Cyber Stalking: Know It, Report It, Stop It!

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By Harpreet Kaur, UILS, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

No-Cyberstalking

Cyber-stalking, simply put, is online stalking. Oxford Dictionary defines cyber-stalking as the use of the internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group of individuals, or an organization. Common characteristics include false accusations, monitoring, threats, identity theft and data destruction or manipulation. Cyber-stalking also includes exploitation of minors, be it sexual or otherwise. Cyber-stalking is different from spatial or offline stalking in that it occurs through the use of electronic communications technology such as the internet. However, it sometimes leads to it, or is accompanied by it. Both are criminal offenses.Cyber-stalking shares important characteristics with offline stalking; many stalkers – online or off – are motivated by a desire to control their victims.

TYPES

  1. Of women: Harassment and stalking of women online is common, and can include rape threats, and other threats of violence, as well as the posting of women’s personal information. It is blamed for limiting victims’ activities online or driving them offline entirely, thereby impeding their participation in online life and undermining their autonomy, dignity, identity, and opportunities.
  2. Of intimate partners: Cyber-stalking of intimate partners is the online harassment of a current or former romantic partner. It is a form of domestic violence and experts say its purpose is to control the victim in order to encourage social isolation and create dependency. Harassers may send repeated insulting or threatening e-mails to their victims, monitor or disrupt their victims’ e-mail use, and use the victim’s account to send e-mails to others posing as the victim or to purchase goods or services the victim does not want. They may also use the Internet to research and compile personal information about the victim, to use in order to harass him or her.
  3. Of celebrities and public persons: Profiling of stalkers shows that almost always they stalk someone they know or, via delusion, think they know, as is the case with stalkers of celebrities or public persons in which the stalkers feel they know the celebrity even though the celebrity does not know them. As part of the risk they take for being in the public eye, celebrities and public figures are often targets of lies or made-up stories in tabloids as well as by stalkers, some even seeming to be fans.

In India, many complaints have been lodged by various celebrities regarding stalking and the most recent was by Shruti Hassan, Bollywood Actress, in whose house a stalker tried to enter and she then found a new house for herself. But there have not been any reported case of cyber-stalking by any celebrity yet.

  1. By anonymous online mobs: Web 2.0 technologies have enabled online groups of anonymous people to self-organize to target individuals with online defamation, threats of violence and technology-based attacks. These include publishing lies and doctored photographs, threats of rape and other violence, posting sensitive personal information about victims, e-mailing damaging statements about victims to their employers, and manipulating search engines to make damaging material about the victim more prominent. Victims are often women and minorities.

A notable example of online mob harassment was the experience of American software developer and blogger Kathy Sierra. In 2007 a group of anonymous individuals attacked Sierra, threatening her with rape and strangulation, publishing her home address and Social Security number, and posting doctored photographs of her. Frightened, Sierra cancelled her speaking engagements and shut down her blog, writing “I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.”

  1. Corporate cyber-stalking: Corporate cyber-stalking is when a company harasses an individual online, or an individual or group of individuals harasses an organization. Motives for corporate cyber-stalking are ideological, or include a desire for financial gain or revenge.

HOW CYBERSTALKING HARMS

Cyber-stalking can be terribly frightening. It can destroy friendships, credit, careers, self-image and confidence. Ultimately it can lead the victim into far greater physical danger when combined with real-world stalking. Victims of domestic violence are often cyber-stalking victims. They, like everybody else, need to be aware that technology can make cyber-stalking easy. Spyware software can be used to monitor everything happening on your computer or cell phone, giving tremendous power and information to cyber-stalkers.

WHAT MOTIVATES A CYBER-STALKER?

 1) Sexual Harassment: This should not surprise anyone, especially women, since sexual harassment is also a very common experience offline. The internet reflects real life & consists of real people. It’s not a separate, regulated or sanctified world. The very nature of anonymous communications also makes it easier to be a stalker on the internet than a stalker offline

2) Obsession for love: This could begin from an online romance, where one person halts the romance and the rejected lover cannot accept the end of the relationship. It could also be an online romance that moves to real life, only to break-up once the persons really meet. Then one person again, cannot accept the NO. Sometimes, this obsession stalking can even start from real life and then move over to cyberspace. One of the problems with obsession stalking is that since it often starts as real romance, much personal information is shared between persons involved. This makes it easy for the cyber stalker to harass their victim. Sometimes, an obsession can also be a fixation by a stranger on another user  for no valid reason. Since these obsession stalkers live in a dream world, it is not always necessary for the target to have done anything to attract her (or his) attention in the first place. Obsession stalkers are usually jealous and possessive people. Death threats via email or through live chat messages are a manifestation of obsession stalking.

3) Revenge & Hate: This could be an argument that has gone out of hand, leading eventually to a hate & revenge relationship.  Revenge vendettas are often the result of something you may have said or done online which may have offended someone. Vendettas often begin with arguments where you may have been rude to another user.

4) Ego & Power Trips: These are harassers or stalkers online showing off their skills to themselves and their friends. They do not have any grudge against you – they are rather using you to ‘show-off’ their power to their friends or doing it just for fun and you have been unlucky enough to have been chosen.

STATISTICS:

More than one million women and 370,000 men are stalked annually in the United States. National figures show victims of cyber-stalking tend to be females during the college ages 18-29 but women are not the only targets. A survey of 765 students at Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania found 45 percent of stalkers to be female and 56 percent to be male[1].

LAW:

Prior to February 2013, there were no laws that directly regulate cyber-stalking in India. Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) was a set of laws to regulate the cyberspace. The Indian Information technology Act 2008 (amended) does not directly address stalking. But the problem is dealt more as an “intrusion on to the privacy of individual” than as regular cyber offences which are discussed in the IT Act 2008. Hence the most used provision for regulating cyber stalking in India is section 72 of the Indian information technology act ( Amended) , 2008 which runs as follows;

Section 72: Breach of confidentiality and privacy: Save as otherwise provided in this Act or any other law for the time being in force, any person who, in pursuant of any of the powers conferred under this Act, rules or regulations made there under, has secured access to any electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material without the consent of the person concerned discloses such electronic record, book, register, correspondence, information, document or other material to any other person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both.

However, in 2013, Indian Parliament made amendments to the IPC, introducing cyber-stalking as a criminal offence.Stalking has been defined as a man who follows or contacts a woman, despite clear indication of disinterest to such contact by the woman, or monitoring of use of internet or electronic communication of a woman. A man committing the offence of stalking would be liable for imprisonment up to three years for the first offence, and shall also be liable to fine and for any subsequent conviction would be liable for imprisonment up to five years and with fine.

ANTI-STALKING TIPS

Here are a few important pointers to help you thwart cyber stalking, whether it’s directed at you, your friend, or your family:

  • Maintain vigilance over physical access to your computer and other Web-enabled devices like cell phones. Cyber-stalkers use software and hardware devices (sometimes attached to the back of your PC without you even knowing) to monitor their victims.
  • Be sure you always log out of your computer programs when you step away from the computer and use a screensaver with a password. The same goes for passwords on cell phones.
  • Make sure to practice good password management and security. Never share your passwords with others. And be sure to change your passwords frequently.
  • Do an online search for your name or your family members now and then to see what’s available about you and your family or friends online and be sure to remove anything private or inappropriate.
  • Delete or make private any online calendars or itineraries -even on your social network- where you list events you plan to attend. They could let a stalker know where you’re planning to be and when.
  • Use the privacy settings in all your online accounts to limit your online sharing with those outside your trusted circle. You can use these settings to opt out of having your profile appear when someone searches for your name. Block people whom you don’t want to see even your display pictures or cover pictures on Facebook etc.
  • As always, use good, updated security software to prevent someone from getting spyware onto your computer via a phishing attack or an infected Web page.

[1] Alexis A. Moore, Cyberstalking and Women – Facts and Statistics, available at http://womensissues.about.com/od/violenceagainstwomen/a/CyberstalkingFS.htm