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Cyberstalking

Excerpts from Wikipedia

Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group, or an organization. It may include false accusations, defamationslander and libel. It may also include monitoring, identity theft, threats, vandalism, solicitation for sex, or gathering information that may be used to threaten or harass.

Cyberstalking is often accompanied by real time or offline stalking. Both are criminal offenses. Both are motivated by a desire to control, intimidate or influence a victim. A stalker may be an online stranger or a person whom the target knows. He may be anonymous and solicit involvement of other people online who do not even know the target.

Cyberstalking is a criminal offense under various state anti-talking, slander and harassment laws. A conviction can result in a restraining order, probation, or criminal penalties against the assailant, including jail.

“[Stalking] is a form of mental assault, in which the perpetrator repeatedly, unwantedly, and disruptively breaks into the life-world of the victim, with whom he has no relationship (or no longer has), with motives that are directly or indirectly traceable to the affective sphere. Moreover, the separated acts that make up the intrusion cannot by themselves cause the mental abuse, but do taken together (cumulative effect).”


When identifying cyberstalking “in the field,” and particularly when considering whether to report it to any kind of legal authority, the following features or combination of features can be considered to characterize a true stalking situation: malice, premeditation, repetition, distressobsessionvendetta, no legitimate purpose, personally directed, disregarded warnings to stop, harassment and threats.

A number of key factors have been identified in cyberstalking:

False accusations. Many cyberstalkers try to damage the reputation of their victim and turn other people against them. They post false information about them on websites. They may set up their own websites, blogs or user pages for this purpose. They post allegations about the victim to newsgroups, chat rooms, or other sites that allow public contributions such as Wikipedia or Amazon.com.

  • Attempts     to gather information about the victim. Cyberstalkers may approach     their victim’s friends, family and work colleagues to obtain personal     information. They may advertise for information on the Internet, or hire a     private detective.
  • Monitoring     their target’s online activities and attempting to trace their IP     address in an     effort to gather more information about their victims.
  • Encouraging     others to harass the victim. Many cyberstalkers try to involve     third parties in the harassment. They may claim the victim has harmed the     stalker or his/her family in some way, or may post the victim’s name and     telephone number in order to encourage others to join the pursuit.
  • False victimization. The     cyberstalker will claim that the victim is harassing him/her. Bocij writes     that this phenomenon has been noted in a number of well-known cases.
  • Attacks     on data and equipment. They may try to damage the victim’s computer by     sending viruses.
  • Ordering     goods and services. They order items or subscribe to magazines in     the victim’s name. These often involve subscriptions to pornography or ordering sex toys then having     them delivered to the victim’s workplace.
  • Arranging     to meet.     Young people face a particularly high risk of having cyberstalkers try to     set up meetings between them.

Types

Stalking by strangers

According to Joey Rushing, a District Attorney of Franklin County, Alabama, there isn’t a single definition of a cyberstalker, and they can be either strangers to the victim or have a former/present relationship. “[Cyberstalkers] come in all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. They patrol Web sites looking for an opportunity to take advantage of people.”

They may also use the Internet to research and compile personal information about the victim, to use in order to harass him or her.[19]

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 frequently respond by adopting pseudonyms or going offline entirely.]

Experts attribute the destructive nature of anonymous online mobs to group dynamics, saying that groups with homogeneous views tend to become more extreme. As members reinforce each other’s beliefs, they fail to see themselves as individuals and lose a sense of personal responsibility for their destructive acts. In doing so they dehumanize their victims, becoming more aggressive when they believe they are supported by authority figures. Internet service providers and website owners are sometimes blamed for not speaking out against this type of harassment.

Perpetrators

Motives and profile

Mental profiling of digital criminals has identified psychological and social factors that motivate stalkers as: envy; pathological obsession (professional or sexual); unemployment or failure with own job or life; intention to intimidate and cause others to feel inferior; the stalker is delusional and believes he/she “knows” the target; the stalker wants to instill fear in a person to justify his/her status; belief they can get away with it (anonymity); intimidation for financial advantage or business competition; revenge over perceived or imagined rejection.

Four types of cyberstalkers

Preliminary work by Leroy McFarlane and Paul Bocij has identified four types of cyberstalkers: the vindictive cyberstalkers noted for the ferocity of their attacks; the composed cyberstalker whose motive is to annoy; the intimate cyberstalker who attempts to form a relationship with the victim but turns on them if rebuffed; and collective cyberstalkers, groups with a motive.] According to Antonio Chacón Medina, author of Una nueva cara de Internet, El acoso (“A new face of the Internet: stalking”), the general profile of the harasser is cold, with little or no respect for others. The stalker is a predator who can wait patiently until vulnerable victims appear, such as women or children, or may enjoy pursuing a particular person, whether personally familiar to them or unknown. The harasser enjoys and demonstrates their power to pursue and psychologically damage the victim.

Behaviors

Cyberstalkers find their victims by using search engines, online forums, bulletin and discussion boards, chat rooms, and more recently, through social networking sites, such as MySpaceFacebookBeboFriendsterTwitter, and Indymedia, a media outlet known for self-publishing. They may engage in live chat harassment or flaming or they may send electronic viruses and unsolicited e-mails. Cyberstalkers may research individuals to feed their obsessions and curiosity. Conversely, the acts of cyberstalkers may become more intense, such as repeatedly instant messaging their targets.

More commonly they will post defamatory or derogatory statements about their stalking target on web pages, message boards, and in guest books designed to get a reaction or response from their victim, thereby initiating contact. In some cases, they have been known to create fake blogs in the name of the victim containing defamatory or pornographic content.

When prosecuted, many stalkers have unsuccessfully attempted to justify their behavior based on their use of public forums, as opposed to direct contact. Once they get a reaction from the victim, they will typically attempt to track or follow the victim’s internet activity. Classic cyberstalking behavior includes the tracing of the victim’s IP address in an attempt to verify their home or place of employment.

Some cyberstalking situations do evolve into physical stalking, and a victim may experience abusive and excessive phone calls, vandalism, threatening or obscene mail, trespassing, and physical assault. Moreover, many physical stalkers will use cyberstalking as another method of harassing their victims.

Cyberstalking legislation

Legislation on cyberstalking varies from country to country. Cyberstalking and cyberbullying are relatively new phenomena, but that does not mean that crimes committed through the network are not punishable under legislation drafted for that purpose. Although there are often existing laws that prohibit stalking or harassment in a general sense, legislators sometimes believe that such laws are inadequate or do not go far enough, and thus bring forward new legislation to address this perceived shortcoming. In the United States, for example, nearly every state has laws that address cyberstalking, cyberbullying, or both.

In countries such as the US, in practice, there is little legislative difference between the concepts of “cyberbullying” and “cyberstalking.” The primary distinction is one of age; if adults are involved, the act is usually termed cyberstalking, while among children it is usually referred to as cyberbullying. However, this distinction is one of semantics, and many laws treat bullying and stalking as much the same issue.