How can I stay safe online?
by Harriet Lawrence 03rd December 2012 11:33:06
Jennifer Perry, cyber-stalking expert and co-founder of safersettings.com, advises TNS readers on the threat of cyber-stalking, and how to keep your information safe over the internet...
What first brought the problem of cyber-stalking to your attention?
In 2007, my husband and I set up a charity called E-Victims which dealt with a whole host of e-crime. But the charity never received enough funding to continue, so I looked at what area needed the most support. I decided to focus completely on harassment and stalking because it’s one of the most difficult issues to resolve.
Do you think the problem is getting worse?
Yes I think it is, and think this is a direct result of the development of technology, particularly things like social networking.
It is now far easier to stalk someone in their own home 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Stalkers no longer have to stand outside somebody’s door to intimidate them; they don’t even have to live in the same country, let alone the same town, to intimidate them. With social networking sites, the information is so easily accessible.
Stalking is an addiction, just like OCD or gambling addiction. It’s a compulsion, and if you get satisfaction from that compulsion it will continue.
Before the social networking boom, if a relationship ended the couple would just go their separate ways and that would be it. But now that information is just there, and so some people will use it unwisely and this can lead to stalking.
So when it comes to social networking, how much information do you think should be shared online?
Almost everything shared on social networking sites can be dangerous. People put everything on Facebook: it’s like a one-stop stalker shop.
Photos, for example. Facebook is one of the biggest photo-sharing sites in the world, and stalkers love photos. They examine them, they manipulate them. They look at where you are, what you’re doing, what you look like, how you’re feeling – they will analyse every part.
And then there’s your friends list. Not only does the stalker stalk the victim, but (on average) they stalk 32 people around the victim. Facebook gives them a whole list of friendship connections to help them build a dynamic social map of a person. That’s how powerful Facebook can be to a stalker.
At what point should a stalkee take action by calling the police etc?
The new legislation on the Protection from Harassment Act states that action should be taken when the abuse starts to disrupt your life significantly.
For example, if you’re too afraid to take public transport or you’re putting new locks on your door; if it’s distracting you from completing your work; if you find yourself looking over your shoulder all the time.
But it is difficult because the UK justice system is often not good at dealing with psychological crime. The police feel more comfortable dealing with a burglary, theft or assault because they can prove it with photos or medical reports i.e. solid proof. But it can be more difficult to prove psychological damage and therefore some cases of cyber-stalking are tragically dismissed without follow up.
Alexis Bowater, our CEO, once said: “Stalking isn’t a Rom Com that’s gone wrong.” A lot of police will not treat the stalker as criminal, but just as a disgruntled ex-boyfriend.
This is wrong. Yes, at one point they dated: but they don’t date anymore. What this person is doing is harassment, it doesn’t matter that they had a relationship – that’s the emphasis we have to get right.