With the emergence of technology, it has become increasingly easy to know intimate details of people especially those in the public limelight such as celebrities and those in high political positions. Some individuals choose to stalk such people and send them threatening messages through phones, social media pages or emails, promising them death, bodily harm to them and their children, which in turn causes panic and fear. This is called cyberstalking, and this paper explores why it takes place, who does it and the legal actions.
In their article, ‘Being pursued: Stalking victimization in a national study of college women,’ Reyns et al. defines cyberstalking as the use of technology such as the internet to instill fear to another person and cause them to be concerned of their safety (Reyns et al. 2002). Mostly, it involves infringing into another person’s privacy and sends them frightening messages. It is mainly done to celebrities although it can also happen to other people, as Maiuro, R.D says in his book, ‘Perspectives on Stalking: Victims, Perpetrators, and Cyberstalking.’ The avenues used include social media and other available online databases to follow, intimidate and cause anxiety, making their victim feel like their life is being monitored very closely (Maiuro, 2015). Surprisingly, cyberstalking is done by those who are closely related to the victim and have their intimate details, personal contacts and know their daily schedules well. Such people include former boyfriend or girlfriends, former acquaintances, and friendships gone sour. It is also different from cyberbullying in that it involves full tracking of the victim’s life activities and their location at any given time.
Cyberstalking is fueled by the readily available information in the social media which provides the stalker with a lot of details concerning the victim. It is hard to trace the stalker because they might be located in another continent far away from the victim. It is therefore hard to deal with the stalkers mainly because of jurisdictional issues, and it is not clear if the law enforcers should enforce federal laws outside the country. Although there no rule on cyberbullying, cyberstalking can result in imprisonment if one is found guilty of using electronic media to threaten or cause panic and fear to another person. According to an article by Goodno, N.H., ‘Cyberstalking, a new crime: Evaluating the effectiveness of current state and federal laws,’ in Florida, cyberstalking is incorporated in the stalking statute (§ 784.048) which says that cyberstalking is engaging “in the course of conduct to communicate … words, images, or language by or through the use of … electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose. Therefore, if the vice is done ‘willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly,’ it is treated as the first-degree misdemeanor, and if accompanied by a credible threat, it is treated as a felony. In California, the crime is punishable up to one year in prison and $1000 fine. (Dhillon et al., 2016).
To minimize the crime, one should ensure that they take precautions such as adequately logging out of their accounts and avoid unnecessary exposure of their details in the social media. Also, one can search the web and find what aspects of their lives have been put online. If one considers inappropriate information, they can try removing them and also contact the service providers to assist them in extracting the contents.
Dhillon, G., Challa, C., & Smith, K. (2016, May). Defining objectives for preventing cyberstalking. In IFIP International Conference on ICT Systems Security and Privacy Protection(pp. 76-87). Springer, Cham
Reyns, B. W., & Fisher, B. S. (2018). The relationship between offline and online stalking victimization: a gender-specific analysis. Violence and victims, 33(4), 769-786.
Maiuro, R. D. (Ed.). (2015). Perspectives on Stalking: Victims, Perpetrators, and Cyberstalking. Springer Publishing Company.