What Is Cyberstalking and Tips on How to Protect Yourself
It wasn’t long ago that science fiction writers envisioned a dystopian world where computers and other mechanisms were literally embedded into people’s brains.
While we haven’t reached that stage (yet), no one can deny that our physical existences are slowly being eclipsed by our digital lives. Often, people can tell more about your personality by studying your online persona than through direct conversation.
We relish in the freedom of our online world, but others can all too often take advantage of the information we provide over the internet, whether posted intentionally or otherwise. Cyber-stalking is one of the costs we pay as our lives become more and more digital.
What Is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is the misuse of online information to harass, threaten, or manipulate someone. A cyberstalker can strike in many ways. They may leave unwanted messages on social media, send harassing emails, post private images and information online, attempt to discredit people academically and professionally, or contact a victim’s family and friends without permission.
Cyberstalking shouldn’t be confused with trolling. While trolls are annoying, they’re generally just maladjusted jerks with too much time on their hands. They don’t have the malicious intent of a true cyberstalker or attack with the same fear-inducing intensity. Trolls aren’t criminals. Cyberstalking, like real-world stalking, is a crime.
What Are Some Impacts of Cyberstalking?
If you’re the victim of cyberstalking, you may feel as though your entire life has a shadow cast over it. All online activity will feel monitored and scrutinized. Friends and family may receive harassing emails and could be misled into turning against you. Extreme stress and emotional damage can occur.
If the cyberstalking escalates, your online accounts can be compromised. Identity theft, hacked bank accounts, and other serious consequences can result from compromised accounts. Imagine the damage someone can do by posting a fake social media account, with stolen information and pictures, under your name. In extreme cases, cyberstalking victims have lost their jobs and have even been physically threatened.
How Can You Prevent Cyberstalking?
First, perform an online audit of yourself and see what’s out there. Do a Google search for your name and check the results, making sure to click the “Images” tab. Is your picture one of the first to show up? If so, where is that image posted? Run a similar search for your phone number. Removing what’s already out there can be a challenge, but at least you’ll know where you stand
and what others can already see.
If you have social media accounts, don’t rely on default privacy settings. Dial up your protection by selecting the most restrictive settings possible. If it becomes a problem, such as real friends being unable to read your posts, think about changing them.
Don’t casually accept friend requests based on mutual friends. It’s too easy for someone to create a fake profile, add a few of your friends to it, and get your approval. If you don’t know them personally, send a direct message asking how they know you and why they’re trying to friend you.
Avoid posting too much personal information. Be especially wary of tags that use geolocation technology because they directly link your online presence and physical location. Public forums and chat rooms can be fun, but they’re often used to hunt new cyberstalking victims.
Keep your online accounts safe. Change your passwords regularly. There are many programs designed to combat spyware – invest in one. Never send private messages or emails through a public WiFi connection. Instead, use your smartphone as a mobile hotspot so others aren’t on your connection.
Phishing scams are everywhere. They’re designed to trick you into providing personal information, such as your bank account or social security number. If you receive a call, text message, or email asking for this kind of data, do not open attachments, click links, or speak to them. Instead, call a trusted and verified phone number (one that actually appears on your bank card, for instance) to make sure it’s legit.
What Can You Do?
True cyberstalking is a crime and there are helpful resources out there. Law enforcement takes cyberstalking and identity theft seriously, so don’t hesitate to contact someone.
Learning more about our digital world and the risks it involves doesn’t have to be tedious work. Interactive shows such as #WarGames put you in the virtual driver’s seat as you navigate the shark-filled waters of hackers, scammers, and evildoers.
While the world of #WarGames is fictional, the ideas behind the show are reality-based. Protect yourself with the information you need as our physical world becomes more and more entwined with the online universe.