Should I Stay Offline? Stalking Victims
In 2003 when I discovered that some anonymous person was stalking me and posting things online that put myself and my family in danger, I went to the police. The response…. "just turn off your computer." The officer just didn't seem to understand that my turning off my computer didn't remove the threats. In fairness, the law and law enforcement training just hadn’t caught up with technology. But that simply wasn’t an effective or practical answer.
Today, we live even more of our lives online. There are few jobs or education venues that don’t utilize the internet and between social media and email connectivity, the idea of trying to live off line is difficult for most to practically achieve. For professionals, this is even more impractical, but of course, when you are the victim of a stalker, the rules change.
1# SHORING UP ACCESS
Whether your stalker is a person who is physically stalking you offline or is constrained to the internet, you can be sure that he or she is using information obtained online. You may not be able to prevent online access completely, but you can limit the amount of information the stalker can access.
2# FIGHT OR FLIGHT
Depending on the stalker’s activities, you will have to decide if you want to fight the attacks or if you want to go off line for a while. If the stalker is following your online activities and posting responses (essentially trolling you), it might be a good idea to simply stop posting things for a while. Trolls often move on when you they can’t have “fun” with you any longer.
If the stalker is posting things online that are damaging to your reputation or put you in harm’s way, you really have no choice but to fight. If you know the identity of the stalker, this is a two-part process that includes using appropriate offline authorities (HR department, school administrators, police, etc.) and working with the particular online platforms that the stalker is using to harass you.
If you are not sure who is responsible for the attacks, you should focus on working with platforms to remove inflammatory pictures and posts. Just be aware, these outlets are unable to provide you with the identity of the stalker without a court order.
3# DEALING WITH YOUR EMOTIONAL STRENGTH
Whether or not you should stay offline depends in part on your own emotional strength. It is easy to become obsessed with the stalker’s activities. When will this nut post again? What will they say or do? You can find yourself in a constant state of agitation waiting for the next attack, which is emotionally destabilizing.
If the stalker is attacking you in a specific forum or platform, it can be easier to contain by reporting the attack and then avoiding that forum.
4# CAN YOU STAY OFFLINE?
Going offline can be difficult, but depending on your job, it’s not impossible. If you are being stalked, it is perfectly acceptable and understandable to let people know that you are going offline for a while.
“Hey guys, because of all this harassment, I am shutting down my Facebook account for the foreseeable future. Let’s stay in touch on the phone, through email, and maybe get together for coffee!”
Then just disconnect. Many social media platforms have a “pause” function that lets you put your social media account on hold for a while without erasing it completely.
Many jobs require email contact. Consider limiting yourself strictly to business emails or if you are being threatened or intimidated via email, set up a new email address that is just given to people or businesses with whom you must maintain contact.
If you can stay off line, it can be really emotionally beneficial to take a break, even if it is only for weekends or after work.
5# LIMITING THE EFFECTS ON YOUR LIFE
One of the things that worked well for me was implementing a version of the Pomodoro Method. I allowed myself a set amount of time to focus on the stalking activities. Since the stalker’s activities in my case ebbed and flowed, during active attacks, I would allow myself one hour each morning to deal with posts, update the police and lawyers, and work with website providers and social media platforms. During periods of little activity, I limited myself to an hour each week to check with for new attacks and update all interested parties. I put on calming music, got a cup of tea, and set my timer for one hour. Sometimes, I didn’t keep strictly to my method, but for the most part, by putting parameters on my response to the stalker’s behavior, I was better able to manage my own emotional vulnerability.
Being stalked and harassed online is truly terrible. But, as a silver-lining kind of girl, being able to disconnect from the internet did provide me a chance to better connect with my kids, read more, focus on my hobbies, and learn to really enjoy being disconnected.