Stalking has long been a problem for people around the world, and with the advent of electronic means and social networking, there has been an increase in cases of cyberstalking. Read this blog post to learn all about cyberstalking
How does cyberstalking happen?
Cyberstalking refers to the behaviour of a person who uses the internet and other digital means to harass or stalk another person online
This online harassment, which is an extension of cyberbullying and personal stalking, can take place via emails, text messages, social media posts, etc. and is often methodical, deliberate and persistent.
Most of the time, the interactions do not end, even if the person expresses their dissatisfaction or repeatedly asks the stalker to stop. The content directed at the victim is often inappropriate and sometimes even disturbing, which can make the person feel scared, distressed, anxious and worried.
When it comes to cyberstalking, those who engage in this behaviour use a variety of tactics and techniques to harass, humiliate, intimidate and control victims. In fact, many of those who engage in cyberstalking are technologically savvy as well as creative and come up with a variety of ways to harass and bully their victim.
Examples of digital stalking
There are many ways in which a person can carry out digital stalking. Here is a list of common acts:
- Writing rude, offensive or sexual comments online
- Following the victim online by participating in the same groups and forums
- Sending threatening, controlling or obscene messages or emails to the victim
- Commenting or liking anything the victim posts online
- Creating fake profiles or accounts to follow the victim on social media
- Hack into the target's online accounts
- Attempting to blackmail the victim for sex or intimate images
- Sending unwanted gifts or items to the victim
- Release confidential information online
- Bombarding the victim with images of themselves of a sexual nature
- Create fake postings designed to shame the victim
- Tracking the victim's online behavior by installing tracking devices
Types of cyberstalking on social media and the web
Cyberstalking can take many different forms, depending on the relationships and characteristics of the stalker and victim
There is no single type of stalker - they can either be strangers to the victim or have a past/current relationship. Cyberstalkers come in all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. Often they patrol websites looking for an opportunity to find a victim to harass. Often it is ordinary people who become victims of stalking
Harassment and stalking based on sex online, also known as online gender-based violence, is common and can include rape threats and other threats of violence, as well as disclosure of the victim's personal information
It can cause the victim to limit their activities online or take them offline completely, thereby inhibiting their participation in online life and undermining their autonomy, dignity, identity and opportunities.
Stalking of intimate partners
Cyberstalking of intimate partners is online harassment of a current or former romantic partner. It is a form of domestic violence and experts say the aim is to control the victim, which can lead to social isolation and create dependency. Stalkers may send repeated insulting or threatening emails to their victims, monitor their movements or interfere with their victims' email use
They may also use the victim's account to commit identity theft by sending emails to others while impersonating the victim or by buying goods or services that the victim does not want. They may also use the internet to research and gather personal information about the victim in order to use it to harass him or her.
Stalking celebrities and public figures
Profiling of stalkers shows that they almost always stalk someone they know, or through delusion think they know. This is the case with stalkers of celebrities or public figures, where stalkers feel that they know the celebrity, even though the celebrity does not know them
As part of the risk they take of being in the public eye, celebrities and public figures are often the target of lies or fabricated stories in tabloid newspapers as well as by stalkers, some who are even apparently their fans
In one famous case in 2011, actress Patricia Arquette left Facebook after alleged cyberstalking. In her last post, Arquette explained that her security team warned her Facebook friends to never accept friend requests from people, they don't actually know
Arquette stressed that just because people looked like fans didn't mean they were safe. Facebook issued a statement saying that Arquette planned to communicate with fans exclusively through her Twitter account in the future.
How to protect yourself from cyberstalking
When it comes to preventing cyberstalking, it's important that you take the necessary precautions to protect yourself online. While it's not possible to completely prevent cyberstalking from occurring, there are safeguards you can take to increase your safety and reduce the likelihood of it happening.
Make online safety a priority
The first step in preventing cyberstalking is to ensure that your devices and your online accounts are as well protected as possible. Here are some things you should consider doing.
Create strong passwords. Make sure you have strong passwords for all your online accounts as well as strong passwords for your devices. Then set a reminder on your phone to change your passwords regularly. Choose passwords that would be hard to guess but easy for you to remember.
Make sure to log out every time. It may seem annoying, but make sure to log out of email, social media accounts and other online accounts after using them. This way, if someone was able to get into your device, they wouldn't have easy access to your accounts.
Keep track of your devices. Don't let your phone sit on your desk at work or walk away from an open laptop. It only takes a minute or two for someone to install a tracking device or hack your device. So make sure you keep these things in your possession or that you secure them in some way.
Be careful on public wi-fi. It's a fact that if you use public wi-fi in hotels or at the local coffee shop, you're exposing yourself to being hacked. Try to refrain from using public Wi-Fi or invest in a VPN.
Exercise your online safety habits. In other words, make it a priority to only accept friend requests from people you know and keep your posts private. You should also consider having one email address specific to your online activity. Use this email when you shop online or participate in loyalty programs.
What can you do if you have been a victim of cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking can have serious psychological consequences for victims and can feel like psychological violence
But online anonymity makes it challenging to trace cyberstalking back to a specific person, but there are still things you can do to increase your safety and combat what you experience. Here's everything you need to know about tackling cyberstalking.
The first step to tackling the cyberstalking you experience is to do what you can to stop the interactions with the person cyberstalking you. While they may still find other ways to reach you, you can at least make it harder for them to contact you. Try doing the following things:
Tell the person to stop. Reply only once to the person cyberstalking you and ask them to stop contacting you. You don't have to say anything specific or explain your response, just ask them never to contact you again.
Block the person. Make sure you block the person cyberstalking you from all your accounts. You should block them on social media and on your smartphone.
Refuse to respond to any contact. If the cyberstalker continues to find ways to contact you, do not respond to anything they send or email you.
Change your email address and screen names. Consider getting a new email address and changing your online screen names to make it harder for the person cyberstalking you to reach you.
If you have asked the person cyberstalking you to stop and their behaviour continues, it is important to take action against them. This includes contacting the relevant authorities and gathering evidence of the stalker's actions. You may also want to consider speaking to a lawyer.
Here are the key points to remember. Your local police can give you advice and tell you if there is anything else you can do to stay safe.
Keep proof of everything. While you may want to destroy everything, it's important to keep copies of everything the person cyberstalking sent you. Make a copy for yourself and a copy for the local authorities.
Notify your local police. It is important to notify the police and file an official complaint if you are cyber-stalked. Although they cannot do anything immediately, it is important to have an official complaint registered if the behaviour continues or escalates.
Report them tothe website or service they used. If the person who cyber-stalked you harassed you via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Gmail or another method, let the relevant services know what you are experiencing. Many times these organisations take complaints of cyberstalking seriously and will address the matter
Is cyberstalking illegal?
Whether cyberstalking, or just stalking, is illegal varies from country to country
In the US, there is no specific federal law against cyberstalking, but there are laws that can be used to prosecute those who engage in cyberstalking.
For example, the federal anti-stalking law is often used in these cases. This law states that anyone who uses electronic communications to engage in conduct that causes a person reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury or "causes, attempts to cause, or is reasonably likely to cause substantial emotional distress to a person," may face a prison sentence.
There are other federal laws in the United States that may also apply to cyberstalking cases. "The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act" can be used to charge someone if the victim has been secretly recorded using their own computer or in situations where the perpetrator has gained access to sexual images or videos through unauthorized access to the victim's computer.
In Denmark, stalking was made illegal on 1 January 2022 under a separate law in the Penal Code:
"§ 242. Anyone who, in a manner likely to violate the peace of another person, systematically and persistently contacts, pursues or otherwise harasses that person shall be punished for stalking by a fine or imprisonment for up to three years."
Cyberstalking can fall under this legislation and can be a serious crime. However, it is important to point out that (cyber)stalking can be difficult to judge under the law, because when is something systematic and persistent? And what exactly is likely to violate another person's peace?
About the author
Sofie Meyer is a copywriter and phishing aficionado here at Moxso. She has a master´s degree in Danish and a great interest in cybercrime, which resulted in a master thesis project on phishing.