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:
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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).