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Cyberstalking by Nathan, co-authoured by Randy

As someone who's been a repeated target of harassment, defamation and cyberstalking, I would like to focus right now on what seems to be an often-overlooked subject.

Now, some of you might know what cyberstalking is. Some of you might be new to the Internet and have no idea what it is.

I'm here to tell you that the Internet isn't all rosy and happy. There are a lot of weird "crazies" out there (which explains why I'm such a cynical bastard but enough of that).

The Internet has lots of positive aspects: It's an information resource, you can have instant access to diverse subjects of information, and you can easily meet people (in a way, this is also a negative point). Since you can easily meet people, you can also be easily harassed or stalked, and you have next to no recourse (you do have a choice to take action but it will likely cost you an arm or a leg). Anyone can say anything about anyone on the Internet. You can pretend you're anyone and you can manufacture different identities (which may be a positive point if you want to preserve your privacy).

I've been on the receiving end of cyberstalking three times:

  • Once via LiveJournal, which migrated onto three external websites.
  • Once via Wikipedia which pretty much exploded and migrated onto an external website.
  • Once via e-mail which migrated onto the attacker's blog.

About cyberstalking

The fact that cyberstalking does not involve physical contact may create the misperception that it is less threatening or dangerous than physical stalking. In many cases, cyberstalking is nothing more than an extension of the physical form of stalking.

Physical stalking is dealt with by various laws, while cyberstalking has few disincentives or laws. As a matter of fact, there are few laws governing the behavior of people in cyberspace. The very nature of the Internet, the anonymous nature of communications, lends itself to such behavior.

There are many people who seem to believe that since this is the Internet, you can say whatever you want about anyone you like, without fear of reprisal. That's absolutely false. Every action has a consequence.

Whether it's one person or a few people banding together to harass you, it's damn scary. When you find that someone has gone out of their way to dig up information on you, it's downright terrifying. You don't know what this person is capable of. You don't know what they'll do next or where they'll strike. In most cases, you're afraid for your life.

How to define cyberstalking

When identifying cyberstalking, particularly when considering whether to report it to any kind of legal authority, the following features or combinations of features can be considered to characterize a true stalking situation:

This link details all the number of ways you can define cyberstalking. It may help to determine if you're facing a genuine threat, so you can report it to the authorities.

Some examples of stalking on social networking websites

  • In 2001, an Internet essayist was convicted of stalking government agents.1
  • In 2006, a 13-year old girl fell prey to a sexual predator who she met on MySpace.2
  • Also from 2006, a 14 year old girl was gang-raped after a real-life meeting arranged through MySpace.3
  • A California man was arrested and charged for sending sexually suggestive messages to a fake MySpace profile of a 15 year old; other sexual predators have been arrested; people should understand how dangerous it is to post personal information online.4
  • In 2007, seven convicted sex offenders with MySpace profiles were arrested in Texas.5
  • Also in 2007, a woman pled guilty of cyberstalking the lead singer of Linkin Park.6

How to respond to online harassment

WHOA has a good page on how to respond to online harassment.

Ways you can control the amount of information which leads to you

Only you have the ability to control and manage the amount of information you give about yourself.

  • Don't give out your address or phone number unless it's to someone you know and trust - I cannot stress that enough. That also extends to your e-mail address (which is why I use several e-mail addresses), which is why there are rules on forums (among other places) against giving out this kind of information. You have no idea what kind of people you're interacting with. Giving out an e-mail address may be relatively safe, compared to other kinds of information, but I would advise against giving out your primary e-mail address.
  • If you're going to e-mail someone you don't know and have never met before, use a throwaway Gmail account - as long as you use Gmail's web interface to send e-mail, your IP address is not tracked. To compare, Hotmail and Yahoo (and a fair number of other webmail services) show your IP address in the headers of every e-mail.

As an example, the way I ensure my own privacy by never releasing my address and phone number online. If you look hard enough, you can find my picture(s), my name, age, what I do/where I work (my place of work is not somewhere accessible to the public per se, as there is no business office or storefront), city I live in, hobbies/interests and that's pretty much it. Any of this information may be repeated over and over in different social networking profiles (MySpace, Facebook, etc) but there isn't anything totally identifiable that will trace me to my physical address, therefore, there's not much anyone can do with little information they're able to find.

How to protect yourself

  • Lock down your profiles to friends-only (or logged-in users only).
    • For MySpace, click Account Settings then Privacy Settings, then look under "Who can view my full profile".
    • For Facebook, use the Privacy page.
  • Be safe. Take a friend with you when meeting new people from online and meet in a neutral location. To be extra-safe, tell a friend or relative where you're going. You should at least have some information about the other person, like what they look like and their cell phone number.
  • Report any suspicious profiles or harassing messages to MySpace, Facebook, etc. There's usually an easy way to do that.
    • Using MySpace, there's a "Flag Spam/Abuse" link in every private message you receive. There's also a Contact MySpace link at the bottom of every page.
    • Using Facebook, you can report any offending message using the Report Message button. You can easily block any user on Facebook from seeing or contacting you by entering their name in the Block People section on the Privacy page. You can limit the people who can find you in searches, which in turn limits who can message you - also in the Privacy page. If you need further help, click the help link at the bottom of any page.
  • If you feel your life has been threatened, contact your local law enforcement agency, or possibly the FBI or the law enforcement agency of the person bothering you (if you know where the person is located). The first priority is to contact your local police and follow their suggestions on procedure. Make sure you save all incriminating information including any webpages, e-mails, take screenshots of instant-messaging windows (Alt-Print Screen if you're using a PC), etc. If you don't know how to take screenshots, please see this link for Windows (up to 2003), this link if you're using Vista or this link if you're using a Mac.

Relevant links

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