Online social interactions have become a regular occurrence in our everyday lives, so much that many users feel completely comfortable in their our online zones. Many of us choose to participate in social networking sites, posting photos and information for others to see, whether it is shared with just friends or the general public. Who exactly can see your posts though? What can others do with that information?
While I have briefly discussed ways to Bust Bully Behavior, I want to focus on a very specific type of bullying in this post. Online outlets have become a faceless way for bullies to (often anonymously) harass their victims, both adolescents and adults. When the harassment or focus on one particular person becomes an obsession, however, the situation becomes a definite cause for concern.
Norton describes cyberstalking as the use of technology to harass someone. Common characteristics include false accusations against someone, monitoring and following that person's online footsteps, threats to the victim (including sexual advances, violence, or anything involving someone close to the victim), identity theft, and data destruction or manipulation. Cyberstalking also includes the exploitation of minors, be it sexual or otherwise. All of these, and any other types of cyberstalking can be hurtful and harmful, among the many other aggravations it creates.
Cyberstalking is considered a serious offense, as it can dismantle relationships, reputations, and credit (among other things). When this unwanted harassment crosses the line to obsessive behavior, the cyberstalker has also entered the realm of criminal territory in many cases. You can stay updated on cyberstalker and cyberharassment laws in your state here (as provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures).
Victims of cyberstalkers can become very frustrated with trying to find answers and avoid online encounters or attacks. Aside from staying aware and knowledgeable, there are other things you can do to prevent cyberstalking from happening in the first place and, of course, what to do if you have already become a victim.
Stay Password Protected
There is no need to catch password paranoia, but password protection is such a simple step to keep yourself free of cyberstalkers and online hackers. Be sure to keep track of passwords to all your accounts and update them regularly. If you have any reason to suspect that someone has logged on, or has tried to log on, to an account of yours, always change your password and notify the website. Additionally, your password should not be something that someone might be able to guess. After a few days of following the few tips listed below, you will automatically become prone to password safety. Here are some of my favorite safety password tips:
- No Names: Do not use names of any kind; they are far too easy to guess. This includes the use of your first or last name, your significant other's name, or any other relative/friend that is close to you (I would also suggest this for birthday numbers). I hope by this time everyone is aware that using your name in your password should be avoided, but I feel the need to it mention it just in case.
- Create Complicated Passwords: Who has time to type a long or intricate password just to check your e-mail? You do! (That is if you want to stay protected, of course.) Pick your word or words to use; it can be totally random, or a little closer to home, but not guessable. It might seem like a lot of work, but I suggest capitalizing random letters of that word. Something like capitalizing one letter in the middle of your password will automatically up the level of protection to your account. I also encourage you to use numbers and punctuation. The more numbers and punctation used, the better off you are! By this time, you are probably thinking there is no way you will be able to keep track of such a complex password... Good news! You can (almost always) opt to remain logged in to your account(s) on your own computer. This way, you do not have to type your password unless you want to. Nonetheless, I suggest logging out and back in every once and a while and always keep your password stored in a safe place to refer back to if needed!
- Security Questions: These have become a commonly featured step to create accounts and log back into them, whether you got locked out accidentally or someone successfully (or unsuccessfully) logged into your account without your permission. For this reason, security questions play a major role in staying safe. When creating your account, you might notice that some questions seem rather generic. It is not hard to find out, for example, what year you graduated from high school or what your favorite sports team is. When given the option (which you usually will be), opt for questions that you think would be the most challenging to answer. Much like your password, however, be sure to remember which questions and answers you selected, or you might find yourself locked out of your own account!
- Keep It to Yourself: Do not give your password out to anyone! If any business, employer, or even bank is requesting for your password to any account for any reason, it is a scam. While it might be tempting to help out that poor Nigerian Prince who will be moving to your area in the next few months... DO NOT! There is only one person who holds the rights to your password: you! If there is any reason that a very trustworthy family member or friend needs your password for a legitimate reason, change your password immediately after their needs have been fulfilled. (Or, for added security -and what I recommend- simply do not give it out in the first place.)
Keep Your Profile/Site as Protected as PossibleSocial networking sites work around the clock to update all of their features, including security features. These tools ensure protection to users and and provide credibility to the site itself. For example, all sites offer a "block" option if you are being bothered by a particular user. You can simply block that person, and he or she will appear to be non-existent to you on that site (and vice versa). No information, posts, photos, etc., are visible by the blocked user. Facebook in particular offers a large variety of privacy and security options to keep you safe. If you have not checked out the most recent privacy settings for sites you are involved with, be sure to familiarize yourself with them and update them accordingly. Here you will find some of Facebook's extremely helpful and time-saving security features for victims of hacked or harassed victims:
Account Settings > Security > Secure Browsing, Login Notifications, Login Approvals, App Passwords, Trusted Contacts, Recognized Devices, and/or Active Sessions
Through the "Active Session" option, you are able to see who has logged in to your Facebook, where/when they logged in, and what browser type they were using during their "visit" on your account. I strongly suggest making a habit of checking on your active sessions and making sure that yours is the only one listed. Facebook's accuracy is not always a 100% pinpoint of your exact location, but the tracking will always be somewhere around your general area. If there is a session noted that seems suspicious to you, you should end that session immediately and notify Facebook directly of the problem. You should also definitely change your password at this time. This is a great feature and has the potential to stop hackers and cyberstalkers right in their tracks.
Above the Active Session option, you will see a category listed as "Recognized Devices." In this section, you can add the devices that are most likely to be used during your time spent on Facebook. For example, I primarily use Facebook on both my MacBook and my iPhone, both of which are listed under my recognized devices. Should someone log in from a device other than one of the two I have listed and approved, I will be automatically notified and can then investigate the situation. Keep in mind that unrecognized devices may not always be a cause for panic -you may have logged in earlier that day at a friends' home and simply forgot about it. If it truly is an unrecognized and unwanted device, however, you can take the same steps as discussed with Active Sessions.
Furthermore, Facebook offers an even higher state of protection by giving you the option of getting notified (by phone or e-mail) immediately after a suspicious login is detected. "Login Notifications" and "Login Approvals" allow you to make the decision of whether or not your account is secure and all logins are approved by the account holder.
Other sites surely have similar security options under settings, I am simply using Facebook as an example because I am impressed with their acknowledgment of hacking situations and their attempt to stop it.
Online users can find information on just about anything on Google. Does this mean they also find information on you? Unfortunately, yes, it many cases it does. You can and should do occasional Google searches of your own name, address, and/or phone number to find out what your online persona looks like. Cleaning up your online act can help you both personally and professionally. If you are surprised or uncomfortable with any links or information that come up while googling yourself, there are steps you can take to try to have those links removed from searches. Here is the best place to start when checking out how to have something removed (and other information about Google protection): Google Policies & Principles.
Be Cautious of Friend Requests
I was introduced to the movie (and television show that has followed) Catfish by Mommy blogger Jamie (check out her awesome blog here: For Love of Cupcakes). The documentary follows the story of a young man named Nev and his romantic journey with, more or less, a fictional woman. She dupes him into falling in love with her by pretending to be someone she was not: a gorgeous, young woman who shared his own interests. The movie documents his ultimate heartbreak and devastation when he discovers the woman he thought he was speaking to did not actually exist. When the creators of the documentary got such an overwhelming response from online users with similar situations, they decided to make a MTV show to share the stories of others.
The idea here is that you can never be too careful on the internet. You can never truly know who you are speaking with unless you have face-to-face interaction with that person at some point in time. For your own protection, please be careful and safe about who you add as a friend or follower online. Even more-so, be careful with what and how deeply you confide in that person. In the event that someone is "catfishing" or lying to you online, there are many different scenarios that could play out. Worse case scenario: well, we don't really even want to think about that, do we? Best case scenario: you get your heart broken by someone you thought you cared about. Don't get me wrong -- I know and am thrilled for those who have found loving relationships through the web, but we all know that is not always how that turns out. All I am saying is, be safe! Now go to your rooms. (Whoops, sorry, I am now checking out of Mom-mode.)
You have surely been told not to click on unknown links or open strange e-mails since the days of AOL and start up modems. Unfortunately this rule is still in strong effect. Hackers and cyberstalkers can easily gain access to your information with just one careless click of an e-mail you think is harmless. These downloads can cause a lot more damage than you might think. Hackers are able to copy all of your information, down to each key stroke, if they can get you to click just one link. Just be very cautious about opening and clicking links you aren't entirely familiar with.
If you have reason to believe someone has hacked your computer or accounts, always run a scan on your computer from a security program. It is important to act immediately if this is the case. Here are some security software programs to take a look at:
These programs tend to be pricey, but most of them offer free trials for new users. In the end, it is worth it to keep yourself protected.
The internet can be a very scary place if we do not use it responsibly. As always, I encourage you to speak out if you see something that looks suspicious or notice stalking behavior toward yourself or another person online. You can always report a specific user account, post, photo, or comment directly to the website or forum being used. In more dangerous cyberstalking cases, contact your police department for further help and protection against your stalker.
Stay cruelty free,