During his divorce, Mark became aware of strange things happening to him on his social media and personally. Some of his friends began posting things that seemed to be about him without directly naming him. His soon-to-be-ex kept posting meme’s about crazy husbands. Then she began randomly appearing where he was, introducing herself to whomever he was with, and sending him excessive text messages through the day.
Confused and frustrated, Mark researched cyberharassment and found all sorts of information about cybertrolling, cyberbullying, and cyberstalking. Here is what he learned.
What is cybertrolling? This is generally thought of as harmless overviewing of someone’s social media information, photos, or posts. It is a one-time occurrence and is not meant to harm the victim. For instance, before hiring a swim instructor, the perpetrator might review the victim’s social media posts or pictures. It is sometimes followed with feelings of regret or embarrassment for the perpetrator. Most times, the victim is unaware that this has occurred.
What is cyberbullying? Simply put, this bullying using electronic devices and/or apps. Usually, it is repetitive, aggressive, and intentional comments that are difficult for the victim to mount a defense. Examples include, “You are an idiot,” “You will never succeed,” or “Nobody cares about you.” The comments are designed to hurt, embarrass, or annoy the victim. These remarks can happen in a public forum or through private messaging apps. It is not unusual for a perpetrator to solicit others to participate in the bullying to further terrorize the victim.
What is cyberstalking? This is a more intense form of cyberbullying where electronic devices and/or their apps are used to harass, intimidate, or stalk an individual, sometimes as events are happening. There might be false accusations, derogatory statements, name-calling, threats, or insults in combination with gathering information, monitoring whereabouts, or tracking location. Sometimes the statements can seem innocuous such as, “I didn’t know you knew that person,” or “I hope you had a good time out with your friends,” but to the victim, these are further indications of stalking behavior. It is important to note that cyberstalking is illegal in many states but can be difficult to prove.
What are the different types of cyberstalker? There are four main types of cyberstalkers: vindictive, composed, intimate, and collective. The vindictive perpetrator is cruel in their attacks and intends to inflict pain. The composed perpetrator’s motive is usually to annoy or irritate the victim. The intimate perpetrator attempts to form a relationship or has a previous relationship with the victim but turns on them when rejected. The collective perpetrator is groups which form for the purpose of taking a person or organization down.
What are some examples of cyberstalking? There are several ways a cyberstalker goes after a victim. Here are a few examples.
- False Accusations. The perpetrator sets up a website or blog for the purpose of posting false information about the victim. They may also enter newsgroups, chat rooms, or other public sites that allow users to make posts.
- Gathering Information. The victim’s family, friends, and co-workers are approached by the perpetrator to obtain personal information. This information is then used against the victim later.
- Monitoring. The perpetrator monitors the victim’s online activities to gather data about the victim. They might have access to the IP address, passwords, or electronic devices that can be used to harass the victim or impersonate.
- Flying monkeys. Just like the witch in the Wizard of Oz who uses flying monkeys to do her dirty work, so the perpetrator solicits others into participating in the harassment of the victim. This is a form of group harassment.
- Playing the Victim. The perpetrator makes false claims that they are being harassed by the victim. This is usually done with family, friends, co-workers, and occasionally on public sites to drum up support for the perpetrator and isolation for the victim.
- Sending viruses. This is unfortunately easy to do as all it takes is for the victim to click on a photo, video, email, or link that was sent with a virus attached. Within seconds a virus is downloaded that can erase information and destroy reputations.
- Ordering products. The perpetrator orders embarrassing items or subscribes to magazines using the victim’s name. They usually have it delivered to the victim’s place of work to cause more distress and unrest.
- Arranging a meeting. Perpetrators who use false identities such as done on dating websites to make arrangements to meet their victims in person. Often the perpetrator does not identify themselves preferring to stand back and watch the victim’s reaction to a no-show.
- Posting insults. Tweets, social media posts, comments on blog posts or websites are a few examples of places that a perpetrator might post defamatory, insulting, or derogatory statements about the victim.
- Physical stalking. Sometimes the cyberstalking turns physical as the perpetrator using the gathered information to appear in the victim’s locations. This also includes abusive phone calls, obscene mail, trespassing, vandalism, theft, and assault.
- Obsessive texts. Some perpetrators send hundreds of text messages to the victim to disrupt their day and torment them with baseless accusations. They might also use other social media to obsessively post or view messages to constantly remind the victim of their presence.
- Repetitive harassment. The perpetrator posts harmful rumors, threats, sexual comments, personal information, and hateful language about the victim. This is done in a bullying manner designed to scare the victim and cause harm. The victim fears that there is no escape.
- GPS Tracking. Devices are planted in cars or on personal items that track a victim’s location. Some cellphones, tablets or computers might also have tracking devices or location settings that allow a victim to be tracked without their knowledge.
- Geotagging and Metadata. Electronic devices have embedded and unknowingly enabled metadata that is used by manufacturers. Some of these settings include location information. A resourceful abuser can access this information without the victim knowing.
- Social Media. While most social media applications allow a person to be blocked, sometimes having access to a friend of the victim is enough to gain access. Innocent posts like where a person is eating dinner can provide an abuser with location and time information.
- Flaming. This is posting insults usually laced with aggression or profanity to incite the victim. The purpose is to draw the victim into a discussion to fuel discourse between the perpetrator and the victim. Flamebait is a post that sparks anger or an argument.
- Monitoring Apps. Sadly, there are numerous monitoring apps and spyware available. Some don’t even need access to your phone in order to download. Just innocently clicking on an image can download a monitoring app without a person’s knowledge. Read articles, change passwords and IDs, remove and reinstall thumbprint recognition.
- Syncing Devices. Some apps sync information between devices to make it easier for purchases or transfer of information. Unfortunately, if the perpetrator has access to the device then they can read text messages, delete pictures, falsify documents, or view browsing history. This is very harmful to anyone experience domestic violence who might have evidence stored on a device.
- Spoofing. A perpetrator might pretend to be a representative of the victim’s bank and ask for them to “verify” personal information. Then they use the information to gain access to the victim’s bank account. This is commonly done when the victim has switched accounts to keep their information private. Always be cautious about providing any personal information via phone, text, or email.
- Online Scammer. Dating websites are popular territory for online scammers who misrepresent who they are, what they like, what they do, and how they look. Some perpetrators will create false profiles that are perfect matches for their victim for the purpose of stalking, meeting or harassing.
- Identity Theft. This is surprisingly easy when the perpetrator has had an intimate relationship with the victim. Most partners know personal information like SSN, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, former addresses, and other common pieces of data. Abusers use this information to apply for credit cards, mortgages and make purchases without detection.
- Account Takeover. Many people save passwords for their financial information on their electronic devices. A perpetrator can gain access to the computer, log onto the accounts, change passwords or addresses, send embarrassing emails, delete documents, or destroy the victim’s reputation.
- Catfishing. This is a method of online stalking where the perpetrator poses as someone else and creates a false social media identity. The name, photos, locations, and basic information can all be false. Sometimes, the perpetrator poses as the victim with the intention of fooling others and humiliating the victim.
Why does someone do this? There are many psychological and social reasons a perpetrator might engage in cyberstalking. Typically, they are envious, have a pathological obsession with the victim, might be unemployed or have a professional failure, generally delusional, thinks they can get away with stalking behavior and believes that they know the victim better than others. The intent is to cause the victims to feel intimidation, experience fear, have feelings of inferiority, or know that they are seeking revenge for real or imagined rejection.
By knowing what to look for in a cyberstalker, Mark was able to better monitor his devices. Unfortunately, he did find a tracking device in his car and once it was removed, his soon-to-be-ex no longer showed up at random times.