Domestic violence can take many forms outside of physical abuse. Sexual harassment, assault, stalking and criminal mischief are just a few ways victims experience domestic violence. However, domestic violence can also occur in the cyber world.
What is cyberstalking?
The definition of stalking is when one willfully and repeatedly follows or harasses another person. Cyberstalking is based around the same concept except cyber stalkers rely on online technology to harass, embarrass, or threaten their victims.
Cyber stalkers use email, social media, instant messaging, phone calls, and other communication devices to stalk their victims. Their abuse has a harmful intent, and it can take the form of sexual harassment, defamation, inappropriate contact, or simply an annoying and disruptive presence in someone's daily life. In some circumstances, physical stalking and cyberstalking can interconnect, making the situation even more threatening for the victim.
It is important to recognize that social media stalking is not the same as cyberstalking. While social media can be used to cyberstalk, viewing the social profile of a job candidate or someone you just met is not harmful. If that act becomes a repeated occurrence with the intent to cause harm, it could be classified as cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking can happen in many different ways:
- Catfishing: Online stalkers can create fake profiles and approach their victims as a friend of a friend or expressing romantic interest. Cyber stalkers can also copy the profiles of existing users to make themselves look like real people.
- Monitoring location check-ins on social media: Adding location check-ins to your social media posts allows a cyber stalker to track your whereabouts with ease. It also allows them to indicate your behavioral patterns over time.
- Hijacking a webcam: Some cyber stalkers will trick their victims into downloading and installing files that allow them to access the webcam on a computer or laptop.
- Using geotags to track a location: Geotags allow anyone to discover where and when a digital photo was taken, easily informing a cyber stalker of your whereabouts at any given time.
Despite the prevalence of cyberstalking, you can protect yourself from it:
1. Never provide personal information about yourself online. The less information available, the less likely someone can use it to harm you.
2. Review your privacy settings on social media. Don't overshare! Adjust your settings so that only your friends can see what you post.
3. Set strong, unique passwords for online accounts. Avoid using passwords that would be easy for someone to guess. Use a combination of upper and lowercase characters, numbers, and symbols to ensure your passwords keep the hackers out.
4. Avoid logging into personal accounts when Wi-Fi isn't secure. Using public Wi-Fi can be a risk. You can never guarantee it's secured, so avoid logging onto personal accounts and sending private emails when connected to a public network.
If you encounter someone who exhibits stalker-like behaviors or you feel threatened by someone online, contact the police immediately. What may seem like harmless communication could be a more serious situation than it appears to be.
If you have legal questions regarding cyberstalking, please do not hesitate to contact our office. Our attorneys will be happy to assist you.