Cyberstalking; Who’s watching you?

In today’s world we have become reliant on technology and social networks to share information and to keep in contact with people whether it is on a personal or professional level.  Through the internet we are opening ourselves up to complete strangers and those who are just being curious. Sometimes  this curiosity could be completely harmless; perhaps you have a shared interest or are wanting to build a network. Other times it could take on a more sinister and obsessive nature. We’ll run Social network search’s, Google them etc. The concern is when some people take this level of curiosity interest to the next stage. Whether this is becoming obsessed with someone or by using the information found online against their victim, we then migrate to the world of cyberstalking.

601px-Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking and Cyberbullying can go hand in hand, depends on what is being communicated. Bullying we see as someone being verbally or physically abused. Cyberstalking is an element of abuse. The target of cyberstalking may or may not know their stalker. Yet the cyberstalker will unknowingly enter their victims online world to obtain personal information to be used against their victim. To track their daily activities, setup fake online profiles, all the while disrupting their intended victims lives.

What is cyberstalking?

This form of stalking involves ‘the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization’.

This form of harassment has reached the scale where now one in five Americans  affected by unwanted contact.

A study conducted comparing stalking with cyberstalking discovered that the effects of cyberstalking especially the financial consequences were much higher than those affected by ‘physical stalking’. Those affected by cyberstalkers had to change jobs, email address, avoid events, move homes etc.

With the advancement in technology and the different ways it can be used to victimise an individual the law is still trying to keep up. According to the article ‘Is the prosecution of cyberstalking and online harassment in the UK a postcode lottery’, a hypothetical situation was emailed to the UK police forces, the CPS, five solicitors, a barrister, a lecturer in criminology and a professor of law. There were mixed responses with many of the responding police forces being unable to comment deeming the email as a freedom on information request. The solicitors/barrister responding that the hypothetical scenario of the email would be deemed a criminal offence. Depending on the police force the response was they would have to investigate to discover if a crime had been committed. Though there are laws in place such as the Harassment Act 1997 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988.

These acts were created at a time where cyberstalking would not have been so prevalent, would they still be effective in the stance against cyberstalking.  The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, contains stalking but has no mention of cyberstalking.

Are the social media sites to blame for the increase in cyberstalking?

As mentioned in my previous posts, Twitter does not police their website. Users are able to report tweets they find offensive or threatened by, though the site may or may not remove the content.

Other sites such as Facebook are more likely to take action against those or are reported to them, though this may take some time.

This article highlights how ‘half of stalkers are ex partners’. The use of social media such as Facebook to remain friends with an ex-partner may obstruct the process of healing and moving on from a past relationship.

This article is not saying you should not have an ex-partner in your social network or that you should cut ties with them. You should use your own judgement and assess the situation. If it was a particularly difficult break up, is it wise for them to remain having access to your social network? These days the likes of Facebook and Twitter are extensions of your world, containing past, present and future aspects of your life.

Cyberstalking is not reserved for just ex partners or even to adults for that matter. Children have been victims of cyberstalking; we only need to look at the recent events that have taken place in Canada and the USA. These victims in this case were not only cyberstalked but also cyberbullied in some cases resulting in tragic consequences.

Tips on how to prevent being cyberstalked

This isn’t to say you should be looking over your shoulder all the time or be cautious of every friend request you receive. There are steps you can take to protect yourself.

  1. Ensure you have a strong password which you change frequently.
  2. Always log out of your computer when not in use. Use a screen saver that uses a password.
  3. Be cautious with who has physical access to your computer as spyware can be used to track your pc and mobile phone usage.
  4. Remember to update your computer’s security software.
  5. Ensure you have the highest privacy settings on your social networks to prevent those outside your networks having access to your information.
  6. Run your name through an internet search engine to see what information the search returns. You could be surprised as to how much information about you is out there without you even knowing.
  7. Be cautious who you choose to connect with on your social networking sites.
  8. Be careful when posting photos online and if they contain information about where you work / live.  Photos’ can be found through search engines, downloaded onto computers.
  9. Avoid using location based services such ‘checking in’ to restaurants. Any information that can track your whereabouts.
  10. Be careful what information you post online. Anything that would indicate your location, events will give ammunition to your stalker.

Despite taking every precaution and the unfortunate happens, you become cyberstalked take immediate action. The sooner you collate everything and go to the authorities the sooner action can be taken to deal with the situation.

Our online attitudes and the need to cram as much as possible into one day we develop the habit of living out our lives in both the virtual and physical world. Making it easier for complete strangers to cross personal boundaries and enter our worlds without an invite.

You can also view this article on www.jobserve.com.

References

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/valentines-day-love-stalking_b_2676822.html

http://womensissues.about.com/od/violenceagainstwomen/f/Cyberstalking.htm

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cyberstalking-is-a-real-crime-one-in-five-americans-affected-by-unwanted-contact-186985781.html

http://womensissues.about.com/od/violenceagainstwomen/a/CyberPrevention.htm

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