Stalking refers to the act of intentionally and repeatedly harassing or threatening an individual over a specific period of time. Previously, such an illegal act was conducted directly in person. However, the wide availability of Internet access has caused it to shift from being a direct act to one which is now primarily online-based.
Online stalking also known as cyber stalking is facilitated through electronic means of communication such as email, social networking sites, discussion forums, instant messenger, online dating sites and text messaging.
Online harassment is a very serious and dangerous issue. It can cause the individual being stalked to be in reasonable fear for their life. Usually the perpetrators are not strangers but instead someone familiar such as estranged or current partners who find the drive to commit this act due to disturbed emotions, obsession or the need for revenge.
What to do about Internet stalking?
There are several approaches that should be followed if you are being harassed online.
- Make your stance clear – unwanted contact should be addressed by making it clear to the stalker that you would want him or her to not contact you again. This can be further extended to include that any subsequent contact will result in the filing of a police report. Afterwards it is important to not have any further communication.
- Remove yourself from the online space – if you are starting to feel uncomfortable or the situation has escalated somewhat then it is best that you log off from that online space. This is usually one of the first advisable defenses against stalking via the Internet.
- Save all communications for evidence – one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to delete or edit messages that reveal the stalking behavior. Instead you should opt to keep them as they can be used as evidence. If posts were made on public sites, then deter from deleting them but rather make then unpublished or hidden from everyone else.
- Block or filter incoming messages – most email and web based mediums have a filter feature which can be used to avoid receiving messages from unwanted sources. Such a feature should be considered if the stalking persists.
- Contact the Internet system administrator – the first form of reporting should be done to the system administrator responsible for monitoring the website or medium that contact has been made through. They should be able to provide assistance with the issue. It is also important to save the dialogue between you and them for future reference.
- Inform your family and friends – it is important that you provide a clear definition of stalking and all related information to those people close to you so that they can offer support while you cope with the rather traumatic experience. This will also make them more alert and be in a better position to provide other means of assistance.
In some cases these approaches might be sufficient in deterring a stalker from proceeding with any further harassment. However there might be other situations in which it escalates to a more personal level marked by receiving harassing phone calls or snail mails. At this point it is definite that a more formal approach will be required which involves making formal complaints.
- Contact the stalker’s Internet service provider (identifiable by the domain) – most providers have set policies that address the use of their service for abusive purposes. When the service is violated in this way, then it is likely that they provider will get in direct contact with the stalker or opt to cancel the supply of their service. A follow up on this approach is usually recommended and all record of communication should be stored.
- Inform local law enforcement agencies – the most extreme approach involves reporting the matter to relevant authorities and providing them with evidence of the harassment. From there, the matter will now become a legal issue which will be handled according to the governing online stalking laws.
Knowing how to prevent being harassed online by avoid sharing personal information is vital for all Internet users. However it is also important to know how to deal with online stalking if that ever presents an issue. Having such knowledge can provide reassurance of safety and a peace of mind.