Why Cyberstalking Should be Taken Seriously
Nowadays it is more uncommon to NOT have any social media accounts than to have several. Everywhere we look, people are on their cellphones and laptops, checking Facebook, sending tweets, or checking their e-mail. While the internet does allow somewhat of a safe-spot to share thoughts and opinions, excessive use of the internet poses the serious threat of unwanted attention- Cyberstalking.
The prevalence of internet safety has rapidly decreased since the primary introduction of the World Wide Web. Whereas before we were wary of sharing our information on the internet, often using fake names and refraining from sharing personal contact information, we are now beginning to let our guard down, forgetting that we are still at serious risk of what we once feared in “creepers” on the internet, as my mother would say. While before we only used our real name for maybe JUST our email account and Facebook, we have moved beyond this realm of safety, sharing our personal information across many other social online platforms such as Twitter and Instagram.
The Sexual Assault and Prevention Center at the University of Michigan categorizes Cyberstalking as a relatively new phenomenon that can be defined as “threatening behavior or unwanted advances directed at another using the Internet and other forms of online and computer communications”.
It is not, however, just putting our name on the internet that puts us at risk of cyberstalking. We have grown comfortable with sharing other information about ourselves- who we hang out with, photos of our family, and constantly updating our location (which unfortunately has become even easier with the increased use of mobile phones). Of course, we believe that sharing these bits and pieces of our life are only being shared to whomever is on our friends list, what hurt could it do? By sharing your routine; where you typically go to eat, where you work, and the area you reside in, you are allowing outsiders to predict where you may be at a given time during the day. Your daily picture of your morning coffee on Instagram could turn into something much worse. By attracting the attention of someone unintended to be the receiving end of your status updates, “cyberstalking” could potentially become “stalking” alone.
1 in 5 internet users has been the victim of unwanted attention through the Web, and one of those could be you. While cyberstalking is a prevalence that may sadly never fade, there are certain steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim.
In a recent article posted by National Cyber Security Alliance addressing National Stalking Awareness Month (January), the following steps can increase your personal safety and decrease your risk of becoming stalked:
1) Create strong passwords
Make it difficult for someone to guess your passwords by using a mix of letters, numbers and characters and make sure that they don’t spell anything. Passwords that include the name of your pet or some other personal detail could easily be guessed, allowing an attacker to gain access your account. The same goes for security question answers. Choose hard-to-guess answers to prevent someone from using the password retriever function to obtain your password.
2) Clean up your online profiles
Don’t include your address or phone number in an online profile. If you must use a professional networking site such as LinkedIn for work, include your company’s corporate address instead of your actual office to prevent someone from knowing where you work. Think about each piece of information you include on your profile and whether it would be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.
3) Lockdown your privacy settings
If you are a social networking user, make sure to set all of your privacy settings to “private” or “friends only” to keep people outside of your network from accessing your information. It’s also important to regularly check the settings to make sure there haven’t been any changes that leave your data exposed.
4) Be careful with whom you connect with
When using social networking sites, only connect with people who you know in real life. A stranger who tries to “friend” you could become trouble later on. Also, pay attention to the people your friends are connected with to prevent your information from being shared with someone suspicious.
5) Google yourself to see what’s out there about you
You might be surprised at what you find when you “Google” yourself. Old website profiles, online forum posts, and pictures of you posted by other people could all be unearthed in a quick search. If you find information about yourself that you want removed, contact the website or person hosting the content.
6) Don’t use an email address that is easy to identify
Stay under the radar by selecting online handles that don’t include your name, date of birth, or other details about you that a stalker might easily recognize. Once you have an anonymous address, guard it as you would your credit card or Social Security number.
7) If you have a personal website, don’t post your email address
These days many of us have blogs and personal websites, but it’s a bad idea to post your email address. Instead, use a contact form so that people can reach you without having your personal address.
8) Be careful when posting photos online
You never know where photos can end up when you post them online. Someone could find them in an image search, post them to a website or downloaded them to their computer. And if the photo contains information about where you live or work, you could wind up giving a stalker all the information they need to locate and harass you.
9) Avoid using location-based services
“Checking in” to restaurants and other locations can be fun, but it can also be dangerous if someone is stalking you. If you must use location-based services, choose a unique username or alias that is not associated with any of your other accounts to make it more difficult for people to identify you.
10) Delete old posts or entries
If you have a stalker, they will scour the Internet for any tidbit of news about you so it’s a good idea to delete any old forum posts, Tweets or status messages that include any personal details or information that could allow them to find you both online and off.
And most importantly, do not be afraid to ask for help. While cyberstalking does not involve physical contact or approach from a stalker, it can still have the same detrimental effects on one’s well-being and personal comfort, even so much as to affect their mental health. Protect yourself against cyberstalking taking precautions to ensure your safety. Keep in mind that cyberstalking is a crime in all 50 states, and legal help is always an option, no matter the severity of your case.
If you or someone you know is a victim of cyberstalking or would like to know more about the tell-tale signs of cyberstalking, please, feel free to contact us. By calling our main office at (571)-451-4833 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we can provide you the help and guidance you need in order to combat cyberstalking and once more restore your personal safety. You deserve to know.
Article by Ayla O’Shea, Social Media Manager at Striker Pierce, LLC.