Community Outreach

What is Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking, is online stalking. It has been defined as the use of technology, particularly the Internet, to harass someone. Characteristics include false accusations, monitoring, threats,identity theft, and data destruction or manipulation. Cyberstalking also includes exploitation of minors, be it sexual or otherwise.

The harassment can take on many forms, but the common denominator is that it's unwanted, often obsessive, and usually illegal. Cyberstalkers use email, instant messages, phone calls, and other communication devices to stalk, whether it takes the form of sexual harassment, inappropriate contact, or just plain annoying attention to your life and your family's activities.

Kids use the term "stalking" to describe following someone's activities via their social network. My own children accuse me of being their "stalker" for keeping tabs on their digital lives. It's important that we not devalue the serious nature of the crime of cyberstalking by using the term incorrectly. A recent television commercial for a major cellular provider depicts a young woman spying on her crush through his bedroom window while she monitors his online activities on her cell phone. While it's meant to be a humorous ad, it's extremely unsettling when stalking occurs in the real world.

Interestingly, this same ad points to an important fact about cyberstalking; it is often perpetrated not by strangers, but by someone you know. It could be an ex, a former friend, or just someone who wants to bother you and your family in an inappropriate way.

Avoidance Tips

Here are a few important pointers to help you AVOID cyberstalking, whether it's directed at you, your PC, or your family:

  • Maintain vigilance over physical access to your computer and other Web-enabled devices like cell phones. Cyberstalkers use software and hardware devices (sometimes attached to the back of your PC without you even knowing) to monitor their victims.
  • Be sure you always log out of your computer programs when you step away from the computer and use a screensaver with a password. The same goes for passwords on cell phones. Your kids and your spouse should develop the same good habits.
  • Make sure to practice good password management and security. Never share your passwords with others. And be sure to change your passwords frequently! This is very important.
  • Do an online search for your name or your family members' now and then to see what's available about you and your kids online. Don't be shy about searching social networks (including your friends' and colleagues'), and be sure to remove anything private or inappropriate.
  • Delete or make private any online calendars or itineraries--even on your social network--where you list events you plan to attend. They could let a stalker know where you're planning to be and when.
  • Use the privacy settings in all your online accounts to limit your online sharing with those outside your trusted circle. You can use these settings to opt out of having your profile appear when someone searches for your name. You can block people from seeing your posts and photos, too.
  • If you suspect that someone is using spyware software to track your everyday activities, and you feel as if you're in danger, only use public computers or telephones to seek help. Otherwise, your efforts to get help will be known to your cyberstalker and this may leave you in even greater danger.
  • As always, use good, updated security software to prevent someone from getting spyware onto your computer via a phishing attack or an infected Web page. Check the app store for your mobile devices to see what security software is available.