In Cyber Bullying, Expert Interviews

Interview: A New Approach to Internet Safety

Dr Lorraine Bowman-Grieve is a Chartered Psychologist and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She has contributed as a guest lecturer on the topic of terrorist use of the internet.

She talks to about internet safety in relation to cyber bullying.

Dr Lorraine Bowman-Grieve

Dr Lorraine Bowman-Grieve

Is internet safety something that more people are aware of and practice?

This is a really interesting question with various aspects worth consideration. In a quick short answer I would have to say that I don’t think people are as aware of internet safety as they should/could be. For the most part this is through no fault of their own but simply reflects the speed at which the internet changes and the increasing range of challenges it presents us with in terms of protecting ourselves and maintaining our privacy.

As a forensic psychologist I’m all too aware of the threats posed via the internet and use of social media. I’m aware of the risks people take with the information they provide for example in the lack of care some people take in adjusting their security settings and protecting themselves online.  I’m not claiming that everyone is in danger from the internet or from how they (or others) use it but rather that, as in situations offline, we must be aware and take care in how we use the Internet and how we educate young people and children in using the internet. I think both adults and young people alike need to become more educated about how they conduct themselves online and the potential repercussions of their online activity. For example do they consider that their future employer, academic institution, partner will be able to see comments made online (in open forums for example) and may subsequently make judgement about them based on these.

Just recently we’ve had some examples of this including: Paris Brown announcing her resignation as Kent police’s youth crime commissioner for the allegedly violent, racist and anti-gay comments she made on Twitter. And Oliver Rawlings, 20, who sent abusive and sexist messages to a leading academic on Twitter. Increasingly what we’re finding is that the ‘offenders’ in these cases are being named and shamed and that the consequences of their online behaviour permeate to the offline world and are real and far reaching – increased awareness of the risks of engaging in certain behaviours online needs to target young people..

What is Cyber Stalking?

Stalking can be defined as a pattern of persistent and intrusive behaviour directed by one person toward another and can last over months or even years. Adding the ‘cyber’ element to this definition cyber stalking is using the internet (email, social media) to facilitate this persistent and intrusive behaviour. The internet can be used to maintain the anonymity of the stalker. Cyber stalking occurs in the online realm but can crossover to the offline world.

Can Cyber Stalking turn dangerous? Is there any impact on a victim’s life?

Yes cyber stalking can be dangerous and can have a detrimental impact on the life of the victim. Cyber stalking activities include (but are not limited to) trying to damage the reputation of the victim, harassment online, information gathering and monitoring, data services attacking, ordering goods and services for the victim (such as pornographic material). Cyber stalking can begin and end in the virtual realm. However it can also cross over and there have been instances of cyber stalkers threatening their victims and in some cases carrying through on these threats. The psychological impact of cyber stalking behaviour on the victim is real and can be far reaching. It can destroy individual self-esteem, self image and self confidence. It can affect the victim’s behaviour and their willingness to engage with others both on and offline. Cyber stalking can be isolating, fear inducing and stressful.

Is this not something that just happens to famous people?

Certainly not – it just happens that many of the stories we hear about cyber stalking are to do with celebrities. A recent Channel 4 documentary with Atomic Kitten singer Liz McClarnon highlighted cyber stalking in the celebrity world. However it is not limited to this world and can affect anyone.

Is there any legal protection for people against Cyber Stalking?

In the UK the Malicious Communication Act (1998) classified cyber stalking as a criminal offence. The protection form Harassment Act (1997) criminalises staking behaviour.

What can I do to reduce my risk of being stalked online?

If using chatrooms, limit the amount of personal information you share and select a username that is age and gender neutral. More generally check the privacy settings on your social media accounts. Do not become ‘friends’ with everyone who makes friend requests. Use filters and blockers to block unwanted emails etc.  If you are being stalked – save copies of all communications from your stalker and contact the relevant authorities (these include chat room administrators, Internet Service Providers, and Police)

Who is a typical online stalker?

According to statistics published by WHOA ( females are more likely to become victims of cyber staking. However the gender of the perpetrator is less clear. In their most recent survey of >300 cases of cyber stalking they found that males were perpetrators in 40% of cases, females in 33.5%, and gender was unknown in 26.5% of cases. Cyber stalkers may be known to the victim however this is not always the case. Again in the statistics from 2011 victims claimed to have known their stalkers in only 41% of case. This study also indicated that most cases started by harassment via email (32%) or Facebook (16%) with 80% of cases perceived as escalating to increased harassment by phone (27%), email (16) and Facebook (11.5%).

Are children a target to cyber stalking?

Children and young people can be targets of cyber stalking. The difference between cyber stalking and cyber bullying appears to be predominantly definitional in nature with cyber bullying being the term reserved for problematic online behaviours between minors. This is not to say that adults cannot be cyber bullied but rather that when this is the case it is referred to as cyber harassment or cyber stalking. Having said that, many of the behaviours that the perpetrator engages with (as a cyber bully or cyber stalker) are similar, e.g. targeting victims (known or unknown) online, sending harassing emails/messages etc.

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