We’ve all had a sneaky check of an old flame’s Facebook, flicking through pictures and speculating about the other person in the pictures. We’ve experienced jubilation when we realise that the object of our affections has a Twitter feed dating back to – Hallelujah! – 2009, meaning there are endless tweets to sift through. We’ve looked at LinkedIn and flickr pages, FourSquare and Pinterest feeds, YouTube channels and Spotify playlists.
The advent of social media has turned e-stalking into a fine art. For those who like to indulge, it seems like harmless fun, the greatest danger of which is actually having a conversation with the person. You might slip up and accidentally indicate that you already know something about their past. They’re surprised. You’re mortified. You’ve been going back through their posts one by one, trying to piece together a picture of their life, and you discovered it via your stalking activities on the Internet.
But, as the New Zealand journalist said to Maria Sharapova, it’s not stalking if you love someone, right?
Cyberstalking is a Crime
When does cyberstalking become a crime? The law states that for stalking to be a crime, the person has to have the intent to ‘kill, injure or harass’ someone, so can the information-gathering exercise of Facebook research be considered harassment if the person doesn’t know they’re being watched?
Cyberstalking is covered in state stalking laws and includes a range of offenses, from defamation and identity theft to threatening and solicitation. Gathering information for the purpose of harassment is also regarded as cyberstalking, as is monitoring or placing someone under surveillance. It’s not just the stalkers themselves either; following the 1999 Amy Boyer case in which a man purchased information from information broker Docusearch and later shot the victim, the courts found that brokers can also be held liable.
Most people who indulge in a little social research on the Internet see it has harmless because they’re not planning to do anything with the information. They’re unlikely to ever contact the person, let alone harass the person. And yet given the number of cases of cyber-bullying that result in devastating consequences, like the suicides of Megan Meier, Tyler Clementi, Phoebe Prince and Ryan Halligan, it’s clear that some do use the Internet to harass others.
Defending Yourself Against Cyberstalking
The best defence against cyberstalking is to reduce or privatise your Internet presence. For some, that’s impossible; an internet identity could be integral to a professional or personal life. However, it is advisable to watch what you make public and keep in mind that anything that goes on the Internet could eventually be made public, despite what privacy settings you might place on your account. For those whose ‘Internet research’ threatens to get out of control, bear in mind that there are strict laws in place surrounding this activity and you could be prosecuted. It could be stalking… even if you think you love someone.
About Author: The author, Kahmen Lai, writes for Newport Beach bail bonds and admits to indulging in Internet research on occasion.