In a time when technology controls the flow of our lives, the internet has turned into a haven for online harassment. Cyberstalking is one prevalent example of internet abuse that doesn’t differ heavily from traditional stalking, as both can traumatize victims.
We explain the concept of cyberstalking, compares cyberstalking vs. stalking, and provides tips on protecting people from both.
What is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking refers to online behaviors that make victims fear for their physical safety and cause emotional harm or distress. Cyberstalkers frequently exploit the use of social media, text messages, emails, and other online tools to harass their victims.
According to the Journal of interpersonal violence, an estimated 40% of online users worldwide have been victims of cyberstalking. In recent years, stalkers have observed that the Internet offers new means of harassing victims, causing the Instances of cyberstalking to increase. Especially since stalkers have more access to victims’ private information through online and social media platforms.
Cyberstalking remains a serious issue as the internet becomes increasingly integrated into people’s personal and business lives. Therefore, many countries have laws governing cyberstalking with serious legal ramifications. However, that’s not enough to prevent cyber criminals from committing digital crimes, and awareness is the best solution.
The Difference Between Cyberstalking and Stalking
Cyberstalking is very much similar to stalking. However, it takes place in digital environments like the internet. Although stalking and cyberstalking share the same devastating effects on victims, there are a few differences to detect between the two:
Stalkers Might Physically Follow You
The key point about cyberstalking vs. stalking is that cyberstalking victims might never meet their stalkers. Typically, stalkers follow their victims and exhibit certain behaviors. They may start as small as sending unwanted gifts, making sneaky phone calls, secretly following the victim, and other forms of physical contact.
However, they may try serious conduct such as showing up at their homes or workplaces, leaving a note or an object, and destroying or damaging the victims’ property.
Although cyberstalking may not involve physical contact like the ones described above, that does not make it any less dangerous. There are numerous instances where a cyberstalker may go above and beyond by physically tracking and locating their victims.
Cyberstalkers Might Be Anonymous
One unfortunate reality of cyberstalking vs. stalking is that the anonymity of the internet gives cyberstalkers a competitive edge over their victims. The stalker could be a former friend, lover, or complete stranger. For the victims of cyberstalking, the inability to detect the identity of the harasser is concerning, and the anonymity of the predators may encourage them to continue their actions.
Another unfortunate reality for the victims is how difficult it is for them to take legal action against cyberstalkers because of their anonymity. It may be challenging for law enforcement to find online stalkers because they usually use fake accounts, email addresses, and IP addresses. Victims might not even know how to file a complaint against their stalker, let alone find and identify them.
Cyberstalkers Might Track Your Online Activity
While stalking causes serious threats to the victim’s physical and emotional well-being, cyberstalking also threatens the victim’s online safety. With the rise of social media platforms, cyberstalking is made easier, with people constantly sharing their personal information. Cyberstalkers could also be knowledgeable hackers with advanced technical skills to track their victims online.
Cyberstalkers can use several tools and tactics to find and locate their victims and track their online activity. Such as using spyware to keep tabs on the victim’s browsing habits, keylogging software to document keystrokes, and malware to access the victim’s accounts. Additionally, to humiliate or hurt their victims, cyberstalkers might spread false information about their targets online.
Cyberstalking Safety Best Practices
- Be mindful of your online presence. Use strong passwords for all accounts, and be careful with the personal information posted online. Avoid posting private information, such as contact details, addresses, or financial details.
- If someone is harassing you through the internet, you should urgently block them as soon as possible. This is crucial because they won’t be able to view your profile or reach out to you.
- Whenever you feel like falling victim to cyberstalking, It is important to report this to the authorities and the social media platform where it occurred.
- Stay on top of your accounts. Be sure to regularly do a security inspection of your accounts for any unusual activity. Keep an eye out for any messages that seem odd or suspicious, and block the sender if necessary.
- Seek professional support from a mental health professional if you feel unsafe or uneasy due to cyberstalking.
- Make sure that your Internet service provider has acceptable-use guidelines that forbid cyberstalking. Consider switching to a provider that is more receptive to user complaints if your network doesn’t respond to your complaints.
- When meeting online users in person, exercise extreme caution. If you decide to meet, go somewhere open and bring a friend.
- Limit who has access to your tablet, smartphone, and other devices. When cyberstalkers gain access to a device, they can quickly and easily install spyware that tracks a victim’s whereabouts and tracks their every online move.
- The best way to stop malicious spyware is to ensure that all your devices are protected with trusted anti-malware and antivirus software.
Shedding light on cyberstalking vs. stalking is a serious topic. Any form of stalking possesses the potential to cause serious harm and have detrimental effects. Stalking and cyberstalking should be taken seriously despite their distinct differences. Recognizing the warning signs of cyberstalking and taking protective measures is critical.
You can stay safe by being proactive and learning about cyberstalking, using safety best practices, and knowing who to contact if you believe you are a victim. Remember to check on your loved ones if they are showing any signs of being cyberstalked. If they do, provide immediate support and emotional help and urge them to contact the authorities.
David Lukić is an information privacy, security and compliance consultant at one of the main identity monitoring and protection services. The passion to make cyber security accessible and interesting has led David to join InfoCollective team since 2022.