How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Cyberstalking
Wednesday, April 20th, 2016
Guest Blogger Cassie Phillips
About the Author: Cassie Phillips is an internet security blogger who enjoys writing about tech news, online security and data privacy. She hopes you’ll use and share these tips to protect yourself and your loved ones from cyberstalking.
Most of us want to feel safe in everything we do. Whether it’s the drive to work, a healthy bike ride, shopping at the store or even using the internet, we feel better if safety isn’t an immediate concern. There’s nothing more disconcerting than trying to use social media and finding out someone is creepily stalking everything you say and do.
It can get worse than just reading and following your posts. Some people use social media to follow you in the real world, which can lead to a list of problems, including:
- Harassment, both in person and online
- Physical threats
- Bullying and cyberbullying
- Actual assault
While not all instances develop into the worst-case scenario, cyberstalking always leads to a loss of productivity and sense of well-being for the individual. As a free person, you neither deserve to be the victim of such crimes, nor should you accept it as inevitable. There are things you can do to reduce the likelihood that you become a victim, depending on what stage of stalking, if any, you’re at.
Recognizing the Problem
Before you can treat the problem, you first need to understand the causes and symptoms of the issue. To that end, you might find yourself wondering what exactly constitutes cyberstalking and how to identify the early signs. These are crucial elements in keeping a situation from going from a slight inconvenience to a full time block in your daily routine.
The first sign of cyberstalking is an unwelcome advance. Know that on social media, in your email or on any digital platform that people have a reason for contacting you. No one sends you messages or comments on what you do at random. When someone you don’t know contacts you, ascertain who they are and what they want. Do they know someone you know?
If not, are they contacting you for promotional or business reasons? Sometimes advertisers can come on a bit strong to push their product, but they will tend to go away if shown the door both in real life and online. If you can’t figure out whom or what the person wants, it’s time to say goodbye.
Strangers are the easy part. The hard part is knowing when someone you do know is beginning to exhibit unwelcome or unwanted behavior. Excessive messaging (without your soliciting) is an early sign you may want to consider distancing yourself. Keep an eye on who comments on what you’re posting, as it’s odd for someone to follow everything you do. It may sound crass, but few people find anyone else that interesting.
Once you’ve started to identify early signs of unusual behavior, watch for escalation. Escalation occurs when cyberstalkers try to take things to the next level. You may not know if they’ve been reading every post you make or following your every move (some stalkers are shy or just good at remaining unnoticed), but it’s sure to show at some point.
Depending on the type of infatuation, cyberstalkers may begin actively harassing you (sending excessive emails, messages, posting on your pages) or may start making untoward requests, such as meeting you in person when your relationship makes that inappropriate (you don’t know the person well or perhaps don’t even really like them).
Be aware that some stalkers try to isolate their victims by trying to separate you from friends with threats, character disparagement or convincing you to be paranoid. They might talk poorly about family or other acquaintances when you previously had no problems with those people.
Unfortunately, the perpetrators are more likely to be people you know, and in many cases, they may even be family members. That isn’t to say you should be paranoid of everyone. The goal is always to be vigilant and at worst concerned, but never worried (worry is inherently unhealthy).
There is a wide array of tools at your disposal to avoid cyberstalking. Knowing is a huge part, but it’s only half the story. The ignore/block button is your friend on most social media services. Sometimes you just need to tell someone goodbye. The same can be said about requests; not everyone deserves to be on your friends or followers list. If they can’t demonstrate the right behavior, they need to go.
Some services will show anyone and everyone your location. In some cases that’s favorable, but at times, you may not want everyone knowing where you are. If turning off location services isn’t an option, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to hide your IP address. It’s an affordable tool that improves your overall internet security and helps against the rare but occasional stalker with hacking skills by encrypting your internet connection.
Avoiding isolation by picking up the phone or telling someone else will also protect you from cyberstalking. Remember that stalkers want to isolate you, so your best way to be safe is to avoid being alone both literally and metaphorically. Don’t push friends or family away; they’re your support!
Authorities are an option in scenarios where you suspect criminal activities. I would only recommend involving law enforcement if you feel a party actually threatens your safety. Online, you may be able to contact website moderators to report breaches in terms of service (most social media pages prohibit harassment or stalking).
There’s even an app for that; Dr. Phil and his wife have created a way to call for help in an emergency without contacting 911 outright. It’s mostly for domestic abuse, but that is in many cases the end result of cyberstalking.
The most scorched earth way to absolutely put an end to cyberstalking is simple: unplug from the net. As cyberstalking is necessarily tied to technology, and by extension the internet, it doesn’t work when you’re not online. Even if you can’t get off the internet, you can definitely put social media on pause.
Facebook, Twitter and other services are fantastic tools, but if they get out of hand and stop helping your life, it’s time to put them down for a while. Once things settle down, you can reconnect to the world again, but sometimes you need a pause to get back to homeostasis in your social life.
Have you been the victim of cyberstalking before? What did it teach you? If not, how have you avoided becoming a victim? Share with us in the comment section!