The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many of our daily activities being moved online.
Education, work, and socialising with family and friends now all happens on the internet and it has proven to be a fantastic tool in this regard, keeping the economy moving and connecting people who would otherwise be spending most of their time alone.
Unfortunately it’s not all positive. Police and support services have reported record increases in cyberstalking cases and general cyber-related abuse during recent lockdowns.
Victims of domestic violence are often also victims of cyberstalking and experts have warned that stay-at-home orders only increase the danger these individuals face.
Influencers, who largely operate via social media platforms such as Instagram, have also spoken out about the rising number (and volatility) of harassing messages they have received, often from complete strangers.
It’s important to understand the potential dangers that being interconnected online can bring.
Whilst cyberstalking is a crime and the victim is never to blame, having knowledge of the ways that online stalkers operate and who you can turn to for help will grant you greater peace of mind and improve your online safety.
What is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is broadly defined as the use of the internet to harass others. Whilst the odd negative comment or message is upsetting, cyberstalking is usually seen as a planned, systematic and sustained attack against an individual.
Common characteristics of the crime include monitoring, making false accusations, threats, identity theft and exploitation.
In some cases, a victim may not even know they are being stalked online.
Cyberstalking can also take the form of a perpetrator inconspicuously monitoring their target, gathering personal information in an attempt to either carry out identity theft or offline harassment.
On the other hand, cyberstalkers are often well known to their victims in real life.
Online stalking of ex-partners is very common, upsetting and at times, dangerous — particularly when blocking the individual and their messages does little to help solve the problem.
Cyberstalking and Covid-19
The spread of Covid-19 has resulted in an incredibly disruptive year on a worldwide scale. The pandemic has influenced nearly every facet of our lives, including our use of the internet and social media.
With everyone now relying on their phones and laptops to work, learn, socialise and even order groceries, cyberstalkers now have access to their victims 24 hours a day.
Several protective organisations and individual victims of online stalking have recently spoken out, saying that stay-at-home orders have only spurned stalkers and trolls to increase their attacks.
National lockdowns have made it increasingly difficult for victims to seek support and assistance.
This is particularly true for those who are suffering both domestic violence and cyber-abuse from intimate partners — now trapped living with their abusers and not able to leave the house.
Who You Can Turn to for Help
It is very important to know that police and protective services are still on hand to help you.
National lockdowns do not extend to a person escaping a situation of domestic violence, nor should you feel like the pandemic means that as a victim of cyberstalking, you are not able to reach out for assistance.
If blocking the individual and reporting their behaviour to the relevant platform (if the harassment is being carried out via social media) does not help and you still feel unsafe, the next step is to report the situation to the authorities.
If you are living with the abuser, reach out to friends and family as well as domestic abuse shelters.
A Few Tips to Keep in Mind
It can be incredibly difficult to protect yourself against cyberstalking, particularly when the stalker is known to you.
With that in mind, there are a few tips and tricks you should consider whenever you go online:
- Maintain vigilance over your physical devices
- Practise good password management and security
- Ensure any online calendars or diaries are made private
- Use the privacy settings made available to you on all social media accounts
- Make use of reputable online security software
Cyberstalking can be incredibly distressing and dangerous to the victim.
Always seek help whenever you feel that you are in danger and know that pandemic or not, you deserve to feel safe and secure online.