Over the past two decades, technology has surged into businesses, communities, and the lives of individuals, altering the way that people communicate, study, work, and interact. People in various parts of the world can communicate in real time on a variety of devices such as cell phones, tablets, or computers. A photo, video, text message, or email may be viewed by a single individual, shared with another or “go viral” and spread to hundreds of thousands of users in a matter of minutes. But unfortunately the Technology keeps improving, which in turn influences the way that people interact by promoting global communication and allowing individuals to connect with others more readily. However, the Internet and related technology have also become new mediums for misconduct, in that communications via the Internet can be used to threaten, harass, intimidate, and cause harm to others, meaning the internet we are using has its own dark side.
What is Cyber-stalking? Cyber stalking is the use of the Internet, email or other electronic communications to stalk, and generally refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors. Cyber stalking may be considered the most dangerous of the three types of Internet harassment, based on a posing credible threat of harm. Sanctions range from misdemeanors to felonies.
What is Cyber harassment? Cyber harassment differs from cyber stalking in that it may generally be defined as not involving a credible threat. Cyber harassment usually pertains to threatening or harassing email messages, instant messages, or to blog entries or websites dedicated solely to tormenting an individual. Some states approach cyber harassment by including language addressing electronic communications in general harassment statutes, while others have created stand-alone cyber harassment statutes.
Stalking by strangers:
There isn't a single definition of a cyber-stalker, and they can be either strangers to the victim or have a former/present relationship. "[Cyber stalkers] come in all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. They patrol Web sites looking for an opportunity to take advantage of people."
Harassment and stalking because of gender online is common, and can include rape threats and other threats of violence, as well as the posting of the victim's personal information. It is blamed for limiting victims' activities online or driving them offline entirely, thereby impeding their participation in online life and undermining their autonomy, dignity, identity, and opportunities.
Of intimate partners:
Cyber stalking of intimate partners is the online harassment of a current or former romantic partner. It is a form of domestic violence, and experts say its purpose is to control the victim in order to encourage social isolation and create dependency. Harassers may send repeated insulting or threatening e-mails to their victims, monitor or disrupt their victims' e-mail use, and use the victim's account to send e-mails to others posing as the victim or to purchase goods or services the victim does not want. They may also use the Internet to research and compile personal information about the victim, to use in order to harass him or her.
Of celebrities and public persons:
Profiling of stalkers shows that almost always they stalk someone they know or, via delusion, think they know, as is the case with stalkers of celebrities or public persons in which the stalkers feel they know the celebrity even though the celebrity does not know them. As part of the risk they take for being in the public eye, celebrities and public figures are often targets of lies or made-up stories in tabloids as well as by stalkers, some even seeming to be fans.
By anonymous online mobs:
Web technologies have enabled online groups of anonymous people to self-organize to target individuals with online defamation, threats of violence and technology-based attacks. These include publishing lies and doctored photographs, threats of rape and other violence, posting sensitive personal information about victims, e-mailing damaging statements about victims to their employers, and manipulating search engines to make damaging material about the victim more prominent. Victims frequently respond by adopting pseudonyms or going offline entirely.
Experts attribute the destructive nature of anonymous online mobs to group dynamics, saying that groups with homogeneous views tend to become more extreme. As members reinforce each other’s beliefs, they fail to see themselves as individuals and lose a sense of personal responsibility for their destructive acts. In doing so they dehumanize their victims, becoming more aggressive when they believe they are supported by authority figures. Internet service providers and website owners are sometimes blamed for not speaking out against this type of harassment.
Corporate cyber stalking:
Corporate cyber stalking is when a company harasses an individual online, or an individual or group of individuals harasses an organization. Motives for corporate cyber stalking are ideological, or include a desire for financial gain or revenge.
How can you prevent someone from stalking you online?
• Be careful what personal information you share online including in email, on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and chat rooms. It is very easy to glean information about where you live, the places you love to go to in your area and the people you care about from posts and pictures.
• Create a different email account for registering in social networking sites and other online spaces. It will help avoid spam and your personal email won´t be revealed if the online service doesn’t have a good privacy practice.
• Do not feel obligated to fill out all fields when registering online or provide identifying information such as birthdates and place in required fields.
• In your online user profile, use a photo that doesn’t identify you or your location, so you can’t be recognized.
• Consider using a name that is not your real name or a nickname as your email name, screen name or user ID. And try not to use common dates such as your birthday as the digits in your email name or password. Instead, pick a name that is gender- and age-neutral. Treat your email and/or internet account like you would your credit card, ID or passport number – very carefully.
• If you are breaking up with an intimate partner – especially if they are abusive, troubled, angry or difficult – reset every single password on all of your accounts, from email and social networking accounts to bank accounts, to something they cannot guess.
• What information are family and friends posting about you? Let them know your concerns about privacy and help them learn better privacy settings.
• Do an internet search of your name regularly and monitor where you appear online. If you find unauthorized info about yourself online, contact the website moderator to request its removal.
• Try keeping your web cam closed/taped whenever you are not using it.
What should you do if someone starts stalking you online?
• Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable or an online situation becomes hostile, remove yourself from the online space by logging off or surfing elsewhere, or block the other person´s access to you.
• If you are receiving unwanted contact, make clear to that person that you would like him or her not to contact you again. Many women who have reported being harassed do this and warn that any further contact will result in the filing of a police report. Depending on the harasser, engagement with the person can escalate or cease, so if you consider contact appropriate and necessary, do so once and document it.
• Save all communications with the stalker for evidence. Do not edit or alter them in any way. Try using print screens, especially if the harassment is happening in real-time.
• If the harasser posts comments on your blog, keep copies but also consider not publishing rather than deleting abusive posts.
• Keep a record of your communications with internet system administrators or law enforcement officials if you report the stalker to authorities. Record-keeping is absolutely crucial so keep everything, even though the immediate desire might be to delete the communication from the stalker and try to forget about it. Back up these communications on another computer or removable memory stick or external hard drive.
• Consider blocking or filtering messages from the harasser. Many email programs have a filter feature. Chat room contact can also be blocked, and you can activate the ‘IP address block’ option on your blog or website if someone posts harassing comments continuously.
• If your internet searches reveal that the stalker is publishing harmful information about you in other online spaces, make a complaint to the moderators/managers of the external site. State that you view this as part of a continuing situation of online harassment towards you, and request that they either block the harasser’s IP, remove posts, or caution the harasser to cease or be blocked.
• Tell your family and friends that someone is stalking you online. Being stalked – online or offline – is a traumatic experience and support from your family and friends is critical at this time to help you cope. Also check what they are revealing about you and their relationship with you in their online spaces, albeit inadvertently.
After reading this article I hope it will give you an idea about what Cyber Harassments and Stalking is all about and not to be a victim of it. Think twice before publishing anything using internet specially your pictures, videos etc. Always make sure you are secured on the web. Be responsible about yourself and the others.
By Sithira Hewaarachchi
Information Security Engineer – Intern
Sri Lanka Cert | CC
BEng (Reading) Software Engineering
University Of Westminster, UK