Cyberstalking and Online Harassment
Cyberstalking is a serious offense that can drastically impact the victim’s sense of safety and security. Knowing what cyberstalking looks like and the legal ramifications of this crime are essential when navigating online spaces.
What Is Cyberstalking?
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Cyberstalking is the act of making someone feel unsafe or threatened through the use of the internet. As a form of cyberbullying, it usually involves repeated offenses, increasing the victim’s sense of fear or unease.
While related to both cyberbullying and in-person stalking, this form of harassment has some unique attributes, including the following:
- Instant gratification: Online services like social media and email are constantly available, allowing the stalker to carry out their harassment without having to wait. Internet searches and access to various accounts make it easy to gather the information they need to harm or scare their victims. They can do more work with less effort, making them more dangerous to victims.
- Ranging locations: Because cyberstalkers attack their victims over the internet, they can expand their reach beyond their physical location. They can target victims in other cities, states and countries, making it more challenging for law enforcement to locate them.
- Anonymity: Most cyberstalkers know their victims personally or professionally. They often have access or knowledge that they can leverage to instill fear or harm. However, the internet allows a level of anonymity that cyberstalkers can use for protection. Fake names, profile pictures, emails, phone numbers and personal information let them get close to their victims without revealing their identities.
Examples of Cyberstalking
Cyberstalkers can target various types of personal and sensitive information and attack their victims across text, email, social media, dating sites, forums and other online platforms. Regardless of the form, the motivation is the response the stalker gets from their victims.
Understanding how cyberstalking manifests can help individuals identify when they might be the victim of cyberstalking. Some ways cyberstalkers can harm their victims include:
- Repeated or constant messaging.
- Threats or blackmail.
- Leaving rude and offensive posts on the victim’s pages.
- Commenting and liking everything the victim posts.
- Creating fake accounts to track their victim.
- Accessing the victim’s devices or cameras.
- Implementing spyware on devices.
- Sending unwanted sexual content of themselves or the victim.
How to Prevent Cyberstalking
While the internet can simplify stalking behaviors for these cybercriminals, you can still take action to protect yourself. Maintaining internet safety and privacy can protect you from cyberstalking threats when navigating online spaces. Some strategies to consider implementing include:
- Updating privacy settings: Many sites allow you to choose a privacy level for your information. Protecting your accounts from unwanted followers and viewership makes it easier to defend yourself against cyberstalking. You can set your social media accounts to private so that people can’t follow you and can see your posts without approval. If you use an online calendar, you should also check that you have it set to private.
- Blocking accounts and numbers: Blocking is a helpful feature that limits who can contact your accounts. If someone starts to send harmful messages or content, you can prevent them from continuing by blocking them. While this won’t stop cyberstalkers from buying new phones or making new accounts, it can deter their behavior and help protect you from its impact.
- Disabling geolocation features: Many social media sites allow people to tag or track their location. While it can be fun to share this information when you’re going somewhere exciting, it can provide cyberstalkers with information on your whereabouts and habits. When they can access that information, they can make it seem like they’re watching you or know where to find you. Turning off these features in settings can prevent cyberstalkers from using social media to access your current locations.
- Updating antivirus software: There are tools and resources that can help prevent cyberstalkers from accessing your devices. Antivirus and malware solutions can protect against spyware and tracking software, preventing cyberstalkers from accessing this data. Keep these solutions up to date to benefit from the latest features.
Legal Protections Against Cyberstalking
Even people who take every precaution can still find themselves victims of cyberstalking. If you find yourself the victim of stalking, you should implement the following strategies as soon as possible:
- Recording all evidence of cyberstalking: Take screenshots of all texts, posts and other attacks. If the cyberstalker posts videos or sends messages, take recordings. It’s helpful to document all the times the stalker contacted you in a spreadsheet. This information can help law enforcement understand the severity of what you’re experiencing.
- Reporting activity to sites: Many online platforms take cyberstalking very seriously, allowing users to report issues and state why. This step can help sites take action and prevent cyberstalkers from repeating the behavior.
- Filing a report with local authorities: When you’ve gathered your evidence, report the behavior to the police. They have the tools and authority to investigate the incidents and help bring consequences to the stalker. If they can’t take action immediately, having a record and evidence of the incidents can streamline processes later on.
South Carolina classifies the first offense of cyberstalking as a misdemeanor. According to state law, further incidents qualify as felonies that can result in up to five years of imprisonment and $5000 in fines.
What Is Online Harassment
Cyberstalking is just one category of online harassment, which involves individuals repeatedly threatening and abusing others online. Online harassment can involve many strategies, including:
- Denial of service (DoS) attacks
Legal Protection Against Online Harassment
Like cyberstalking, online harassment is illegal in South Carolina. The state defines online harassment as harassment in the second degree, a misdemeanor that can result in $1000 worth of fines and up to a year in prison.
Like with cyberstalking, it’s best to keep a record, make multiple copies and store the evidence somewhere safe when experiencing online harassment. You can take the proof to your local police department when filing a report to help with the investigation. You can also report and block the harassers to prevent them from interacting with you.
Contact Our Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Cyberstalking and online harassment have serious consequences that can hinder the accused’s life. If you stand accused of cyberstalking or online harassment, you need quality representation.
Lauren Taylor is an experienced criminal defense attorney who can provide quality legal representation to those accused of cyberstalking and online harassment. She offers excellent legal guidance and protects your rights throughout processes and proceedings.
Contact Lauren Taylor Law today for a free review of your criminal cyberstalking or online harassment case and discover how our legal team can assist you.
South Carolina divorce attorney Lauren Taylor practices family law in Charleston and Greenville. She graduated from the Charlotte School of Law, and has been practicing for more than ten years.
Since the firm’s inception in 2012, Mrs. Taylor has helped hundreds of people navigate the uncertainties surrounding the family and criminal court process.
She has cultivated a team that ensures each case has a strategy crafted specifically to the clients needs and desires.
Her commitment to top notch service has led her to open two additional offices in the low country where she now resides with her husband Michael and her golden retriever, Buster.