The Reality of Online Lurking
Working from home and avoiding a commute gives some of us free time; and that free time can usher in a variety of uses. Some may use the time as an opportunity to catch up on news organizations posts; home project tutorials, etc. And for some, free time means more time to online lurk on someone's social media. This article is not 'rainbows and gum drops' - we're addressing people's improper viewing of your online presence. Safety online is paramount.
There are various levels of CyberStalking and Online Harassment.
There is a criminal level, a nuisance level, and a nefarious level that has yet to be defined by laws. We've covered this before, but here's some generally accepted definitions of the more common breaches in safety and privacy online:
Cyberstalking is the prolonged use (a “course of conduct”) of online harassment intended “to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate” a target. (See: 18 U.S. Code § 2261A). Cyberstalking can comprise a number of harassing behaviors committed repeatedly or with regularity that usually cause a target to suffer fear, anxiety, humiliation, and extreme emotional distress.
Cyberbullying is generally aimed at young people and may involve threats, embarrassment, or humiliation in an online setting.
Cyber Mob Attacks occur when a large group gathers online to try to collectively shame, harass, threaten, or discredit a target. “Outrage mobs” or "shaming mobs" are a distinct kind of cyber mob made up of internet users who collectively troll individuals in the hopes of silencing or publicly punishing them.
Hateful Speech is a form of expression attacking a specific aspect of a person’s identity, such as one’s race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Perpetrators often use hateful speech by attacking a person’s character or attributes.
Threats issued online can be just as frightening as they are offline, and are frequently meant to be physically or sexually intimidating.
Online Impersonation is a strategy whereby harassers create hoax social media accounts, usually in order to post offensive or inflammatory statements in your name. In most cases, the harasser’s intention is to defame or discredit you, often by convincing others to believe the fake quotes attributed to you, which might then incite others to commit additional acts of harassment.
Nuisance is substantial interference with the right to use and enjoy land, which may be intentional, negligent or ultra-hazardous in origin, and must be a result of defendant's activity. NOTE: Nuisance laws are written to protect property and have yet to be defined for online usage.
Trolling is defined here as the repetitive posting of inflammatory or hateful comments online by an individual whose intent is to seek attention, intentionally harm a target, cause trouble and/or controversy, and/or join up with a group of trollers who have already commenced a trolling campaign.
This is not a LOL Moment
It's serious when you are the victim of an online harasser or stalker. The methods used can be frightening. In our research we've evaluated cases where the perpetrator conveyed a belief that they were simply "staying on top of the problem". Never did the perpetrator view themselves as the actual problem. In one case the alleged perpetrator repeatedly stated they were being stalked by someone, and then rattled off all of the up-to-date current information about the other person. It begs the question, who is really stalking whom?
If someone is simply viewing your public social media account (or even your company website) is there a crime in that? Intent makes the difference. Yes public posts and websites are available to the public, but the audience is not free to use the public information for ill-gotten games. If someone wants to use their time viewing your content online, that's their choice. What you make public is just that - public. It becomes a turning point when they elect to derail, degrade, or demonize you as the subject to suit their own odious purpose.
How Do You Know You're a Target?
There are many signs online and in the real world that we recommend you to observe:
- When one or several people are contacting your friends about you with unsolicited information
- When one or several people purport to know your whereabouts (which have not been made public)
- When one or several people represent to understand your job/business, clients, income for the purpose of making disparaging commentary (but have no real connection or access to the information)
- When one or more people repeatedly reference you in social media posts (either implied or expressed) in a negative or threatening manner
- When one or more people use firearms in images timed in response to your own social media posts.
- A general fixation on your life, activities, and job
- When there is an unnatural prolonged connection to you once the relationship or paths crossing has ended (i.e. years after a breakup, they're still talking about you; they're still viewing your social media accounts and websites)
- When false reports are made to social media providers in an attempt to have your accounts closed
- When "new friends" emerge wanting to engage with you in direct message and streams but their conversation doesn't 'add up' (always check their friends list - you'd be surprised what you find)
- When new fast friendships occur coinciding with documented perpetrator incidents (they may use a surrogate to get close to you; be wary of long-lost best friends)
Perpetrators Fan the Flames
Online stalking and lurking allows a perpetrator to keep this unnatural relationship going. It is a fixation on a person or group of people that the perpetrator finds it difficult to let go. The perpetrator will send waves of social media posts designed to send a "message" to the target. The sickness is that the perpetrator believes the target is paying attention. It is as if there is a back channel communication established in the perpetrators mind that makes them believe their passive-aggressive communication is effective. Unfortunately, the perpetrator never gets the outcome they desire. Most will eventually give up. Those who may have some underlying mental disorder or condition may double-down on their bad behavior. When the latter occurs, you must be vigilant - this may not simply go away.
In Their World
They are right, and you are the target - PERIOD. It is very black and white. No matter what you do on your own, perpetrators will attempt a counteraction.
When you block them on social media
-- they'll create a fake account to keep watching you
-- they'll view your accounts online through the internet versus using the social media app while being logged out (i.e. instagram.com/your_username)
-- they'll view your account through friends'/siblings'/children's accounts
When you go private
-- remember they started this a step ahead of you, so they're probably already in your friends list under a different name. If they're on your friends list, private won't change their access to you
-- if they're committed, they will wait for you to reemerge (no matter how many days, months, or years it takes)
When you stop posting
-- their posts will slow down. Perpetrators are reactive. They feed off your posts and activity. As their life becomes more and more about following you, you'll notice parallel activity.
When you make a normal everyday post
-- they may have a response or rebuttal to your posts. Remember their goal is to prove their story about you right (no matter how ridiculous the story in their head)
-- likes in social media can be viewed as a window into the mindset of the user account. Some posters are afraid, or even unable to articulate their own emotions or position on a topic. Perpetrators who are fixated on a target will skew toward an overwhelming number of posts that reflect negativity and their extreme position (i.e. posts about karma, liars, frauds, violence, etc.).
Don't Be a Sitting Duck
The biggest misstep from targets is the wait and see approach. Inaction is not a defense, it is an open invitation to the perpetrator. Perpetrators are bullies. They derive strength when they believe you are cowering in fear. Be bigger than that! Nothing scares and stops a perpetrator more than push back. Don't take any sign you see lightly. When online lurking is subtle, it takes a collection of evidence to prove online harassment.
- Document what you see in a date-stamped journal
- Notarize Affidavits of your experience (valuable in civil and criminal cases)
- File a report with the police (and keep filing as new information presents)
- If you know exactly who is lurking and harassing you, send a Cease and Desist letter. This will document your position on the matter (valuable in civil and criminal cases)
- Consider hiring a cyber security expert to collect public social media data from the perpetrator (valuable in civil and criminal cases)
- Consider purchasing software that legally documents public social media posts of the perpetrator (that gathers data in a manner consistent with admissibility laws in criminal and civil cases)
- Don't post your upcoming whereabouts if you believe you have a credible threat to your safety (wait until after an event, vacation, etc. to post about it)
- Put your circle (friends and perhaps your employer) on notice that you feel you are being targeted in the event the perpetrator increases their attacks/attempts toward your friends, employer, future employers/clients, etc.
- Conduct a scan periodically on social media for impersonation accounts, unwanted tagging, and harassing messages (report accounts that credibly violate community rules of the social media provider)
- IF you don't need social media accounts, why have them? Pulling the plug on the perpetrator can deliver a crushing blow to their operation. There was life before social media (consider re-imagining those days).
- Invest in Analytics. We cannot stress this enough. Perpetrator's patterns can be discerned through analytics (even to the point of predicted behaviors). Information obtained by documenting views, engagement, interactions, etc. can help support a victim's case (in civil and criminal court)
NO MATTER WHAT - DO NOT BECOME THE HARASSER
You have enough issues, don't become the very person you despise. All of your rights can go out the window if you become an aggressor in the situation. Remember there are laws and protections available to you - allow the process to work. There is no prize for stopping the perpetrator alone.
Be resourceful, not revengeful.
It may feel like a natural reaction to fight fire with fire, but it serves no one. You have to be the bigger person. Lowering your own integrity and character to combat harassment will do you no favors. Be straightforward with law enforcement and provide as much credible (and legally admissible) evidence as possible. Don't allow the stupid acts of the perpetrator to change who you are and what you are becoming each day. Remember, the perpetrator's goal is to see you fail - don't hand them your failure on a silver platter.
Stop Bullying - www.StopBullying.gov
Cyber Harassment Law Resources - https://www.internetlawcenter.net/cyber-harassment
Cyber Bullying Research Center - Cyberbullying.org
National Crime Prevention Council - http://www.ncpc.org/resources/cyberbullying/
It is our heartfelt wish that you maintain a safe and healthy online space. If you don't know who to turn to message us and we'll help guide you. We've been studying bullying and harassment (in many forms) for over 10 years. Your situation is not unique - and there are solutions available to help restore your safety and security online and in the "real world". We're happy to help.
We'd love to hear from our readers. How have you dealt with this experience? Do you believe online harassment/cyberstalking has increased or decreased over the past 5 years?
-- The Kuronix Team in collaboration with Staff Writers at The Thibeaux Company®
Staff writers of The Thibeaux Company® are comprised of a collection of growing and experienced writers. We love helping our writers grow in their craft. Interested in joining our staff as a freelancer? Contact us today firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Thibeaux Company® is a performance and motivation company. We work with individuals and business clients to meet you where you are and take you to your next best. We are proud to stay connected to our audiences on a daily basis through a multi-cast of audio, visual, social media, and article formats. Through entrepreneurial efforts and strategic partnerships, The Thibeaux Company® has expanded to offer business solutions, learning services, research services, and motivation products. For more information about The Thibeaux Company®, visit us at our home page at www.Thibeaux.org