Cyberstalkers, the new bullies in town

by Prasad Krishna last modified Jul 04, 2016 02:44 AM
The advent of social media and an increase in accessibility has led to increasing concerns with regard to cyber safety.

The article by S. Poorvaja was published in the Hindu on July 4, 2016. Pranesh Prakash gave inputs.

Bombarded with messages, poems and photographs from a cyber stalker across multiple social networking platforms, Shradha Muralidharan, a consultant in the city, said that being curt and asking the stalker to stop bothering was of no use.

“I initially did not want to engage with him as I was afraid that it would only provoke him more. But then ignoring him did not help as well and I was forced to speak to him. He, however, went ahead and contacted a host of my friends on these sites and asked them if they could introduce me to him,” she recalled.

Cyberstalking is now on the increase with people being flooded with messages and having their information online manipulated and used to threaten them with.

Vandhana,* an engineer from the city, says she thinks twice before posting content online — be it on her Instagram or her Facebook profile.

“Despite having adequate privacy tools, I later found that my photos and other information were being shared by a colleague who was on my friends’ list to his friend, who then proceeded to cyberstalk me,” she said.

What to share?

While multiple tools that social media sites offer do allow people to mute, block or even report people, Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director for the Centre for Internet and Society, said technical restrictions didn’t play much of a part in a situation where information one posts to a private audience is shared further, without their consent.

“Trust plays a large role in what you share online since someone can find a way to get around technological restrictions. While there are some violations that can be addressed by the law, a few cannot be, and it is important for people to be aware of the legal provisions that exist,” he added.

Be it social media meet-ups, Facebook friends catching up outside of the virtual world or web writers meeting to brainstorm ideas, the last five years have seen a gradual increase in such socialising and new safety concerns have cropped up.

Karthika, a chartered accountant from the city who went through an unpleasant experience of being stalked on social media sites and cyber-bullied, said that while the police were helpful when she sought them out, she was also constantly questioned as to why she was befriending people online in the first place.

“I tried not to keep mum about what was happening to me but was also simultaneously told by people that it would seem like I was drawing unnecessary attention to myself if I made public what was happening to me. More people should come forward and support the person who is getting stalked, rather than be intimidated,” she said.

The use of internet, email or any form of electronic communication to contact and harrass a person who has expressed disinterest, and to cause them trauma is what qualifies as Cyberstalking

To prevent misuse of information, social media users can use privacy tools and settings that enable them have a control on who vies their information

With smartphone apps for social media sites that have access to the user's location, caution must be exercised by the user in knowing who is privy to such information

With children being active online as well, the use of parental control softwares that helps monitor the content they share is necessary as they are vulnerable victims to stalking and cyber bullying

Knowledge about the cyber crime laws and where/whom to report incidences of the same to.

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