What is Cyberstalking and How to Protect Yourself?
- What is Cyberstalking?
- Consequences of Cyberstalking
- Difference between Cyberstalking and Cyberbullying
- Types of Cyberstalking
- Legal Implications of Cyberstalking
- How to deal with Cyberstalking?
- How to avoid Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking has become a growing issue. 40 percent of Americans have experienced online harassment according to the Pew Research Center. While most victims of cyberstalking are women, 20 to 40 percent of the victims are men.
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What is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is using the internet and technology to harass or stalk a person. It can be considered an extension of cyberbullying and in-person stalking. However, it takes the form of text messages, e-mails, social media posts, and other mediums and is often persistent, deliberate, and methodical.
Cyberstalking often starts with seemingly harmless interactions that go on to become systematic in an annoying or frightening manner. Some even find the initial stage of cyberstalking to be amusing and harmless, but it stops being fun anymore when the interactions do not end even after the recipient has expressed their displeasure and asked for the interaction to stop.
The content that is directed at the victims is often inappropriate and disturbing. A cyberstalker might terrorize a victim by sending messages several times a day and from different accounts.
Cyberstalking does not necessarily involve direct communication, and some victims may not even realize that they are the victims of online stalking. The victims can be monitored through various methods and the information gathered can be later used for crimes such as identity theft. Some stalkers even go as far as harassing the victims offline as well and even contacting their friends.
Some common characteristics of Cyberstalking behavior are tracking locations, monitoring online and real-world activities, obsessively tracking the victims’ whereabouts, intimidating victims, etc. Social media stalking may include sending threatening private messages or faking photos.
Oftentimes, cyberstalkers make false accusations, spread malicious rumors, create fake social media profiles or blogs, or create and publish revenge porn.
There might be a misperception that because it does not involve physical contact, Cyberstalking is not as severe as the physical form of stalking. This is not true in any case. The internet has become an integral part of everything that we do, be it personal or professional. This has only eased the way communications take place along with the increased access to personal information.
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Cyberstalkers use a variety of tactics and techniques to humiliate, harass, control, and intimidate their victims. Many cyberstalkers are technologically savvy as well as creative in their ways. Here are some examples of how Cyberstalking might take place:
- Posting offensive, suggestive, or rude comments online
- Sending threatening, lewd, or offensive emails or messages to the victim
- Joining the same groups and forums as the victim
- Releasing the victim’s confidential information online
- Tracking all online movements of the victim through tracking devices
- Using technology for blackmailing or threatening the victim
- Excessively tagging the victim in irrelevant posts
- Engaging with all online posts made by the victim
- Creating fake profiles on social media to follow the victim
- Posting or distributing real or fake photos of the victim
- Excessively sending explicit photos of themselves to the victim
- Making fake posts intended to shame the victim
- Repeatedly messaging the victim
- Hacking into the victim’s online accounts
- Attempting to extort explicit photos of the victim
- Sending unwanted gifts or items to the victim
- Using hacking tools to get into the victim’s laptop or smartphone camera and secretly record them
- Continuing harassment even after being asked to stop
Consequences of Cyberstalking
Cyberstalking is no different than stalking and leads to consequences that can be detrimental to the victims both physically and mentally. Victims who are harassed online experience fear, anger, confusion, and insomnia along with other health issues. Cyberstalking affects the overall well-being of victims. They often suffer from anxiety, distress, depression, PTSD, and suicidal ideation.
If you are experiencing Cyberstalking, it is important that you reach out for help. You can contact a loved one, see a mental health professional, seek legal help, or even file a police complaint against the stalker if you think that you are in immediate danger.
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Difference between Cyberstalking and Cyberbullying
Here you will know what is cyberbullying and Cyberstalking are and the differences between them.
In Cyberstalking, the victim is harassed online through electronic communication devices, instant messaging, social networks, discussion groups, etc., for the purpose of revenge, anger, or control. A stalker may be a stranger or an acquaintance of the victim.
Cyberbullying is mostly when a child, preteen, or teen is harassed, humiliated, tormented, threatened, embarrassed, or targeted through the internet, interactive and digital technologies, or electronic devices by another individual of the same age range. If adults are involved, it is considered cyber-harassment or Cyberstalking.
Cyberbullying happens in a repeated, deliberate, and hostile manner. It can be as simple as repeatedly sending emails, texting, or harassing someone. Cyberbullying may involve:
- Repeated public threats
- Hate speech, pejorative labels, or defamatory false accusations
- Sexual remarks
- Ganging up on a victim by ridiculing them in online forums and discussions
- Hacking into or vandalizing sites and posting false statements about a victim to discredit or humiliate them
- Identifying victims of crime personally and publishing content meant to severely defame or humiliate them
- Posting rumors about the victim online to convince others to dislike or participate in their online denigration
Types of Cyberstalking
Let us explore the various kinds of Cyberstalking that are prevalent:
- Catfishing: The creation of fake profiles or copying of existing ones on social media to approach victims.
- Monitoring check-ins on social media: Keeping an eye on the activities of a victim on social media to accurately gage a their behavior pattern.
- Spying via Google Maps and Google Street View: Using Street View to spy on a victim and finding their location from posts or photos on social media.
- Hijacking webcam: Webcams can be hijacked by introducing malware-infected files into the victim’s computer.
- Installing stalkerware: Stalkerware tracks the location, enables access to texts and browsing history, makes audio recordings, etc., without the victim’s knowledge.
- Tracking location with geotags: Digital pictures mostly have geotags with the time and location of the picture if it is in the metadata format, which makes it easier for stalkers to access that information by using special apps.
Legal Implications of Cyberstalking
India is at the top of the statistics when it comes to global sexual harassment. The online harassment faced by women also reflects the harassment in the physical world. 50 percent of women in the major cities of India have faced online abuse according to a survey by Feminism. Cyberstalking against men is also becoming quite common nowadays, making the ratio almost 50:50.
Here are some instances of cyberstalking laws in India:
- Any act of stalking is considered an offense committed. An act of stalking can be following, contacting, or attempting to contact a person repeatedly despite clear indications of disinterest by them, monitoring online activities of a person, or spying on a person that causes fear of violence, serious alarm, disruption of mental peace, or distress.
- The victim can file a case of defamation against the offender.
- Acts of stalking performed by someone who has been authorized by the state for the purpose of preventing and detecting crime are excused.
- Online sexual harassment is punishable by law with up to three years of imprisonment and/or fine.
- Non-consensual capturing of an image of a woman engaging in a private act and/or disseminating the said image is punishable by law.
- Criminal intimidation made to any person with an injury to their reputation to cause alarm or to make them change their course of action on anything is considered to be a punishable crime.
- If someone is constantly harassed with derogatory verbal abuse because of gender issues, the perpetrator can be punished.
- Any criminal intimidation by anonymous communication or vengeful posting of videos, images, or images of rape victims is punishable with imprisonment.
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How to deal with Cyberstalking?
If anyone is experiencing Cyberstalking, acting immediately is crucial. Here is how you can deal with it:
- Send a clear indication in writing to the cyberstalker that you do not want to be contacted by them and that if the message goes unheeded, you will go to the police.
- Once a warning is issued, do not engage with the stalker at all.
- Go to the police if the harassment does not stop.
- If you think you are being tracked by someone through spyware, use a family member’s or friend’s phone to get help.
- Get your devices checked for spyware or signs of compromised accounts.
- Change all passwords.
- Use privacy settings to block the person off your social media, and report the abuse to the network.
- Filter abusive emails to a separate folder to avoid reading them.
- If you know the stalker’s ISP, the part after the @ in their email address, contact abuse@domainname or postmaster@domainname.
- Google has a support system in place for such cases, https://support.google.com/mail/contact/abuse
- Tell your employer if you have cyberstalkers at your workplace.
- Make sure to have copies of any communication involved, police reports, and emails from the networks.
- Back up the evidence on an external drive.
How to avoid Cyberstalking?
Increasing your privacy settings is the first thing to do to prevent Cyberstalking. Enable strong privacy settings:
- Make all posts viewable to friends only so that no strangers can see them.
- Do not enable permissions for social networks to post your contact details publicly.
- Try to have a separate email address for social media and other online activities.
- Share private information with friends over a private message rather than a public post.
- Avoid using your real name and use a gender-neutral screen name or pseudonym instead for your social media accounts.
- Leave optional fields in social media profiles blank.
- Only accept friend requests from those you know in person.
- Set your social network settings to accept friend requests only from friends of friends.
- Disable geolocation settings and GPS on your device.
Remove all personal data that is on the web. You may have to reach out to third-party websites to get some of the data taken down. In case you need to have a postal address for business purposes, use a post box address or office address and not your personal address. The best security measure is not giving out your full name online, only your first name.
Beware of calls or emails that ask for personal information, however reasonable the request may seem. In case of calls from banks or credit card companies, verify with the headquarter or branch given on your paperwork.
Securing your data will not help you if your device is hacked. To prevent Cyberstalking, ensure basic security in your online life.
- Use public Wi-Fi carefully as it can be hacked easily.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) to hide your IP address and other details.
- Do not keep your devices lying around carelessly as someone may take the opportunity to install spyware.
- All devices should be password protected and updated regularly.
- Use anti-spyware.
- Always log out of online accounts.
- Beware of apps that want access to your Facebook or contacts list.
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In this blog, we have tried to cover all aspects of Cyberstalking. We have also learned how to avoid this. Every country and state has its own Cyberstalking laws. No matter the region, it is a punishable offense and should always be reported if the offender does not take it seriously and continues with the harassment.
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