Online Harassment and Cyberstalking
A Real Life Problem
The Internet is a wonderful place to work, play and study. But don’t let that fact make you blind to its down side. The Net is no more and no less than a mirror of the real world, and that means it also contains electronic versions of real life problems. Stalking and harassments are problems that many people especially women, are familiar with in real life. These problems can also occur on the Internet, in what has become know as “cyberstalking” or “online harassment”.
If you thought that owning a computer and having an Internet account would make a person considerate and respectful; then think again. There are just as many predators in cyberspace as anywhere else. It is only their methods that have changed. Some predators might harass you by trailing around after you in live channels like lovesick puppies; unable to take NO for an answer and pestering you with email messages. In other cases this harassment may become a systematic campaign against you; where your harasser bombards you with threatening messages of hate and obscenities. Although distressful enough, the situation can even escalate to the point where your harasser traces your home address and telephone number; causing you to face not just emotional distress but also physical danger. It should come as no surprise to you that the “bad guys” are making use of this wonderful technology to harass people and prey on the innocent. Why wouldn’t they? Not all bad guys are street punks with no education. Some are university graduates with computers.
There have been many examples of cyberstalking crossing over to “IRL” stalking (In Real Life stalking). Sadly, those users who have been victims of cyberstalking, tell a similar story: That no one took the harassment seriously until it became “IRL”. Cyberstalking can be a devastating experience for a person online. As they discover that the difference between the “Brave New World” of the Internet and the Real World is that in the real world people listen when you tell them you are being stalked and harassed. In cyberspace people say things like “well just turn off your computer”. Such incomprehension is common. “You can’t be hurt on the Internet – it’s just words” is commonly heard and “If you can’t handle it, then you shouldn’t be online” is another commonly hear comment. The online stalking is just as frightening and distressing as off-line stalking, and just as illegal.
Men and women may be stalked on-line, but statistics show that the majority of victims are female. Women are the minority of the Internet population which means that their attention is generally a fierce competition between male users. This part of the Internet, resembles crude online single bars, with little in the way of politeness. Unfortunately the immediate and relative anonymity of live chat communications facilities enable users to be rude and insensitive. Cyberstalking and online harassment are also much easier to practice than real life stalking. In cyberspace, a stalker can harass their victim without ever have to leave the comfort of their own home, or have any witnesses to the incidents.
One reason for the lack of successful prosecution of cyberstalkers, is that there usually is a lack of sufficient evidence available for the officials to warrant “probable cause” in order to further investigate. Many law enforcement agencies are Internet illiterate, therefore unaware that the problem could and does exist. To date, the only legislation regarding cyberstalking is the Communications Decency Act, enacted by the US Congress on 2-1-96, and is still being challenged in the Supreme Court. The real life, anti-stalking laws deal with actual attacks, and until such an attack happens, are actually very limited in defending yourself, or preventing any progression of the stalker. There is very little done about threats or harassment in the early stages.
Online users are vulnerable to being targeted as cyberstalking victims in three areas.
1) Live Chats (Facebook, Yahoo, Skype, Messenger) or IRC (Internet Relay Chat): in which a user talks live with other users. This is the most common place for cyberstalking.
2) Message boards, Blogs, Reunion Sites, Support Groups and Newsgroups: a user interacts with others by posting messages, conversing back and forth. Boards for emotional issues such as divorce; death; domestic violence are especially prone. Disordered persons can track others they disagree with for years reeking all sorts of havoc.
3) Email box: a user has the ability to write anything and even attach files to the email.
Example: a user enables your email, via live chat or newsgroup postings, then emails you with obscenities, and attaches porno pictures. A common area regarding cyberstalking is at the “edu” sites, which are educational institutes, such as colleges and universities.
One user might know another user personally and interacts on the Internet anonymously, so starting the cyberstalk. One student can enter the Internet as easily as another student, therefore not letting his true identity be known. And since user names can be unknown alias, who would ever know the identity or be able to prove the identity. In such cases, the stalker usually has the ability to trace the victim’s phone number and sometimes the address of his victim. Another includes interpreting a posting you may have made on a message board regarding your opinion as an “attack” if it differs from theirs. The stalker then becomes fixated on proving you wrong.
Other forms of online harassment:
1) Unsolicited email
2) Live Chat
3) Hostile Postings about you, using a few “facts” to make an untrue picture
4) Spreading vicious, fabricated, untrue rumors about you (as opposed to telling the Truth at exposure sites)
5) Leaving untrue messages on site guestbooks
6) Impersonation of you online
7) Electronic sabotage, (sending viruses, trojans, etc)
8) Threatening phone calls
9) Threatening mail
10) Vandalism of property
11) Physical attack
12) Posing as you on groups, in emails or in postings.
There are many precautions that you can take NOW to protect yourself in advance from the unwelcome attention of a cyberstalker. Remember: The goal of a cyberstalker is CONTROL. Your task is to reverse this situation. Keep control of who you communicate with on the Internet. To do this, you may like to consider the advice below. Remember, the time to deal with cyberstalking is before you become a target.
CYBERSTALKING PREVENTION TIPS
If you are being harassed online by a cyberstalker, the chances are that you are not the first person they have stalked. Cyberstalkers, like other predators, are opportunists. They know what they are looking for and how to get it. “Stalking” is a “power” crime, the stalkers has the power to make you suffer and enjoys that power. Stalkers’ self-esteem rises when they attack your self- esteem. The more pain and suffering they can cause, the better they feel about themselves. The best protection against becoming a target of stalking is not to reveal anything personal that you might have in common. Often, stalkers are mentally unstable, paranoid, delusional, and extremely jealous, and have extremely low self-esteem. Stalkers may display selfishness, malice, sadism, be very cunning and arrogant. Most are anti-social, and to put it in layman’s terms, be a “control freak”, enjoying manipulating other people. They crave power over others, and enjoy the type power that hurts other people. harassment is common enough in live chat on the Internet.
The three most common ways it can start are:
1) sexual harassment (or innuendo);
2) a flame war (argument that gets out of hand);
3)users that show their technological power by attacking innocent users, channels or even networks.
Those who regularly start flame wars online are rude and obnoxious people, often having poor social and communication skills. Their idea of fun is throwing obscene abuse at another just to upset them. These kind of harassers are often loners who don”t have a companion and their attempts to attract your attention is often clumsy and crude. Care should always be taken when turning the away, as the are highly sensitive to rejection and humiliation, and could cause a vendetta to start against you. Understand that although clumsy and crude in most cases, the stalker is not stupid, they are very organized and usually experienced in their war against you.
Stalking is a form of obsession. The difference between a normal cyber harasser and a cyberstalker, is this: harasser moves on to others and forgets you and a stalkers will come back to stalk you another day.
The Internet enables the stalker, his powers, in most cases, merely a knowledge of the technology is all required to have the ability to stalk another user. Most stalkers, having been rejected desire to instill fear in users, therefore, upsetting the normal enjoyment of the Internet.
Note that educated, smooth talking, responsible people also can be stalkers, appearing to be a perfect gentleman or lady with perfect manners. The major “clue” to cyberstalking, is when the stalker pushes for information regarding you personal life, private life, or life away from the net. Rule of thumb, as it may be referred to is: “NEVER GIVE ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION ACROSS THE INTERNET!”
Online meetings should stay online, the individuals are, in fact, strangers. Online, the physical warning signs usually in the “body language” are missing. Also the clues of personality within the voice and eyes are missing. All there is to determine a personality is the skill in which they type there messages. There is no code of honor in protecting privacy on the Internet. Each user should therefore take steps to protect their privacy online.
1) never specify gender
2) use neutral-gender names
3) change your password often
4) edit your online profiles often
5) review your email headers and signatures often
6) use secure chat programs that do not permit tracking of your isp#
7) use a good chat network
8) use standard names, passive names to as to not draw attention to you
9) use anonymous remailers
10)use an anonymous browser
11)use encryption to authenticate email
12) discuss privacy with your server.
And last: learn your technology. REMEMBER: PROTECT YOURSELF!