Online Harassment MessagesCyberstalking has been on the front page of tabloids recently, reporting on the harassment of celebrities such as Alyson Hannigan and Avril Lavigne.  Harassed for weeks, Miranda Kerr shouted back at her cyberstalker after she met with police and cyber security officials to report the incident.

Miranda Kerr Twitter MessageYou don’t have to be a supermodel to be harassed online by trolls and cyberstalkers.  In fact, a recent report stated that a High Schooler’s top fear is being harassed online.

After my post, How Trolls Wreak Havoc for Site Owners, we received quite a few questions from readers, asking what steps they should take if you have been harassed by a troll or cyberstalker.  I was surprised to hear so many responses detailing your experiences with online harassment – at all levels of severity.  Let’s make one thing clear, cyberstalking and online threats must be taken very seriously and acted upon quickly to safeguard your reputation, privacy, and safety. To help you out with this, here are our top 5 steps to take if you feel you have been harassed or threatened online.

1.  REPORT

After the unwanted contact takes place, immediately report the incident to website administrators. This establishes a record of your request for help and notification to the site owner that there are abusive actions taking place on the site.  In certain cases, the site owners will issue a case number and levy penalties on the other member, such as closing their account. Although it often takes time to receive a response, it is important to establish a record, in the event that the stalking is prolonged and increases in severity.

2.  EVALUATE

It is important to evaluate how and when the troll or stalker began harassing you.  More often than not, the harasser is someone you know, and typically, there is an event or pattern of behavior that may give clues to identify the culprit.  Did you just break communication with a potential love interest?  Do you feel that someone is competing with you?  Are there any patterns of abuse or harassment in your past, even as far back as grade school? Though the motives of cyberstalkers vary, the ultimate goal is to inflict harm – whether emotionally or physically – so you should take the matter seriously.

3.  RECORD

Save all communication with your attacker.   This can be difficult because cyberstalking often takes place across multiple sites from various fake profiles – all used to intimidate and reinforce their deceptive actions.  Stalkers even go so far as to get involved with your friends, sharing embarrassing photos or messages via emails, text messages, status updates, or comments.

4.  REVIEW SECURITY

From the very onset of the issue [or ASAP, even if you haven’t experienced harassment] you must evaluate your online profiles’ security precautions, checking what personal information is available about you publicly on the social web.  With the launch of Facebook’s GraphSearch, it’s easier than ever for trolls and cybercriminals to find private details about your life.  Do a full audit of your online profiles, making sure you don’t have any personally identifiable information available publicly (i.e. address, telephone number, birth date, etc).  Most social networks allow you to “view” your profile as seen from other points of view, which clearly illustrates which information is available publicly.

5.  CONTACT THE POLICE

If you have taken all of these steps, and you continue to feel threatened, the final step is to report the issue to the police. This is where your diligent bookkeeping of events comes into play. Be sure to provide authorities with all communication, including copies of your original reports of harassment to the site administrators. This allows the authorities to issue a warrant to pursue further evidence.

Whether or not you have experienced a cyberattack, it is important to protect yourself online. And you don’t need to go so far as to delete your social profiles or avoid the Internet altogether. Simply, be cautious about befriending strangers on social sites, be careful about the information you reveal publicly, and take any and every threat seriously.  We should all be able to use the Internet without a constant fear of personal insults and threats – let’s make it harder for the bad guys to get away with it. 

Adam Nisbet

Adam Nisbet, Impermium’s media analyst, is researching emerging trends at the intersection of social media and security. He is a social media maven, an artist, a trekking enthusiast, and an esteemed jazz aficionado. Living in the Bay Area, it’s hard not to love the outdoors and traveling along the Pacific coast.

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