How to combat cyberstalking

Discussion in 'privacy general' started by Smokey, Jul 19, 2003.

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  1. Smokey

    Smokey Registered Member

    Apr 1, 2002
    Annie's Pub
    Stalking is defined as "willful, malicious and repeated following and harassing of another person."
    This can take any number of forms: following a person, appearing at his or her home or place of employment, making harassing phone calls, vandalizing someone's property or leaving objects or written messages. In contrast, cyberstalking generally refers to the use of the Internet, e-mail messaging or other electronic communication methods such as instant messaging to stalk someone.

    In recent years, stalkers have found that the Internet provides a new medium through which to commit crimes against their victims. Cyberstalkers, like other predators, are opportunists and are often motivated by a desire to exert control over their victims. Given the enormous amount of personal information available through the Internet, a determined cyberstalker can often easily locate private information about a potential victim. Numerous Web sites offer personal information, including unlisted telephone numbers and detailed directions to homes or offices. For a fee, other Web sites promise to provide Social Security numbers, financial data and other personal information that cyberstalkers might find useful in the pursuit of their victims.

    As the Internet becomes ever more an integrated part of our personal and professional lives, stalkers take advantage of the ease of communications. Although a potential stalker may be unwilling or unable to confront a victim in person or even over the telephone, he may have little hesitation in sending harassing or threatening electronic communications to a victim. As with physical stalking, online harassment and threats may be a prelude to more serious actions, including physical violence.

    Cyberstalkers will use a variety of techniques. They may initially use the Internet to identify and track their victims. The anonymous nature of the Internet provides new opportunities for budding cyberstalkers. A cyberstalker's true identity can be concealed by using different Internet service providers and/or by adopting different screen names. More seasoned stalkers may even employ the use of anonymous remailers, making it all but impossible to determine the true identity or source of an e-mail message. Under the cloak of anonymity, they may send unsolicited e-mail messages, which can include hate, obscene or threatening content.

    With newsgroups, the cyberstalker may even create postings about the victim or start rumors that spread through a bulletin board system. Another technique used by cyberstalkers is to assume the victim's persona online (such as in chat room) for the purpose of sullying the victim's reputation, posting details (whether factual or false) about the victim or soliciting unwanted contacts from others. In addition, online harassment may include sending the victim computer viruses or electronic junk mail (spamming).

    The anonymous nature of the Internet places the cyberstalker in an advantageous position. Unbeknownst to the victim, the perpetrator can be in another state, another country or in the next cubicle at work. The stalker can be a former friend or lover, a total stranger met in a chat room or simply someone playing a practical joke. The inability to identify the source of the harassment or threats can be particularly ominous to a cyberstalking victim, and the veil of anonymity might encourage a perpetrator to prolong these acts. Armed with the knowledge that their identities are unknown, perpetrators may be encouraged to broaden the range of their stalking by pursuing victims at the victim's home or workplace.

    How to protect yourself against cyberstalking:

    -Be extremely cautious about meeting online acquaintances in person. If you choose to meet, do so in a public place and take along a friend if possible.

    -If an online situation becomes hostile, log off or surf elsewhere. If a situation arouses your fear, contact a local law enforcement agency.

    -Don't share personal information in public spaces anywhere online or give it to strangers, including in e-mail or chat rooms.

    -Don't use your real name or nickname as your screen name or user ID. Pick a name that is gender- and age-neutral.

    -Don't post personal information as part of any user profiles.

    -Make sure that your Internet service provider and Internet Relay Chat networks have acceptable use policies that prohibit cyberstalking. If your network fails to respond to your complaints, consider switching to a provider that's more responsive to user grievances.

    If you feel that you're a victim of cyberstalking, there are several steps you can take:

    -If you're receiving unwanted content from an individual, make clear to that person that you would like him or her not to contact you again. Reply civilly to the electronic communication stating clearly once, and only once, that you don't want to receive any further communications.

    -If you continue to receive unwanted messages, don't respond, because this may only further encourage the stalker.

    -Print out the messages you receive, making sure that copies of electronic mail contain full headers.

    -Save all communications for evidence and be sure not to edit or alter them in any way.

    -Keep a record of your contacts with Internet systems administrators or law enforcement officials.

    -Consider blocking or filtering messages from the harasser. Many popular e-mail programs have a filter feature that will automatically delete e-mail messages from a particular e-mail address or one that contains offensive words. Chat-room contacts may also be blocked. Most chat programs allow the users to block messages from another user. Unfortunately, this provides little protection, since the cyberstalker can carry on the harassment using a different screen name.

    If the harassment continues or escalates, you should immediately contact your local law enforcement authorities and inform them of the situation in as much detail as possible. Be sure to inform them of the steps that you have taken and what evidence you have preserved.

    Source: ComputerWorld
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