What is Cyberstalking? Are you prepared?

Cyberstalking is the repeated use of electronic communications to harass or threaten an individual. In today’s world, there are many tools that a stalker can utilize to menace their victim such as the internet, social media, e-mail, text messaging, and many others. A simple example of this would be repeatedly sending threatening messages through Facebook Messenger.

Victims and Perpetrators of Cyberstalking

Both men and women of all ages can be victims of Cyberstalking. In a study conducted by members of the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research at the University of Bedfordshire in the UK, it was found that ages 20-39 were most likely to be victimized, however, the ages reported in the study ranged widely, from 14-74.

The study also listed the relationships of the respondents to the survey and their stalker. It was found that 22% were stalked by a stranger, 20% by an acquaintance, and 18% by someone the individual had dated for a period of time. It is important to use good judgment when interacting with anyone both in person and online as you may not know exactly what their motives are. This is especially true as we move deeper and deeper into online-dating culture, with apps like Tinder and Bumble connecting people every day with complete strangers.

Perpetrator Motives

The Arizona State University Center for Problem-Oriented Policing defines 4 commonly accepted motives of a stalker:

  • Simple Obsessional – Most common, the stalker feels wronged by the victim
  • Love Obsessional – Stalker becomes obsessed with the person and harasses to garner the attention of the victim
  • Erotomania – Stalker believes that the individual is in love with them, but something is stopping them from being with the victim, typically a spouse that is perceived to be in the way
  • False Victimization Syndrome – The stalker wants to be the victim and will fabricate an elaborate story, this is a very rare motive.

More info can be found on the POP center site (https://popcenter.asu.edu/content/stalking-0)

The rest of the study can be found at (http://redfame.com/journal/index.php/smc/article/viewFile/970/913)

Cyberstalking Methods

As stated before, there are many tools that a cyberstalker can use to menace their victim. A common method is through social media. Since its widespread adoption in the early 2000’s, social media has garnered vast amounts of information on billions of individuals. This could be pictures from your family vacation, or you at your favorite restaurant, or personal issues that you shared in hopes of finding support through your online community. While all of this was done in good faith, it can provide a base for the stalker to build from.

For example, the FBI charged a woman in Miami, Florida with cyberstalking after she threatened an individual several times through Facebook and text messages. The stalker created a fake Facebook profile and added their victim; this is called Catfishing. It is when a person adopts a new persona with the intent to gain another person’s trust, and it is typically seen on dating websites. After the victim noticed the stalker had commented and liked several of their posts and several posts made by their friends, the victim removed and blocked the stalker. The stalker then proceeded to send threatening messages claiming they knew where the victim’s family lived and that someone might get hurt. The messages from the stalker also demanded $100,000 to stop communications. The entire story can be found here: (https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl/pr/miami-student-sentenced-cyberstalking-facebook-and-instagram)

Sometimes, extortion is involved…

Cyberstalking can be combined with other types of crimes such as extortion. An example of this combination would be “Sextortion”. This is when a victim is threatened with having private or sensitive information released unless sexual demands are met. According to the FBI, children and young teens are particularly susceptible to this, meaning if there are repeated contacts through electronic means, cyberstalking would lead to the solicitation of a minor or requests for child pornography. An article by the FBI describing two of these cases can be found here (https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/sentences-in-separate-cyberstalking-cases-103018).

In the case of a former romantic partner, they could have compromising or private photos of you that they threaten to post online if you do not comply with their demands. This could have an impact on your job, family, or other relationships which leads victims to comply with the demands.

How to Mitigate Stalking

Stalking, in general, can be difficult to recognize, investigate, or prevent. Being vigilant, especially online, is important for your overall safety. Here are some ways you can help mitigate stalking:

Review your privacy settings:

  • This is an important first step in prevention. We are not all celebrities; therefore, random people do not need to know what we are doing throughout the day. Make sure your accounts are set to private where you can control who has access to the information on your profile through friend requests.
  • Keep in mind, you can set differing privacy preferences for different kinds of posts, and the privacy settings are differently managed on different platforms.
  • Parents: Be sure to also review your children’s accounts and ensure they understand what information they should not share with others online, such as their address or phone number.

Review friend requests/phone numbers before adding:

  • Be sure you know who you are adding (don’t get catfished). If you do not recognize someone, do not accept their request or add them yourself.
  • Do not respond to messages from people you don’t know, even if the conversation seems harmless. This is a good general rule. Keep in mind that online, just like in person, a seemingly comfortable interaction with a stranger can become dangerous very quickly. 

Track Trends:

  • Pay attention to trends of someone liking and commenting on your posts or communicating repeatedly in a suspicious or threatening manner through text, phone call, email, or other forms of electronic communication.
  • Pay attention to people who do not take the hint: If you have stopped answering someone on one platform, and they begin to contact you on another, it may be time to start keeping track of their communications with you, just in case. 

If you believe you are a victim of cyberstalking, you should compile all communications with the alleged stalker that you have. Block the stalkers accounts to ensure they can no longer communicate with you. If you feel as though you or your family are in immediate danger, contact the police right away.

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