How to Protect Yourself from Cyberstalking
Have you ever encountered a person who is a complete stranger but consistently tries to get in touch with you online?
Cyberstalking is defined as a series of behaviors and actions over a period of time — via use of the internet or other electronic platforms — that intimidate, frighten, harass, and generally make the victim’s life unbearable. Most victims will not know the identity of their stalkers.
Cyber stalkers target their victims on different channels. They can send threatening messages on their social media accounts and emails. Cyber stalkers can also engage indirectly by causing damage to the victim’s digital device, and by posting false, malicious, and offensive information (fake or otherwise) about the victim online. Another variety involves setting up a fake account in the victim’s name to post material online.
Now that we know how cyberstalking works, here are some common cyber stalking behaviors:
- Persistent phone calls and/or text messages
- Manipulative behavior
- Sending written messages: letters, e-mails, graffiti, etc.
- The sending of gifts
- Defamation: the stalkers damage the reputation of the victim using the stories s/he creates.
- Objectification wherein the stalker degrades the victim as if they are an object.
If anyone can be a victim of cyberstalking, they can be our cyber stalker as well. They can be our:
- Online acquaintances
- Online followers
- Co-workers / former co-workers
- Former spouses / ex-partners
How to Protect Your Social Media & Personal Information from Cyber Stalkers
Now that we are aware of the behaviors of a cyber stalker, here are the actions that you can take to protect yourself from them.
Google yourself to find out what personal information about you is available to the public and can be accessed by potential cyber stalkers. By searching about yourself you can check your digital footprint. Here are the steps to take in order to Google yourself.
- Use “incognito mode” in your browser and make sure your Google account is signed out.
- Google yourself beyond the first 5 pages — also check Google Images, Videos, Maps, etc.
- Use phrase match for when searching your name and nickname. Try out different combinations.
TREAT DIGITAL HYGIENE LIKE A ROUTINE
Treating digital hygiene as a routine encourages individuals to minimize the risk of getting attacked. Good digital hygiene practice focuses on determining which are the most common risks they can encounter.
1. Organize your inbox and unsubscribe from junk emails
You’ll come across accounts you didn’t know you have, or that you don’t need anymore. Unsubscribe from those emails and jot the accounts down.
2. Update your devices, and delete old apps and accounts
Devices should always be up-to-date and any devices and accounts you don’t use anymore should be retired. Simply log into each account, wipe the data if possible, disconnect them from other accounts (like social media accounts), then request the account be deleted.
With physical devices, if you no longer use it, factory reset the device so no data is available on it.
3. Move everything into a password manager
After deleting your old emails and accounts, you’re left with only the accounts you actively use. Now is the best time to put them all into a password manager.
The combination of strong passwords and password managers is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself online. Browsers also have a password manager that you can use, and while it’s better than nothing, we recommend using an independent password manager.
4. Turn On Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication means requiring more than just your password to log into something. This is often a text message to your cell phone, but can come in other forms, like an email verification, facial recognition, fingerprint etc.
5. Review privacy and security settings on accounts and social media
The less data you make available to the internet, the better. Some applications will make important personal data (like your email address, birthday, and location) available publicly. Unless you have a good reason for making those available, you should look for privacy and security settings that allow you to hide critical information from the public.
What to Do When You Are Being Cyberstalked
MINIMIZING THE DAMAGE
If you become a victim of cyber stalking you should (ASAP) reduce the amount of information available about you online. Adjust your privacy settings on different social media platforms. Here are the actions that you can take.
1. Check your Facebook friends and connections to different platforms: minimize/cut it down to the people you know in real life.
2. Document everything.
3. Alert those around you.
REPORT TO THE PLATFORM
If you are being cyber stalked by a person on a social media platform, report the account immediately to the platform. The cyber stalker may come back and pursue the victim by creating another account but each platform’s moderators can delete the attacker’s profile once it has been reported.
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/help/181495968648557/
- Instagram: https://help.instagram.com/contact/383679321740945
- Twitter: https://help.twitter.com/en/safety-and-security#sensitive-content
- TikTok: https://support.tiktok.com/en/using-tiktok/followers-and-following/removing-followers & https://support.tiktok.com/en/safety-hc/report-a-problem
CALL THE AUTHORITIES
If you are fearing for your safety its best to contact the police and request a restraining order. Keep electronic and hard copies of all the cyber stalking harassment evidence. Once the report is on the police record they will offer advice on further legal actions to be taken if the attacker persists.
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