Every situation is different, but it's never your fault. You may feel helpless, but you can take action. Here are some tested strategies for people experiencing cyberstalking or worried that it might happen.
Protect your data
Take care with intimate photos. Phones are easily lost and stolen, which makes their data vulnerable. Transfer sensitive photos to a more secure location, such as a USB stick, as soon as you can. While they are on your phone, encrypt them and keep them in a password-protected file.
Guard your privacy
Hide your location
Think about what you share online. It is very easy to glean information about where you live, the places you love to go to in your area and the people you care about from posts and pictures. Treat your email and/or internet account like you would your credit card, ID or passport numbers – very carefully.
- Create a different email account for site registration. This will help avoid spam, and your personal email won't be revealed if the online service doesn’t have good privacy practices.
- Leave optional fields blank. When registering online, only fill in the required fields and leave certain identifying information such as birthdate blank.
- Use a profile photo that doesn’t identify you. Choosing images that also protect your location can keep you from being recognised or found.
- Choose a screen name that isn't personal. Many people have screen names that do not give away identifying characteristics. You might want to consider a user name that is gender-neutral.
- Never post your personal contact details publicly. And don't share anyone else's. People often post their phone numbers in Facebook comments without considering that everyone else can see it. Use direct messaging instead.
- Search yourself. Do a regular internet search on your name to monitor where you appear online or set up an alert.
- Reset passwords regularly. Yes, it's a pain, but critical. Security-in-a-box has a good chapter on strong passwords and tricks for remembering them.
- Keep your technology updated and secure. Read our tips for tools and install (and update!) the relevant software. Choose open source when you can.
Blog and websites
- Use an alternative address to register domain names. When you register a domain name, your contact information is made public and available for anyone to see. This is a transparency requirement in many countries. While domain proxy services exist for a fee to protect privacy, these have proven unreliable in the face of legal or public pressure to reveal registry information. You might use an organisational address and phone number or one that does not reveal your home location. Create an email account exclusively for managing the domain.
- Don’t post your email address. Instead, create a simple contact form where users can submit their information in order to contact you.
- Move fast to block the stalker. Lots of people don't take action because they think they are overreacting, but repeat attacks may paralyse you. Record incidents (time, place, event). If you take action quickly and block the stalker's opportunities to harass you, they may lose interest.
- Make it clear that you do not want to be contacted. Warn that any further contact will result in a police report. Communication may stop right there. Write once and document it.
- Save copies of all communication. Even though the immediate desire might be to delete the communication and try to forget about it, record-keeping is crucial. Take screenshots and back up evidence on a USB stick or external hard drive. You'll need electronic copies, as the coding that accompanies all cyber communications is the only way to verify authenticity.
- Report, block or filter emails. You can filter a particular email address so that it goes directly to “junk” or to a folder that you specify. That means you don't need to read the emails, but they are still available as evidence. Learn how to turn on filtering and blocking capabilities. Gmail has a reporting mechanism if a stalker is using their email service.
- Block blog and chat room trolls. You can block unwanted chat room contacts by checking the chat room instructions. If you own a blog or website and someone posts harassing comments continuously, you can block them using an ‘IP address block’. Blog providers like WordPress offer installable widgets. Or check with your website provider.
- Unpublish abusive posts, but don't delete them. These are part of the evidence that you will want to provide to the police or the internet provider. If you are receiving harassing phone calls, record them for evidence.
- Contact the stalker's ISP. Contact the harasser's internet service provider. Most ISPs prohibit using their service for abusive purposes. An ISP can often intervene by directly contacting the stalker or closing the account. Document this contact.
- Ask a friend to moderate abusive comments. Save your energy for what is important and have trusted friends moderate the crap.
- Go to the authorities. More women being harassed online are choosing to go to the authorities, which has led to changes in legislation. If the harassment involves hate groups, threats of death or bodily harm and/or public postings of your location or contact information, you should contact law enforcement right away. The more evidence you have collected, the faster they can act.
- Get emotional support. Tell your family and friends you are being stalked. Their support is critical during the stalking and in the aftermath to help you cope.
- Inform your employer if necessary. If you think this person may harass you in the workplace, it's important to notify your employer. Your boss will be more likely to back you up if they later receive communication from the stalker, and they may be able to mitigate professional damage and providing evidence.