Cyber stalking and online harrassment
What would you do if someone would not leave you alone? What about if they started spreading lies about you? What if they went through your mail and your diary? Calling you names? What if this abuse and invasion of privacy was all through your computer?
We’ve all heard stories about fake Facebook accounts, cyberbullying, hacking, enough to make any geek run for cover but what do you do if it happens to you?
The thing about the internet is, thanks to social networks such as Myspace and Facebook, more information is out there for any Joe Blog to access information on you. There are also forums where we can now chat to strangers from across the world and not have to board a plane. Our diaries are now accessible to other nations thanks to blogging sites and our videos are being watched by millions through You tube. It’s like we are practically asking people to come into our lives and go through them with a fine toothed comb.
But as much as there are normal people out there laughing away at the clip of your new puppy doing cartwheels, the internet can and will be used by anyone and those people don’t always have your best interest at heart.
For a start, it’s now easy for anyone in cyberland to be whoever they want to be. A trucker from Newcastle can now be Brad Pitts’ body double just by saying so. We’ve heard one story of someone who met talk dark and handsome online and when they met up, turned out to be short, fat, and glass eyed. People pretend to be anyone they want to be, even you. Recently in the press, one Facebook user was shocked to find a fake profile advertising herself as a prostitute. They had a picture as well as her real phone number and date of birth. A warning to us all to never post that kind of personal information online!
It’s not always from someone you know. Hands up everyone who has been on an internet forum and been subjected to trolling. Trolling is the term used to describe when users post and reply on forums in order to provoke other users. Normally, these people are just frustrated bullies who fire off at random but sometimes they have been known to try and target individuals. The thing to remember about trolling is there is no rhyme or reason behind why you are targeted. It’s a case of time and place and it’s easy for them to abuse a faceless person.
But not all harassment is abusive. The internet provides us with the means to reach out to others we cannot in real life. That is a very useful for stalkers. Endless emails, a message board with 20 messages all from the same person in the last 30 minutes, and what makes it more appealing to bush twitchers is they can check on you without you even knowing. They can check your relationship status, likes, dislikes, what you did on holiday, all information we all stick on our pages. And that’s not all. If the person is computer savvy enough, sometimes this information can be used to find other information. A friend of mine a few years back met through a pen pal site a girl called Lucy. They got on really well and were soon talking online. This girl asked her lots of questions about where she lived, where she worked, etc. All she revealed was her full name, what work she did, and the town. Two days later, a strange 40 year old man turned up at her work place with flowers asking to see her. Her new friend using only those details tracked her through searching online. When she realised who it was they had to call the police to remove him. Turned out Lucy was in fact Harry, a serial loner who had a previous record for stalking young women. Enough to make any woman cancel her AIM account.
So how can you prevent nasty online harrassment happening to you?
- Never put up your address, full date of birth, or phone number on your page, even on a private account. Who do you think is going to need it?
- Never reveal information like you first primary school, mothers maiden name, etc, these are security question answers that can be used to hack into your account.
- Set your settings to private where possible and disable photo and video sharing so no one can steal your image.
- Never reply to abusive forum posts and messages and report them to the moderators or webmaster instead.
- Remember that people are not always who they say they are. Don’t give out personal information in chat rooms (even if the person is very cute).
- Report fake profiles straight away to the admin. Don’t try and confront the person yourself.
- Don’t post anything up you wouldn’t want your mother to see.
- …and finally. DON’T TELL ANYONE YOUR PASSWORD. That’s just daft!