Indulging in social media, while fun if done in moderation, can lead to many unwanted consequences, including cyberstalking. Those very young might dream to have thousands of followers and becoming an internet celebrity, but that will often lead to stalking, and unlike actual movie stars, we would not have the resources to hire professionals to guarantee our physical security and to manage the communication coming our way. While some lewd and weird messages might even be entertaining, at one point, they become very tiring and even frightening.
Thankfully, there are many things you can do. As a precaution, you should make sure your social media accounts don’t share your private information, that you don’t disseminate data carelessly, and that you use a VPN to mask your IP address. Professional VPN providers like Le VPN will ensure that no one will connect your social media accounts with your private info and your physical location.
What is Cyberstalking?
While your ex liking your Facebook posts and Instagram pictures might be annoying, they are not engaging in cyber stalking. It becomes cyberstalking once you start getting repeated messages, emails, and other sorts of unwanted attention from a person accessing your social media profiles.
Cyberstalking has several degrees, and while mild infatuation with sporadic lewd comments might be grounds for a nice account block, it is neither dangerous, nor it is really illegal. The problem starts when someone starts messaging you repeatedly, even several times a day, and especially when this comes from multiple accounts operated by the same person. This is already illegal, and you should report this both to the website and the authorities.
The biggest threat from cyberstalking is when it starts breaking the line between cyberspace and real life, collecting your private data, contacting your friends, and even going as far as to try to stalk you in person. In this case, you will need assistance from the police immediately, as well as a restraining order injunction.
Who is Cyberstalking You?
Most people who engage in cyberstalking are familiar with the victim. While daily messages from friends are common and usually wanted even if bothersome, the same amount of correspondence from someone you work with, a person you know in passing, or just some random people on the internet, can be considered as cyberstalking.
In most cases, the victim doesn’t voice their discomfort as not to be perceived as rude, but this reaction is highly counter-productive. It is much easier to tell someone that you are unwilling to chat and that you are not a type of person who enters that sort of communication than to suffer in the name of etiquette.
Additionally, some assailants are former boyfriends or girlfriends. If you have cordial relations with them, ask them to stop as you are not willing to chat. If you are on bad terms with them, block them and don’t answer.
Laws against Cyberstalking
Similar to regular stalking, cyber stalking is punishable by law in the United States by the anti-stalking, slander, and harassment laws. Depending on the severity of the stalking, penalties could go from restraining orders to jail time. While even mild examples could result in a court providing a restraining order via a civil court, situations that have caused any damage to the victim, either physical or emotional can be pursued in criminal court under the definition of stalking over the internet. Specific cyberstalking laws are in place in most countries worldwide, although they sometimes fall under general harassment.
Cyberstalking vs. Cyberbullying
Although cyberstalking and Cyberbullying might have the same results, as they create fear and discomfort for the victim, the origin of these two phenomena are quite different. Unlike bullying online, online stalking isn’t malicious from the perspective of the perpetrator. Due to miscommunication, confusion, or mental illness, some people might misjudge the relationship you have with them.
As we all know, what is good fun between close friends is harassment between strangers, and if you are dealing with a person with mental issues, they might think that they know you and even have delusions about your past relationship. Unlike cyber bullies that have the goal to make you afraid or in some way emotional, online stalkers will usually range from people feeling entitles to your time and attention, to people imagining that you have a relationship with them.
Signs of Cyberstalking
There is no objective determination on when you are being cyberstalked. Some people wouldn’t even get annoyed if someone comments their every picture on social media, and some would get immediate anxiety. If you are receiving unsolicited communication, you should ask the person sending them to stop. If you have clearly stated that you don’t want the conversation and you are still receiving it, then you are being cyberstalked.
There is also a problem of anonymous emails or messages from anonymous social media accounts. If you are getting any sorts of threats, vile remarks, or unwanted lewd comments, block that account or email right away. If they persist and you keep getting communications from unknowns sources, contact the police and report the issue, as you are being cyberstalked.
How to Prevent Becoming a Victim?
As it is quite easy to prevent cyberstalking, prevention is leagues better than clearing the problem once it is there. Dealing with a mentally ill person is taxing on your emotions and psyche even if you are able to get rid of them. We all have natural empathy and don’t like seeing people suffer, and in these cases, you will be forced to make a person who already has a problem suffer even more. It is by no means your fault, and legal action is probably the only way to protect both yourself, probable future cyberstalking victims, and the assailant themselves from any more harm.
There are five steps in protecting yourself from cyberstalking, and they usually correlate with both good practices when it comes to cyber security, as well as to good social media etiquette. The aim is not to prevent you from enjoying anything that the World Wide Web has to offer, but to be safe while doing it.
1. Don’t Overshare
The best possible solution would be not to use your real name at all on social media. Sadly, this is rarely a possibility anymore, as even employers would want to have access to your social media as to get a feel about your personality and experience, not to mention your elderly relatives.
If you need to have your name and picture, keep your info on that, and keep that profile locked so that only people who are allowed can see both. Your friends, your relatives, and your potential employer will already know your phone number, address, and your education; there is no need to share it with strangers. Not to mention that social media sites are often hacked and leak information, so even if it is locked, it might not be really safe, and can even steal your password using spyware.
The place most people overshare is dating apps, as people are known to give out personal information as to let someone get to know them. This is a problem when we know how many Tinder scams there are.
Additionally, your location should always be disabled on your phone, just to that you don’t disclose your position and movement with sporadic tweets and photos.
2. Keep Your Software Updated
This stands on its own as a general rule of cybersecurity, but it is also important if you don’t want to get cyberstalked easily. The software is constantly being updated to prevent leaks of information and other security threats, and these leaks might lead to your stalker getting more personal information about you. Updates are especially important on smartphones, as they not only contain valuable data but also cite your exact location.
In the most extreme cyberstalking cases, perpetrators will even hire hackers to access your cell phone and to also engage in physical stalking once they know your movement and location. Due to these concerns, you will need to protect yourself as you would from hackers, as stalkers, hackers, and cyberbullies sometimes work in tandem.
3. Mask Your IP Address
Most apps you use, and even some messaging services, will relay the IP address of your device to the person you are communicating to. This might not sound like much to the uninitiated, as it is just some numbers from your modem, but that number is directly connected to your private data. Your IP is attached to your internet utility bill, that you pay from your credit card and that is sent to your physical location, aka your doorstep. That is the same route a stalker would take if they obtain this information.
Thankfully, this is a very easy fix, as you only need a premium VPN that will both mask the IP address provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and introduce other protections that will keep you safe and anonymous online. Just make sure not to use a proxy or a free VPN for home use, as there are multiple reasons why a free VPN can be a liability.
4. Maintain Social Media Hygiene
The same way you wouldn’t want to see a cockroach in your kitchen you don’t want to find a cyberstalker in your friends list. Social media hygiene is a relatively new term, but a very useful one. Keep your feed free from harassers, bullies, stalkers, and content that doesn’t influence you in any way, but has a significant emotional impact on your psyche. There is a reason why website moderators receive substantial benefits and psychiatric support, as you will see a lot of the same things when cleaning Facebook as you would in a very bloody war, and this is not hyperbole.
The first thing you need to do is to set your privacy settings. This will change from platform to platform, but in general, people who you don’t know shouldn’t be able to message you without your confirming them first. Most of your social networking should be done anonymously, as people don’t actually care for your name in places like Twitter. For social networking like Instagram, use a nickname or a fake name. Names from not widely known books or comics are usually the best options, as it will be easy for your friends to remember them, but the harasser will not have a clue. Maybe you don’t feel like Betsy Tverskaya from Leo Tolstoy’s ‘’Anna Karenina’’, but it is much better for someone to stalk a fictional character that shares a last name Tverskaya with a good portion of Moscow than to try to find you. The chance of cyberstalkers knowing Russian classics is really low, so you should be safe.
As you may have noticed, the focus on social media etiquette is mostly on women. While Pew Research indicated that men get most attacks over the internet in whole, in specific cases of sexual harassment, lewd comments, or cyberstalking, women are the predominant victims. Finally, both men and women can be perpetrators, as mental illness doesn’t discriminate, so you should not be at ease just because you have added some girl on Facebook that you don’t know.
5. Don’t Leave Data Around
Most people disseminate data all the time. Filling out surveys that reveal your name, applying for coupons and cards, as well as just giving a lot of people your name, address, and private phone number can all lead to your stalker having an easy time approaching you.
It might sound a bit paranoid, but the best practices indicate that secrecy is the best policy. There are many reasons for what is VPN used for, and one of them is to protect all of your devices from being followed.
What to do if You are Already Being Stalked?
If you haven’t been prepared, there is a chance that you are already being cyberstalked. Stalking victims usually start thinking about cybersecurity only when it becomes a problem, but thankfully there are ways to prevent someone that aims to harass you.
1. Block, Mute, or Delete
Be very liberal with the tools provided to you by both stalking laws and service providers. Mute anyone that is sending you repeated messages, even if they are just boring and not in any way threatening. You might want to unmute them later, but maybe not.
Block anyone that crosses the line. There isn’t an objective line. It is your line. If somebody threatens you, calls you names, or even swears at you, you should block them and let them take their bile somewhere else. This will work 99 times out of a hundred and will help both your safety and your general happiness.
You should always report instances when you are harassed, as you might not be the only one and the person who is doing that is breaking the rules. Not all law enforcement will react to these attacks, but the moderators of the platform usually will and will remove the person from the website, and even block their IP address from accessing yours.
3. Call the Police
If you have received more than one unsolicited e-mail per week with the same content, or you have the same person pestering you from multiple accounts as to harass you, you have the right to contact law enforcement to assist you. They will check the matter and decide if there is a credible threat, and for that, your cyber stalker will feel the full extent of the law.
Pro Tip: Damage Control
There are two types of damage control for stalking victims that don’t know how far their stalkers have gone; reducing the amount of data about you online, or greatly increasing the number of misleading data about you online.
The first type if fairly simple, as it requires you to scrub as much information about you that is online and to delete it. If you live in Europe, this can be achieved even by appealing to the ECJ (European Court of Justice) and exercising your right to be forgotten to command Google to remove your name from the registry, technically making you ‘’ungoogleable’’.
You don’t need to delete your social media profiles, but you will need to remove all of your additional data, and it is recommended to make all of your pictures private, as well as your friends list.
How to Data-Flood
If you believe or have evidence that there are multiple cyberstalkers following you, and it is too late to delete everything, you can always data-flood the internet with your pictures, using various names, numerous different sets of information, and multiple tactics.
This strategy is literally creating fake accounts with your pictures, as to insert doubt if you are really you. This takes time, and you can hire someone else to do this, but it is one of the best ways to hide yourself in plain sight. You can even switch to a fake account to use as your primary, misleading anyone trying to find you. Some of these accounts may get harassed, but you will probably not see that.
Cyberstalking is a very serious issue, and it is much easier to prevent it than to resolve it once it has happened. Thankfully, both law enforcement, social media platforms, cybersecurity professionals are on your side and will give you the tools you need to stay out of harms reach. Media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn all have options to mute, block, or report harassers, stalkers, and any other offender. Professionals VPN providers like Le VPN will conceal your IP address and provide your devices with protection against hackers, and identity theft as much as cyber stalkers. Finally, there is always the police, and if you feel threatened, you should inform them as this increases the security of everyone.
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