Online stalking or cyberstalking is unfortunately not a new phenomenon — websites on the topic dating from the mid-‘90s continue to receive regular traffic. But as Web 2.0 technologies blur the lines between the digital and physical worlds, online stalking is becoming more common and more dangerous.
Proactive and preventive Internet reputation management has become an important part of guarding yourself from online stalkers. This article describes how to prevent or defend against online stalking through the use of privacy protection and reputation management tools.
Who is being stalked online, and who is doing the stalking?
Statistics on Cyberstalking
Advocacy group Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHO@) publishes comprehensive statistics on cyberstalking and online harassment.
Victims of online stalking are spread evenly across all age groups and are most likely to be white females, although over the past decade the number of males being stalked online has almost doubled. In addition, the percentage of Asians and African-Americans affected by online stalking has grown annually since WHO@ started keeping records. An estimated 1 in 12 women in the US has experienced stalking online or offline.
Types of Stalkers
There are two types of online stalkers: one-time offenders who develop an obsession and serial stalkers who constantly seek out new victims. Cyberstalkers are almost evenly split between men and women, and slightly over half know their victims personally beforehand.
Examples of Stalkers
The first step in protecting yourself involves understanding who cyberstalkers are.
Some common examples of online stalkers are the following:
- Ex-boyfriend or girlfriend
- Unrequited crush
- Workplace colleague
- Family member
- Radical religious follower
Many websites give sensationalist descriptions of online stalkers as social rejects who never leave their homes and live in filth. Although this may describe some serial online stalkers, the vast majority of stalkers seem like nice, regular people at first. Over time, cyberstalkers become increasingly jealous and demanding, and they try to make you feel guilty for not fulfilling all their desires or for spending time on other activities and people important to you.
To achieve their goals, Cyberstalkers can take advantage of Web 2.0 technologies to tarnish your online reputation. Online stalkers may try to coerce you into doing what they want by publishing defamatory, malicious information or private, personal data that can hurt your online reputation, your relationships and your professional career.
Know how to prevent or defend against online stalking and protect your privacy online.
Online stalkers can’t damage your online reputation if they can’t find you. By taking a few privacy-protection measures, you can significantly reduce the chances of being stalked online.
Common prevention tips include:
- Using nonsuggestive screen names
- Removing any personal information from your social media profiles
- Never giving out details like your phone number or physical address
These are good tips for stalking confined to a chat room or email exchange, but they won’t protect you from more nefarious online reputation smear tactics — you need to make your private information hard to find. People-finder databases that collect personal information and publish it facilitate Internet-based reputation smearing by cyberstalkers. Check out this advice on how to remove yourself from Spokeo and other similar people-finder services.
Children are especially vulnerable to online reputation attacks by cyberstalkers because their self-concepts are still growing and they have a tendency to share a lot of personal information online. You need to make sure your kids protect themselves from these threats through safe online behavior. Here are some tips on how to talk to your kids about Internet safety.
Practice these cyberstalking tips.
There are many easy-to-find resources on dealing with online stalking. A few common self-help tips are the following:
- Give a firm “no,” and tell the person to stop, but do this only once.
- Stop responding.
- Don’t attempt to engage the stalker in any way.
- Document all incoming correspondence, including emails, instant messages and voicemails.
Beyond these basics, more extensive advice and lists of cyberstalking resources can be found on the following websites:
- WiredSafety.org: Self-help tips
- LoveMeNot.org: A Los Angeles–based resource center
- QuitStalkingMe.com: Prevention, reporting and tracking services
- National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA): Comprehensive information on cyberstalking issues
- List of state laws on cyberstalking
- Federal Trade Commission information on online privacy, reputation management, protecting your kids online and cybercrime
Enlist professional help.
The resources above can effectively deal with online stalking by strangers, but nothing can completely prevent cyberstalking by colleagues, acquaintances or family members. And unfortunately, these threats are growing as the Web becomes more social. Society is starting to face new challenges in the form of stalking through location-aware smartphones and trojans that steal personal information and post it online.
If you’re unable to deal with an incident of cyberstalking on your own, ask for help. Law enforcement should be contacted as soon as you perceive any type of imminent threat. Forward your documentation on the stalking to the police; ask for a restraining order; and talk to the authorities about resources in your community that can assist you.
Use these methods to know how to prevent or defend against online stalking.