Uncovering the Nature of Facebook Stalking
There is a clearly defined criminal law in the United States and suggested procedure against stalkers who physically follow, spy, or make their unwanted presence known. Compared to other criminal acts, legislation against stalking has been passed relatively recently, the first being in California in 1990. Over the last couple decades, the rest of the United States and many other countries, such as Canada, Australia, Austria, Germany, and India have followed this example and recognized stalking as criminal offense. In the United States alone, 3.4 million people over the age of 18 are stalked, according to The National Center for Victims of Crime.
Now, though, the internet has created an ambiguous, new context for stalking to take place. While the hyper connectivity of social media offers access to friends and a sense of place in various communities, this same connectivity offers stalkers new access to their victims. According to family resource center Wellspring, one in four victims are stalked using technology. Just like you’d take precautions against a physical stalker, you must also take the necessary precautions against an online stalker.
The psychological effect of a physical stalker and a digital stalker is virtually the same. According to research at George Washington University, victims of stalking can suffer mental effects such as denial, confusion, and self-doubt as they try to deal with the reality of the situation. It can also cause the victim to blame themselves and experience guilt and embarrassment. All in all, this leads to anxiety, helplessness, and fear. Stalking can take a physical toll as well, in the form of fatigue, sleep deprivation, and overall stress. Just because the stalker is not physically present, does not mean they do not represent a very real, and present danger. Whether physical or digital, it’s imperative to learn to protect yourself and your loved ones from the psychological abuse, and potential danger of a stalker.
What Is Facebook Stalking?
Maybe the most prevalent form of online stalking is Facebook stalking. In the language of the young, “Facebook stalking” can be an innocuous practice–friends, or acquaintances interested in learning more about you, and maybe following your activity with a close eye. Within the context of mutual trust, this common practice is equal to a lingering look in the physical world.
However, there is another type of Facebook stalking that fits the literal definition of “stalking,” described by the Department of Justice as “a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” A Facebook stalker can fulfill each of these over through social media. On the internet, the stalker can obsessively glean information from your posts, or consistently demand your attention through messaging, posts, and comments. Be proactive about deterring your stalker by recognizing the warning signs early. These warning signs could be one of the following:
- chatting with you every time you are online
- consistently leaving messages on your public wall, or your personal inbox, and exhibiting obsessive behavior
- suggesting the two of you spend more time together after you’ve expressed that you do not want to
- making sexually suggestive comments
- using intimidating, or abusive language
- attempting to humiliate you by posting mean-spirited, offensive, personal, or doctored photos of you on Facebook, or anywhere online
Once you’ve identified one of these warning signs of Facebook stalking, how should you react? First of all, be very careful about responding to someone you consider a potential Facebook stalker. If it’s an obnoxious acquaintance, who you deem harmless, dropping hints, gently pointing out their behavior, and honestly telling them you’d like less interaction might be the appropriate response. If it’s reasonable, give them a chance to realize the effect of his or her stifling or inappropriate online behavior.
However, if the person is strongly demonstrating one or more of the warning signs, do not engage them. Often, stalkers’ and bullies’ main goal is to illicit a response. If you think this is the case, it’s best not to give them what they want, only reinforcing their bad behavior. A response can fuel another round of abuse from your stalker.
Facebook Stalking Tips
At this stage, Facebook offers a few technical features that may effectively solve your stalker problem. Consider unfriending the person in question. If the person has demonstrated the warning signs, you probably don’t want to be friends with this individual, online or in real life. This simple solution will stop the stalker’s attempts to contact you by Facebook chat or posting on your timeline.
If the stalker continues to try to contact you or track your movements from information on your timeline, block them. This way, he or she will not be able to message you, attempt to add you as a friend, or view things you share on your timeline. This, of course, completely severs the connection your stalker has been using to contact you.
Finally, if the stalker bullies you with offensive or mean-spirited posts, you can report his or her inappropriate behavior to Facebook. This will send the report to Facebook’s Safety team, Hate and Harassment team, Access team, or Abusive Content team depending on the nature of the report. Facebook will take down the post and warn the person, or may revoke a user’s posting privileges, disable the account, or refer the issues to law enforcement.
In this case, always remember to document the stalker’s communication with you. If the potential warning signs do in fact turn to harmful stalking, you’ll want to keep a record of the harassment or abuse so that you can include it in a report to Facebook, or an internet service provider.
Most of all, do not try to keep the stalking a secret. If you are being harassed or abused via Facebook stalking, tell someone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, and frustrated, talk to someone who can provide the emotional support you need.
Hopefully, you will never have to follow these steps. However, there are certain precautions you can take to safeguard against a stalker. Or, as a parent you have a responsibility to assure your child’s safety online. First of all, you can set your privacy settings so that your profile is only visible to your friends. This way, you are safe from unwanted eyes, outside your trusted circle of friends, viewing your personal posts and pictures. Most importantly, do not add people you do not know in real life.
The world is becoming a more dangerous place with online capabilities in the hands of people with dark motivations. There are major dangerous online stalking apps. Creepy, a Facebook stalking app, collects the data from the victim’s data locations and puts it into a map. If you think someone is stalking on Facebook, turn off the location data features of your social media. However, according to Dr. Shannan Catalano, 63.1 percent of stalking is done by a friend or acquaintance, whether that’s a lover, ex, classmate or colleague. So, you may be asking, who viewed my Facebook profile? Or worse, who is stalking me on Facebook? Unfortunately, there is no way to reveal your online stalkers. Many websites will offer tricks and secrets. At best, these are merely unfounded, and malware at worst.
At the same time, the internet provides services that can help in the midst of the Facebook stalk. Criminalcheck.com, and other websites like it, offer a free database that provides the names sexual offenders in your area. If you are suspicious of someone making consistent or inappropriate contact with you, you can assess the danger of the situation and prepare accordingly–either online protection measures, or a restraining order.
When taking proactive steps to deter your Facebook stalker, you must also remember to care of yourself and your feelings. Reach out for friends and family for support. Don’t make the stalker a secret. It might be difficult, but going it alone will increase feelings of isolation, and leave you vulnerable. Most importantly, if you ever feel you are in immediate danger, call 911 immediately.
In the midst of a stalking incident, remember can always reach out for physical and emotional support.
- Take precautions
- Spot the warning signs
- Take action: Unfriend, Block, and/or Report
- Find Support