What Is cyberstalking?

Originally defined as harassment directed at a victim through unwanted observation over a period of time, stalking has ceased from being only associated with celebrities. With the advent of technology, so has stalking advanced leading to experts looking for answers to what is cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is on the rise and is a major threat. Most of the victims of cyberstalking are women.

What is Cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking can by definition be said to be the unwanted harassment by a stranger whose aim is to cause severe emotional distress. It refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviour. www.ncsl.org. Whereas stalkers follow their victims and harass them physically, cyber stalkers target their victims when they are online. Victims are normally targeted on social media sites such as Facebook where the stalker may update or send unwarranted information. The cyberstalker may also have access to personal information which they may use to cause harm either physically or through malicious damage to the character. Sometimes, cyberstalking spills over from the virtual world and the victims may suffer physical harm and humiliation due to the release of private information.

Cyberstalking is not limited to the internet but it also includes text messages sent over mobile phones.

Though the characteristics of cyber stalkers and stalkers may be similar there are some differences. These differences include and are not limited to;

  • Cyberstalkers have a driving motivation. That is, cyberstalkers, hope to achieve something from their actions e.g. settle a score. Stalkers are driven by the belief that they are loved by their victims.
  • Cyberstalkers although unknown online, are known to the victim. This means that most of the cyber stalkers are known to their victims although they hide under anonymity online. Stalkers are mostly not known to their victims.
  • Some stalkers are known to have a condition known as erotomania which affects schizophrenics. Cyberstalkers are conscious and with a sound mind.

What is cyberstalking and what are cyberstalking effects?

Though people are speaking up on the vice, it is still possible that most of the victims of cyberstalking suffer in silence without knowledge of whom to confide in and how cyberstalking affects victims. Victims of cyberstalking are known to suffer from severe emotional distress. This may lead to the victim requiring counselling therapy or medical attention so as not to suffer from depression. The other effect of cyberstalking is that victims suffer from fear and panic attacks with victims confessing feeling powerless to an unforeseeable threat to their own safety. When one is living in such extreme fear, it raises concern that if unchecked, it may lead to the victim committing suicide.

As a means of fighting cyberstalking, more information needs to be released by the relevant authorities on how to profile and recognize cyberstalkers. The police or the relevant law enforcement authorities also need training on how to investigate and assist the victims of the crime. Victim forums such as support groups should be encouraged. Cyberstalker support groups allow the victims to share experiences and offer encouragement and support to each other.

Ways to safeguard yourself against cyberstalking

  • Reduce access to personal information

Personal information should be kept in a safe reach location as cyber stalkers are known to mostly use such information against their victims.

  • All passwords on computers and on social networking sites should be changed

In the aim of protecting yourself or if one suspects that they are being cyber stalked it is advised that all passwords should be changed so that information on these sites or on the computer may be safeguarded.

  • Keep evidence

Keeping evidence helps the victim aid in the capture and prosecution of cyberstalkers. Emails, posts, text messages or any other form of communication that a cyber stalker uses to create fear should be stored to be later used as evidence.

  • Destroy physical documents that might be breached

In extreme cases, cyber stalkers break into homes and offices acquiring the information they shouldn’t have. In this case, all information that may be used by a stalker should be destroyed so as to stop the cycle.

  • Use online security alerts

With the rise of cyberstalking, developers have come up with innovative technology that can alert us of suspicious activities on our online addresses. This alert can be equated to a personal security system

  • Contact the police

Cyberstalking can only be stopped if police are informed, well equipped and motivated to conduct conclusive investigations that lead to the prosecution of cyberstalkers.