Remember when stalkers were easily found and identified? They physically followed you somewhere – to your home, your office, a restaurant – and harassed you, or worse. You, in turn, called the cops, took out a restraining order, or practiced some of your self-defense maneuvers on the offender.
Oh, How The Times Have Changed
Those were the days. Annoying as actual stalkers were or are, today’s cyber-stalkers, who follow your movements via computer, are far more insidious and tougher to stop. And the problem is not insignificant: According to recent research from the National Cyber Security Alliance, some 20 percent of Americans, or 1 in 5, have been affected by cyberstalking, persistent emails, and other unwanted contact.
Much of this stalking takes place through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. These outlets have changed the ways in which people connect, for better and for worse. They make it easier for you to stay in contact with friends and family – and easier for strangers, exes, creepy co-workers, and other undesirables to stay in contact with you.
The Different Stages of Social Stalking
The good news – kinda sorta – is that much of this stalking is comparatively harmless. Perhaps you’ve even indulged a bit yourself, Googling a date or prospective employee before meeting them, or checking out their Facebook profile. Being on the giving or receiving end of “Average Joe” stalking like this is probably unavoidable, and since the motives are fairly benign, it’s probably not something to be overly worried about. Think of it as the online equivalent of being (or having) a nosy neighbor.
It can escalate from there, though. A step up from that kind of “curiosity” stalker is the ex stalker – no, not a former stalker, but a former love interest who, for whatever reason, can’t seem to let go. Back in the pre-Internet days, such exes were doomed to ponder those “Whatever happened to?” questions fruitlessly. Nowadays, it’s much easier to find out. A truly determined ex can find surprising ways to stalk. He or she might set up a fake Facebook account, posing as a mutual acquaintance, to gain access by friending their ex. Even more alarming, if you’re using an online dating service, an ex may follow you there by creating a fake online dating account and following your profile. By watching for activity, updates, log-on dates, and other signs, they may be able to tell if you’re in a new relationship. Again, this type of stalking may be more annoying than truly harmful. But you can avoid or minimize it by being careful whom you friend on Facebook and by using the privacy controls available on most social media.
Nuisance stalking is, well, a nuisance, but when stalking gets truly creepy, it’s time to take steps. We’re talking about the kind of cyberstalker who, for instance, watches your tweets closely enough to know where you might be at a given time – and physically follows you there. Or the stalker who uses social media to bully, intimidate, or threaten you. You can safeguard against physical threat by following simple safety rules and improving your home security. But there are also measures you can take in the online space to minimize cyber-stalking. The following steps are recommended by the National Cyber Security Alliance:
- Creating strong passwords with a random mix of letters, numbers, and characters
- Don’t include your address or phone number in any online profile
- Lock down your privacy settings
- Be careful whom you connect with
- Google yourself to see what’s out there about you – and if you find something you’d like removed, contact the website or person hosting the content
- If you have a personal website, don’t post your email address; instead, use a contact form so that people can reach you without having your personal address
- Be careful when posting photos online – you never know where they may end up
- Delete old forum posts, Tweets, or status messages that might include personal details or hints that might allow a stalker to find you
It’s a brave new social world out there. The downside of all this connectedness is a commensurate loss of privacy. Don’t leave your social media doors and windows open and unlocked, inviting all comers. Make sure you take the proper safety precautions to thwart would-be cyber-stalkers.
This guest post was written by Kevin Raposo, a blogger for SimpliSafe Home Security. Kevin typically covers issues related to home security, social media, tech, and crime. When he’s not writing, he’s usually playing basketball, dominating his drum set, or just hanging out with friends. SimpliSafe is a leader in the home security field.