Cyberstalking: When One ‘Follower’ Is Too Many

hands on laptop keyboardTechnology has changed the way we live, do our jobs, even how we interact with people. No longer do we have to wait for news from a family member across the country. With the stroke of a finger, our laptops, smartphones, and tablets transport us across any number of miles.

The way we socialize and even date has significantly changed over the past 40 years. With the advent of social media and dating sites, it is easier to connect with people. Many teens, as well as some adults, are putting their lives out there for anyone to see, sharing personal details in the hopes of attracting mates, friends, and “followers.” It is not uncommon for people to post places they go or events they will attend. In fact, I have friends who post on Facebook everything that happens to them. It is almost a step-by-step account of what they did each day, where they went, and who was with them. If I ever need to know where they are, I just have to log in.

With all this personal information out there on the internet, the possibility—reality, in fact—exists that some will use it for devious means. Stalking and cyberstalking affect millions of people each year. In 2012, a special report was released by the Department of Justice that estimated 5.3 million U.S. residents age 18 or older experienced behaviors consistent with either stalking or harassment. Statistics on cyberstalking show that harassment most often originates through unwanted Facebook contact; emails are next. Eighty-three percent of cyberstalking cases escalated in some way. The top three ways in which incidents escalated were through Facebook, then by phone, and finally by text messages.

The media help to further desensitize us to the terror of stalking. I recently saw a cartoon that featured a “dad” talking to his kid, who was on his computer. The dad said, “In my day, stalking actually took skill and we had to leave our house to do it. We didn’t have Facebook to do our work for us.” Then there are songs, such as “Every Breath You Take,” “(Everything I do) I Do It for You,” “One Way or Another,” and “Never Gonna Give You Up,” that we may have all cheerily sung the lyrics to without even thinking about what they meant.

If you are being stalked, you may notice yourself being followed, see the same vehicle near locations that you frequent, or deal with hang-ups or odd messages on your home or cell phone, email, or notes left for you on your vehicle or other places. With cyberstalking, the tactics can be more subtle. The stalker may become friends with one of your Facebook friends to follow your behavior online. Stalkers also have been known to use a victim’s email address to sign them up for magazines or other subscriptions. It can become a constant barrage of unexplained things. It might make you believe you’re going “crazy.” For someone being stalked, it may be difficult to do everyday things such as answering the phone or checking email without feeling fear.

Stalkers can be transparent or secretive in how they stalk. Their motivations may vary, but their actions instill a perpetual uneasiness within victims. Some people associate stalking only with celebrities; that is not true. With millions falling victim to stalking in the United States each year, this widely misunderstood crime reaches far beyond people in the public eye.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month. It is unfortunate that we need to promote awareness of any crime in this way. We have seen how prevalent cyberstalking has become, and as technology advances, it is sure to only increase. Let’s not wait until crime touches us or someone close to us to get involved and get motivated to create change.

References:

  1. Bureau of Justice Statistics, September 2012, NCJ 224527. Retrieved on 1 January 2014 from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/svus_rev.pdf
  2. Stalking Awareness Month. Retrieved on 1 January 2014 from http://stalkingawarenessmonth.org/

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Teresa Collett, PsyD, therapist in Silverdale, Washington

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Penelope

    Penelope

    January 10th, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    It’s scary the things that our kids have to think about and have to be aware of that were not even a reality when we were their age. It makes you teally stop and think about the things that they are engaging in online and how safe so many of the sites really are that they vist and play on on a daily basis. I try to keep up with it all but some of it is even beyond me. I have had the talks about online safety but I worry that it goes in one ear and out the other.

  • emme

    emme

    January 10th, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    How can I stress this to my girls without totally scaring them to death and just freaking them out>

  • james

    james

    January 11th, 2014 at 4:54 AM

    I have watched this happen to a couple of my female friends actually and you talk about being weird, because it is different when you know who it is and you can ohysically see them, but when it is online and you just have this sense that someone is there and chasing you aroun d but you don’t know them or even their intent? Even stranger. And there is no protection, nothing that you can do legally to protect yourself. You can say to be more careful but most of us are pretty careful about who we are friends with online; it’s just that there are literally a bunch a freaks out there who have nothing better to do than terrorize others and this is how they choose to spend their time.

  • Lowell

    Lowell

    January 11th, 2014 at 8:03 AM

    It makes you want to unplug and go off the grid but I guess that’s next to impossible

  • Dee

    Dee

    January 13th, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    Kids today don’t think about the hidden dangers that meeting all of these new people online poses.
    I honestly think that most of them still think the best in others, which is good, but many of them do that to a fault and that ends up coming back to nite them in a very serious way.
    Schools would be a great place to implement this into their curricula, teaching the kids not only about the many ways that they can use the things that they find online to their advantage but how to also keep themselves safe as well.
    I happen to think that many parents are at a loss talking about much of this because they don’t really understand how stuff like this happens and they feel helpless to stop it if it does.

  • daniel

    daniel

    January 13th, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    there was a girl I went to high school with who tried everything, restraining orders, the works, to keep a guy away from her and her daughter but he finally got to her and killed her

  • Billie

    Billie

    January 14th, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    Since this has evolved into a very real problem with few answers do you foresee any headway being made in terms of resolving legal issues with cyber stalking? I fear that there are too many ways for these people to remain anonymous to be able to effect any real change in a way that will be meaningful and that will have real impact and protection for those who need it. Agreed?

  • Louise R

    Louise R

    January 15th, 2014 at 3:59 AM

    So this is the time we have to wisen up, know when we need to bow out and lay low for a while… but there are those who kind of thrive on the thrill of being “followed”, they like having so many frineds until the danger touches them personally. They don’t realize the dangers in this game until it hits them very up close and personally

  • Orla

    Orla

    January 26th, 2017 at 4:04 PM

    I know of multiple incidents where (physical and cyber) stalking and criminal impersonation (identity theft) intersect:

    The stalkers end up stalking the real person via info (photos, locations, social networking accounts) posted by fake people impersonating others they are making fun of publicly, via fake social networking accounts created specifically to mock their targets.

    I wish you would publish articles analyzing why this happens, and how to deal with the complex psychological problems these fakers and stakers are going through, rather than just having warnings like this.

    Both are totally abnormal subsets of our society freely growing out on the internet unchecked by laws. The malicious “mean girls” and potentially dangerous mentally ill stalkers need to be helped as much as their victims do.

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