Especially among young people, the language of “stalking” is quite common. We stalk old friends and classmates on social media, or check up on what ex-boyfriends and girlfriends are doing. When people use this language, they typically don’t mean it seriously, and yet stalking is actually a deeply serious topic, and can cause terrible harm – but we can all take steps to protect ourselves more on social media.
If you’re worried about the risk of cyberstalking, there are a number of steps you can take to guard your information. It may take some degree of technical savvy to erase your footprints, but it can be done.
Turn Off Outsider Apps
One of the biggest problems that users have with social media right now is not with the platforms themselves, but with outside applications that connect with them. These applications may collect and leak personal data of all kinds that you would never explicitly post on your account. One way to protect yourself, then, is by learning how to opt out of data collection and disconnect your accounts from outside apps. This can protect you from major security breaches linked to unscrupulous developers.
While ensuring you have strong security settings is a critical part of protecting yourself from cyberstalking, it’s important to remember that cyberstalking is never your fault. “It’s easy for cyberstalking victims to blame themselves for their stalker’s behavior,” explains Rowdy Williams, a Terre Haute attorney. “In reality, cyberstalking is always the fault of the stalker and their own invasive and harmful behavior. It’s always wise to take precautions, but stalking is never your fault.”
People love to share about fun activities they participate in on social media, and one way they do that is by checking in to locations, such as coffee shops or amusement parks, either by tagging the locations in pictures or using an outside check-in app like Foursquare. This can be a lot of fun and it’s an understandable impulse, but it may not be in your best interest, as many of the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol Building this past January learned when a hacker archived countless Parler posts to document who was involved.
When you post location information online or enable geolocation capabilities, you give cyberstalkers information about your routine and whereabouts. This can help them to escalate their behaviors, moving from simply tracking their target’s movements online to in-person confrontation. This is a serious concern, since about a quarter of stalkers will eventually attempt to physically harm their target.
Don’t Talk To Strangers
During the 1980s and 1990s, “stranger danger” was all the rage. Every program taught children to avoid talking to strangers in order to prevent kidnappings and other issues. As it turns out, this was counterproductive, since the majority of kidnappings are perpetrated by family members or other known individuals. That being said, avoiding strangers is still a good rule for social media.
If you get a friend request from someone you don’t know, ignore it, and beware of bots that might follow you, particularly on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Friend requests from unfamiliar accounts may also be dummy accounts from known individuals that you are avoiding.
Cyberstalking isn’t “stalking lite” or a small matter because it happens online. It’s a serious issue that can be frightening and even escalate to real-life violence and harassment. If you’re being stalked, you have the right to seek help and protection. Contact the police or a lawyer and document all attempts at contact. Even if you think you’re safe, the situation can change at any moment.