I'm Being Stalked Online: Now What?
Stalking, especially online, can go undetected forever. But generally, the victim discovers that they are being targeted when the stalker exhibits outward aggression. This may come in the form of threats to reveal personal details, email harassment, social media shaming, or bullying. Discovering that you are the obsession of a mentally unwell person and are being stalked is terrifying. Many victims feel so vulnerable and violated that they effectively become paralyzed. But the sooner you take action to protect yourself, the sooner you can neutralize the stalker, move past the threats, and get on with your life. Protecting yourself and your information is the first step to ending the attacks.
Learn more about the different types of stalkers here.
1# UNDERSTAND THAT EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED
It’s not fair. But everything has changed. How and what you share online, how you interact with people, how you parent your children, even how you feel about yourself, everything…has…changed. The sooner that you come to understand this simple fact, the better. When someone is committing a crime against you, crying about what "should" be in a perfect world is useless and potentially endangers you even more.
2# DO YOU KNOW THE STALKER?
Evaluating the danger begins with evaluating the stalker. Do you know the person who is stalking you? If you don’t know who is stalking you, read “Stranger Stalking” to learn the specific techniques that you can use to protect yourself. However, the majority of stalkers are people who are familiar to the victim (an ex, family member, friend, co-worker, client, customer, acquaintance, etc.) and stalk to gather information, inspire fear, and gain control. Once you have identified the stalker, creating a response plan is much easier. You can also begin to compartmentalize the stalking behavior and the outward threats, which will help you to better protect yourself.
3# PROTECT YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION
Scour your online existence and check those privacy settings. Each social media outlet should be reviewed. Have you included your actual phone number, email address, home address, date of birth, place of employment or other personal info that will make hunting you easier? While people with whom you are very familiar (ex-partners, immediate family, close friends, etc.) may have some of this information, cutting off additional access is important.
As much as you may like to share photos of yourself, your kids, your home or work, think about each item online. Will that picture or post make it easier for someone to access me or my family? Will it give the stalker additional ammunition to cause harm? Remove photos or information that places you at risk. Consider using anti-jerk social media sharing techniques.
Mask your email address and/or phone number. This is especially important if you are on business networking sites like LinkedIn or if your details are publicly listed on company and organization web sites. Many firms are moving away from sharing direct email address and phone numbers to cut down on solicitation calls and to protect their employees from nuts, if your firm still lists private information, make a suggestion that they change that policy.
It is also a good time to update passwords.
4# STOP OVER SHARING
Many people share way too much information on social media. While you may feel pride that you can afford an expensive trip or a luxury piece of jewelry or that your son just made the football team and you want to share, familiar stalkers are often motivated by jealousy. Your trip was just as terrific, whether you share photos online or not…right?
Over sharing also puts others at risk. Stalkers often pursue friends, family, and co-workers in order to gain access or information about you. Don’t make it easy.
If sharing your life is a part of your personal or business brand, re-evaluate what that share looks like. A food blogger with whom I work shares pictures of herself at wonderful restaurants and markets. But after and ex business partner with whom she had had a falling out started following her on Instagram and twitter and showing up at places where she was eating, she started posting those pictures either later in the day or the next day. That way she could still share with her followers, but avoided the uncomfortable confrontation.
5# EVALUATE YOUR WEAKEST LINK
You can be very careful with your personal information, have tight privacy settings, and carefully curate your photos, but if a friend is sharing details and photos of you online, even innocently, you are still exposed.
Make sure that your friends online aren’t inadvertently outing you. I simple statement can help.
“Hi guys, I am being stalked and harassed by an ex co-worker. I am working with the authorities so I can’t discuss it much, but in the meantime, I am going to limit what I share online and would appreciate it if you didn’t tag me or post pictures or details that might give this person more access to my life. Thanks”
This puts the stalker on notice (sometimes all that is needed to make them go away) and helps to insure that people don’t innocently expose you.
5# DOCUMENT AND INVOLVE AUTHORITIES
By the time you discover that you are being stalked, the activity may have been going on for some time. But as soon as you do find that you are the object of someone’s unwanted attention, documentation is important. Since stalkers often use social media to bully, consider creating an incident journal listing the platform, the bullying or harassing activity, and the date and time. If you eventually have to get the police involved, having a clean, easy to follow timeline can be extremely helpful.
You can also get help from the particular social media platform by reaching out to their customer service or support teams. The stalker can be blocked or even banned from the platform.