the evolution of stalking: it’s a cybercrime.

March 11, 2010


With every new advance in technology comes a new wave of criminal possibilities. With the increasing popularity of online social networking and the instability of the internet, there is a large constituency of cyber-bullies. Cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking can be extremely detrimental and demoralizing to the perpetrator’s victims. It has the ability to affect their self-esteem, families, work, and in some cases has led to suicide. We have all joked about the ‘stalker walls’ aka ‘news feeds’ available via facebook, twitter, myspace, etc. However, the anonymity that the internet can provide leads to a slippery slope in the world of online social warfare. The main message here: Be careful.

THE TRICKS OF THE CYBERSTALKER

There are several avenues that the cyberstalker can take to harass his/her victim. Counterintelligence: Be aware of the following:

FAKE PROFILES

In order to contact their victim, the cyberstalker (herein to be referred to as CS) may create a series of fake profiles on social networking sites.  To protect myself I only add people that I know personally. Even when we have multiple friends in common, if I have never met you, I won’t add you. I came across a stalker once with whom I had 10 mutual friends. I sent them a message asking if I knew them, as the name did not sound familiar. The response I got confirmed to me that they were a CS since the “high school we went to together” was not the school I attended. I knew all 32 people in my graduating class, sorry, you weren’t one of them. I started noticing patterns in the people this CS was adding, and alerted the friend of mine they were attempting to gather information on.

The best way for a CS to gather information is to add the friends of their victims so they can see who you associate yourself with, and to become privy to any “friendly, private information” you might share on their walls.  So be careful who you add, you may be assisting a CS in stalking one of your friends.

Another “fake profile red flag” is lack of photographs. Since the person in question doesn’t exist in the physical world, the CS will most likely have only one or two photos (stolen from someone else) or make their ‘photos private.’ If you have added the profile and still don’t have access to their pictures, chances are you have just added a CS.

FORMSPRING

Formspring.me has emerged in the last few months as a popular site to post anonymous questions targeted at specific individuals. It has also exposed a contingent of cyber-bullies (CB). By posting ‘anonymously,’ CB and CS gain the confidence to post hate messages to their victims that they wouldn’t otherwise have the balls to send. Look for similarities in writing patterns when comparing any threatening or disparaging messages or posts directed towards you via various sites.

BIPOLAR HABITS

Keep in mind that the CS will not always post hate messages. Though their end-game may be to cause the defamation of character against their victim, they will also need to gather information. The best way to get information from their victims is to appear as both friendly and “fan-like.” In this case, the CS may have several “fake profiles” and “online identities” to better strategize the best way to harass their victim. Of course, you don’t necessarily want to treat everyone as if they may be a closet CS. Instead, watch out for the warning signs as listed above, and be wary of answering any personal questions that seem a little “off” to you.

TAKING ACTION

Unfortunately, while the internet grows and our virtual lives get more complicated, our US legal system is slow to catch up. Just as stalkers in the ‘physical world’ leave footprints, so do stalkers in the virtual world. Wording becomes essential when drafting laws for cybercrimes. There are currently many gaps in the US Federal Cyber Stalking Law found under the Communications Decency Act. The federal government leaves it up to individual states to adopt a more stringent set of laws. So far a few states have passed cyberstalking/harassment laws through legislature; California’s can be found here.

There are also several websites you can visit for more information and receive help in reporting any harassment and/or cyber-stalking.

STOP CYBERBULLYING

QUIT STALKING ME

If you believe you are being stalked in the ‘real world’ as well, please contact your local authorities. For women in the LA area, you can contact the 24-hour Peace Over Violence (formerly LACAAW) stalking hotline at 877.633.0044.

IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE

I have seen first hand what online harassment and cyberstalking can do to someone in the real world. I have had several friends that were/are victims of these crimes; some people have nothing better to do than to try and slander the names of good people and start rumors that affect their relationships, friendships, and businesses…and for what? Luckily my friends have skin thick enough to withstand most cyberbullying, however some people out there have a more difficult time looking the other way. There have been several cases of suicide linked to cyberbullying in high school students. Sure, we all have someone we have joked about ‘stalking someone online’ at one point or another, but in some instances it can turn dark, twisted and just plain pathetic.

SAFETY FIRST

Be careful.

Watch what you post online (sure you are going to eat sushi…don’t tweet the address!).

Watch who you are adding onto your personal profiles.

Make your profiles private and protect your photos.

Don’t answer personal questions if you don’t know the other party.

Don’t give out your address or phone numbers to strangers online (yes, it sounds silly, but people actually do that. This is like handing your CS the key out of the virtual world and into the real one).

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code breaking and social espionage.

February 25, 2010

In the age of social networking, it’s easy to be a social spy. There are stalker feeds everywhere, letting you know the exact mood and location of your “friend” or…”target.” Let’s face it, these days we have transcended good old fashion friendships and are all actively engaged in social espionage. Friends and lovers meet online, people plan their activities via twitter or facebook updates. Instead of calling each other, we @reply. Gone are the days when you had to actually come face to face and have an argument in private. Now we publicly humiliate or ‘call each other out’ via twitter and facebook updates. So how do we navigate our friendships via social networking? What are the new codes we have to live by in a technologically savvy world?

CODES

“Bros before Hoes.” “Chicks before Dicks.” We all know the rules of friendship. You don’t date your best friend’s EX, or sibling, and you don’t make friends with your best friend’s enemy (unless it is an undercover mission). These codes haven’t changed. It’s how we deal with the code breakers and attempt to sneak around that’s changed. With social media at the forefront, you have to be careful who you are publicly chatting it up with. Before, you could hide a friendship, or a relationship…Now, it is virtually impossible. Facebook wants to know your relationship status. Twitter wants to know who you are with at all times. Myspace wants your photos together (preferably in front of a mirror). Of course, if your friends are smart, or internet savvy, you will get caught. Even if you are super careful, one small slip, an @reply where it doesn’t belong, a comment a bit too specific…..you now have to incur the wrath of the social networking feud.

INTELLIGENCE GATHERING

All you need to know about your enemy or frenemy is out there. Twitter. Facebook. Myspace. Formspring. Blogs. Waiting for you to utilize it. For the most part, every social networking site has a privacy setting, to protect against unwanted stalking. Fortunately for you, the people you most likely want to know about haven’t set their status’ to private, because they want attention, they crave the drama. Or, they are a frenemy. You don’t even have to do the legwork anymore; the ‘newsfeeds’ do it for you. Updating you on everything you want to (or don’t want to) know (Don’t forget about screen captures for documentation if things get scary with actual stalkers).

SOCIAL ESPIONAGE

There are several options that your ‘frenemy’ may take. Let’s take a look at some brilliant friend-war tools available thanks to social networking:

De-Friending. Here we have the ever popular ‘friendship deletion.’ This, in my opinion, is juvenile and cowardly when it precedes any actual face to face conversation. Go ahead, delete me from  your page instead of growing the fuck up and talking to me. Do I really care to read your status updates and see your mobile updates? You are the one deleting me, not the other way around dear (Of course, if they were smart they would realize they may want to stalk you in the future, and wouldn’t dare deprive themselves of access to your page).

Twitter Rage. This is a popular one. I’ve seen more people tweet about their shitty ex boyfriend/girlfriend or shitty friendships than I have any other topic. If there is pure unadulterated (or adulterated….get it?) rage involved, you will see an @reply to the “target,” making sure that all of the “twitrager’s” followers are aware of the injustice done unto them. If they plan on forgiving, or further using, the “target” you won’t know who their rage/hurt is aimed at, but by golly you best feel sorry for their pain! After all, isn’t that why they tweeted about it?

Anonymous Bashing. Thanks to formspring.me, enemies now have the luxury of posting anonymous ‘questions’ and ‘comments’ about a person they have hatred or jealousy towards. If you are smart, a) you don’t care what this anonymous person has to say about you, and b) you don’t respond. The whole point was to get a rise out of you, or get you to say something stupid publicly on the internet. However, if you are dumb enough to answer and play along with their shit, maybe you deserve the aftermath. Now, here is where the real spies can engage in intelligent espionage. Go ahead and answer, if you are wise to who it is, or have an endgame that requires your words being printed with a timestamp and date. How else can  you bring a true crazy down without documented proof? Just word your responses carefully, there is no need to get yourself in any deeper than necessary.

MISSION COMPLETE

The easiest way to avoid friendship faux pas in the era of social networks? Be a good friend. Wow, that seems so simple. Be honest, be true, and be there for your friends when they need you (you may have to check their status update or twitter feed to know when something’s up, so be sure to check regularly). Oh, and please, be careful when mixing alcohol and status updates 😉 That delete button may provide some virtual erasure, but it doesn’t delete the sentiment from the universe or your target.