Line between online messaging and cyberstalking

The line between online messaging and cyberstalking is often blurred, and what may start as seemingly innocent behaviour quickly escalates into something more sinister. Online messaging becomes cyberstalking when it involves a pattern of unwanted, harassing, or threatening behaviour. 

While the specific legal definitions of cyberstalking vary across jurisdictions, it is generally recognized as a form of stalking or harassment that utilizes technology to perpetrate the crime. The key element that distinguishes cyberstalking from harmless online messaging is the intent and impact of the behaviour. Cyberstalking is characterized by a deliberate and malicious intent to instil fear, anxiety, or distress in the victim, leading to a significant negative impact on the victim’s life.

Behaviors that constitute cyberstalking

  1. Repeated and unwanted messages – Sending persistent and unsolicited messages, emails, or other forms of communication, even after the recipient has made it clear that they want the communication to stop. This includes romantic or sexual advances, threats, or simply incessant messaging that invades the recipient’s privacy.
  2. Invasive monitoring – What is Privnote used for?Using technology to observe or record another person’s activities secretly, such as installing spyware on their devices, tracking their internet activities, or accessing their private messages, emails, or social media accounts without their consent.
  3. Identity theft – Stealing someone’s personal information, such as their name, address, or financial data, to impersonate them online. This can involve creating fake profiles, taking over their existing accounts, or using their identity to harass or defraud others.
  4. Location tracking – Utilizing GPS or other location-based services to track a person’s movements without their knowledge or consent. This can include installing tracking apps on their phone or vehicle or accessing their location data through social media or other location-sharing platforms.
  5. Online harassment – Engaging in a pattern of harassing behaviour online, such as sending abusive or threatening messages, posting personal or sensitive information about the victim publicly, or encouraging others to harass the victim.
  6. Blackmail and extortion – Using information obtained online to blackmail or extort the victim, threatening to release embarrassing or compromising information if they do not comply with the stalker’s demands.
  7. Doxing – Searching for and publicly releasing personal information about an individual or organization intending to harass, threaten, or intimidate them. This includes publishing private details such as home addresses, phone numbers, or workplace information.

Protecting yourself and others from cyberstalking

  • Educate yourself – Stay informed about the latest cyberstalking tactics and behaviours, and share this knowledge with friends, family, and colleagues. Educate yourself on the signs of cyberstalking and the steps to take if you suspect you or someone you know is being stalked online.
  • Secure your online presence – Strengthen the security of your online accounts and devices. Use strong, unique passwords, enable two-factor authentication where available, and regularly update your security settings and software. 
  • Recognize unwanted attention – If you find someone’s online behaviour intrusive or uncomfortable, it’s crucial to take it seriously. Unwanted attention, especially if it persists despite clear boundaries being set, is a warning sign of cyberstalking.
  • Document and report – If you are experiencing cyberstalking, document all instances of unwanted contact, including messages, emails, or other forms of communication. Save any evidence, like screenshots or recordings, and report the behaviour to the relevant authorities. Many countries and states have specific laws and procedures to address cyberstalking, and reporting can help stop the behaviour and protect yourself and others.

If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberstalking, don’t hesitate to seek help and report the behaviour to the appropriate authorities. Together, we create a more respectful online environment.