stalking
- End all communication with the person who is stalking you. You might need to write a letter stating that such contact is unwelcome and you will contact law enforcement if the behavior continues. Do not further react, argue, scream, or pay further attention for that is often what the stalker wants.
- Document the stalking, writing down times, places, and detailed summaries of each event.
- Contact law enforcement officials. Only police should confront the stalker, not friends or family members.
- Consider obtaining a restraining order, but evaluate the pros and cons of doing so. Sometimes it can escalate the violence.
- Change your routine.
- Don’t answer the phone or door if you don’t know who it is.
- Let family, friends, and your employer know you are being stalked.
I contacted Facebook to ask for assistance to get the person banned but that was quite a palaver in itself; without ‘proof’ that you are in fact the innocent person it is quite a soul destroying ordeal to go through. My phone company also couldn’t bar the caller’s number so I had to disconnect the full voice message service for about a month and hope they’d stop leaving messages.
Cyberstalking is such a new phenomenon that the media and law enforcement have yet to broadly define and quantify it. The available resources are so few and limited that there is little information for victims or for professional victim service providers to utilize. What stats there are reveal millions of potential and projected future cases. The epidemic of identity theft indicates technology abuse is one of the fastest growing areas of crime and those same techniques are easily applied to a specific, targeted victim.
Domestic violence victims are one of the most vulnerable groups to traditional stalking, so it’s no surprise they are vulnerable to cyberstalking as well. It’s a myth that if women “just leave” they will be okay. Cyberstalking is a way to continue to maintain rigid control and instill fear into a domestic partner, even when she has already left the relationship.
- Cyber Stalking Evidence Capturing App (cyberguardiansonline.com)
- Understanding Harassment (atheistrev.com)
- US Federal Cyberstalking laws (catchinglisk.wordpress.com)
- Celebrities Aren’t the Only Ones Harassed Online: 5 Steps to Ward off Cyberstalkers (impermium.com)
- Social Media: The Digital You & The Social Stalker (simplisafe.com)