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).


(the) eye on the fame game: countersurveillance and the online social climber.

March 9, 2010

These days it seems that fame, talent, and hard work are all mutually exclusive. In the age of the internet, we are forever coming closer to a world that might resemble that of the new SyFy series, Caprica, where more people live their lives in a virtual world than in the real one. It used to be you could find fame through a brilliant combination of talent, hard work, and luck (for some, sleeping their way to the top worked as well), but these days, some people, lets call them online social climbers (OSC), think that all they need is plenty of online exposure, and the right combination of “friends” and “enemies” (for some, sleeping their way to the top works as well). So how can you spot these OSCs? Utilize your spy skills with some good old fashioned surveillance. Consider me your source in counterintelligence.

ACQUIRING YOUR TARGET

It is pretty easy to spot an OSC; you’ve heard their name and you don’t know why, you’ve seen their picture on someone’s social networking site, yet you can’t figure out what exactly it is they DO (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, there is a chance you are one of the few pure souls out there and I would implore you to not go looking for them, it won’t enhance your life in any way, shape, or form). Once you have acquired your target, google their name and I’m sure you will find links to their Virtual World (VW); twitter, facebook, myspace, formspring, buzznet, blog, website. Congratulations, you are ready to gather intelligence.

ANALYZING THE DATA

First off, be sure you have the OFFICIAL site belonging to the OSC in question. There are plenty of dummy sites out there, created by impersonators hoping that they might reap some of the beneficial ‘good feelings’ of faux fame. To make sure it is OFFICIAL, check for a banner that says OFFICIAL. If that isn’t available, you can always see if mobile uploads are available for the site you are perusing. Chances are that the real person is uploading directly from their phone (of course there are simple ways around this, but most people don’t get too in depth with their scams/frauds).

Once you have established that you do, in fact, have the “target in your site” (see what I did there?) it is time to analyze the data. Check for inconsistencies within their VW. Each social networking site caters to a different group of friends and/or ‘scene’ that the OSC is interested in obtaining fans from. Looking to grab that admiration of hipsters, creeps, and music fans? Create a VW within myspace and buzznet (and come on people, I’m not saying that everyone that uses these sites are the above mentioned, but you can’t deny there are a lot of them…). How about those artsy intellectuals? Photo/blogs! My point here being that sometimes you will find inconsistencies in their ‘favorites’ or ‘interests’ as the OSC is catering to a variety of people. This is just the world of online marketing. Of course the inconsistencies won’t be out of control; they have to be careful not to alienate a fan that may fall within two categories. It needs to look authentic enough to make everyone believe they simply have a wide range of interests.

BURNED

The point that I am making is this: if you are an online social climber, eventually your cover will get blown and you will be exposed. The world of online fame is short-lived, it is virtually a scam (did you see it? did you see what I did again?). There is still no replacement for talent and hard work. I am not trying to take anyone down, that isn’t my mission. I am not trying to say that the online community is evil or anything of the sort. Hell, I have sites on most social networks (I’m on a roll here…evil…hell…forget it). However, the difference between the everyday social networker and the OSC is intent and the end game. They believe that because of how many ‘followers’ or ‘friends’ they have, they are “famous” in today’s world (which, let’s face it, in some circles they are the new breed of fame) and are entitled to certain privileges in the “real world.” While the “perks” of fame (in general) is a whole other discussion, I would categorically say that anyone who is void of any real talent or profession, who relies solely on their virtual celebrity, should not be privy to any special treatments in the “real world.”

YOUR MISSION

We may be getting closer to a Caprica world, but we aren’t there yet. Make sure your ‘idols’ actually contribute something and enhance your life; make sure the requirement for talent and hard work doesn’t disappear. This is your mission. Don’t let the “real world” die.

DISCLAIMER: Remember, this post is about people who take advantage of online celebrity, not celebrities who host sites online. This post is about people who feel entitled and better than everyone else in the “real world” because of their popularity in the VW. This post is about people who try to use their online celebrity to take down and slander the names of actual hard-working people. Feel free to comment.

Ps.com sorry, the names of anyone I may or may not consider OSC is EARS ONLY knowledge.