Cyberstalking and Internet Safety: Keep yourself safe.
Cyberstalking is the use of the internet to threaten, pursue, humiliate, or intimidate someone. The impact can be devastating to a victim and should be taken seriously, as it can escalate to (or coincide with) physical stalking and acts of violence. Social media, email, and instant messenger are a few of the many available mediums that an aggressor may utilize.
Young adults between the ages of 18-30 are at the highest risk of being victimized by a cyberstalker, and females are at higher risk than males. Often, the perpetrator is known to the victim, but is able to hide through the anonymity of the internet. The fear of the unknown creates additional layers of stress to the victim. Recent data shows that one in five students enrolled at a four year college report one or more instances of cyberstalking.
There are e a few precautions you can take online and with social media to help protect yourself and maintain your privacy.
General Internet Safety
- Create a separate email account for the use of online forums or chat rooms. Create a username that does not resemble your real name or nickname and is gender and age neutral.
- Do not post personal information in any public spaces online. If asked for by someone you have never met in person, don’t give it out.
- Exercise extreme caution if you decide to meet someone from the internet. If you decide to meet, do so in a public space, and bring a friend.
- If someone you are communicating with online is hostile or makes you uncomfortable, log off or block them. If possible, report them to the site on which you encountered them and to your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Social Media Precautions
- When maintaining an active social media account, be mindful of the privacy settings, which may change frequently. A quick internet search can help you stay aware of changes that may affect your account. Some sites allow you to filter who sees information by grouping your friends and followers into specific categories, allowing for an additional layer of privacy.
- Do not post your phone number or address on social media profiles.
- Think hard before utilizing location-based apps and check-in features. If someone tags you in a geographic location on social media, consider un-tagging yourself and requesting that the individual cease doing this in the future.
- Always be mindful of what you are posting. Even if you have blocked someone, it may still possible for them to view your profile through a mutual acquaintance.
Is this happening to you?
Cyberstalking is unique in that the perpetrator is often able to shield themselves through the veil of technology. The distress and impact on victims can mirror that of physical stalking. A cyberstalker may:
- Attempt to contact you excessively by phone, email, social media, or instant messenger
- Deliver unwanted gifts to your home or work
- Contact, harass, or threaten your friends and family
- Use your email address to sign you up for excessive unwanted newsletters, listservs, and porn sites
- Broadcast your personal information to wide audiences online such as on internet forums
- Post humiliating or untrue information about you online that could be damaging to your reputation
- Create one or multiple false social media account(s) in your name with your pictures and name. They may post personal information about you or may fabricate information.
- Use social media check-ins to physically stalk you
- Log your keystrokes or use other tracking software on your computer
If it happens to you
If you are experiencing cyberstalking, there are steps you can take.
- Write it down. Keep copies of emails, screen shot messages and chats, and document all unwanted contacts or attempts to contact you by the cyberstalker. Download a copy of our incident log here to help you keep track of unwanted contacts. Don’t rely on storing emails on your computer or in an email account; a tech savvy cyberstalker can hack either and wipe them clean, erasing evidence. Print off as much as you can and keep it somewhere safe.
- Reach out. Let your friends and family know that someone is stalking you through the internet and on social media. Tell them the cyberstalker’s online aliases and give them descriptions of their profiles so that they can be on the lookout; it is not uncommon for cyberstalkers to target those close to their victims.
- Get help. Call local police if you live off campus or call 803.777.4215 if you live on campus.
If you or someone you know are being cyberstalked, realize that the trauma and fear of being stalked online can be as severe as being stalked in person, and the two may coincide with each other. Contact Victim Services at 803.777.6472, call the 24 hour number at 803.777.4215, or email email@example.com.
Individual and group counseling are available to all USC students at Counseling Services. Crisis intervention and walk-in appointments are available, too. Call 777.5223 or visit the Close/Hipp Building, fifth floor, located at 1705 College Street. If you ever feel that you are in danger or at risk of harming yourself or someone else, call 911 immediately.
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