Posted: Mon Mar 29, 2010 11:32 am Post subject: Stalking Online
brief guide to staying safe while on the world wide web
by Paul Gillingwater
On sunny days, you can ride the waves of email, instant messaging, and social media websites like a surfer cruising in onto Santa Monica Beach; it’s fun and easy to use forums for networking, doing business, or just staying in touch. But increasingly there is a dark side, when the ride can be upset by the threat of a stalker harassing you online.
Anyone who uses the Internet can be subjected to Cyberstalking, the use of information technology, particularly the Internet, to harass another person. It can take many forms: People send threats and make false accusations, spy on people, steal their identity, and damage data or equipment. They solicit minors for sexual purposes and gather information to harass or blackmail.
It’s a “reasonable person” standard, according to Wikipedia, such that “a reasonable person in possession of the same information would regard it as sufficient to cause another reasonable person distress.
Technologically, this has all gotten frighteningly easy. Today, almost anyone can forge emails so that they look like messages sent by someone else. Personal details combined with insults or obscene images can be very upsetting, especially if they think the mail is genuine. Anonymous phone calls are now also possible over the Internet, calls that are untraceable without the resources of governments or law enforcement agencies.
Unless it’s a celebrity, the person being Cyberstalked usually knows their stalker – an ex-partner from a relationship gone bad, a political antagonist, a fired ex-employee, or a sexual predator – or has engaged in online discussions that triggered this behavior in a stranger.
The results of Cyberstalking can often be very distressing, both for the victims and their families and can lead to serious mental health issues, including attempted suicide. Young people often have a false sense of security when online, and they crave approval – even from strangers. The attention is fun and validating. Blogging and twittering are the new rage, but can lead to particularly extreme cases.
Such was the case in January 2009 of “Boxxy,” a young woman with more style than substance. Her videos on YouTube generated tens of thousands of fans, and many others who couldn’t stand her, with escalation of hostilities between the two camps leading to intense Cyberstalking: death threats, flame wars, denial of services, and attacks on websites (such as the popular message board 4chan.org, which originated the LOLcats meme.)
Organizations and cults are often high-profile targets for abuse, like the Church of Scientology, along with some of its most prominent converts like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, although the 2008 actions of the international group called “Anonymous” showed how easy it is to hide your identity on the Internet.
Usually, however, Cyberstalking is more personal, with a single individual attempting to harass or threaten their intended victim. The target of such harassment has few options. Unless there is evidence of a direct physical threat to safety, the police will rarely respond. Still, establishing a paper trail through an official complaint may be useful later on when you need a restraining order.
If your account is hacked, complaints are often too slow to be useful; the better choice is to simply create a new one and contact all friends directly to ignore correspondence from the old address. Also, making backup copies of all contact information and personal documents is good practice under any circumstances.
In general, it’s best to just ignore communications coming from a Cyberstalker; your response just makes it more fun. Don’t attempt to reply – simply delete such messages. This can be handled automatically by email systems with filters. For those who spend a lot of time online, it’s a good idea to check how much personal information can be found about you through search engines. Use your social security number, name, email addresses, or user names to discover whether you have “leaked” personal information online. If you can find such data, then it’s likely that other people can too, so try to remove it if possible. As a rule, avoid entering private information (such as your birth date or passport details) into any website. If it’s not “official,” just make up fake data.
All in all, just use your head: Facebook and Bebo request personal information, which most people seem all too happy to provide. You don’t need to be one of them. While mechanisms exist on many sites to restrict the privacy of such information, mistakes can be made and have led to leaks, including birth dates, names and addresses, phone numbers or credit card details.
Always assume that if you send someone naked pictures of yourself, they are likely to be shared with a million of your closest friends.
Simple guidelines may be the best protection:
• Don’t exchange emails and photographs of yourself with people you’ve never met
• Don’t assume that the person you meet online is who they say they are -- digital identities are malleable
• Don’t use a webcam like a bathroom mirror
• Never open unknown attachments from strangers, and use up-to-date anti-virus software
• Educate your child about the risks of “stranger danger”
• And if you with to meet someone you know from online, take a friend along.
good post, and info. I think we are all pretty familiar with what we need to watch out for though. Think we are all using our heads when it comes to the internet, but doesnt harm to put up that info. And its pretty bog standard that if a person is meeting someone from the internet, then they would take a friend with them!
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