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Teenangels / Scrapbook / Articles / Cyberstalker Stopping by Teenangel Lisa

Cyberstalker Stopping by Teenangel Lisa

Is a sixteen year old girl walking alone at night in a short skirt on the bad side of town an easy target for abuse? Of course. Is she asking for it? Of course not. While it would be wrong to say anybody "wants" to be a victim and completely diluted to believe that anyone would "ask" for abuse, it would also be foolish to deny that certain behaviors make a person a more susceptible target, specifically naiveté. Since some abuse is preventable, every young woman is taught certain universal rules like not walking alone at night and avoiding bad neighborhoods. Women often follow such rules because they feel vulnerable; they know that many men could take advantage of them if they had the inclination. And in a modern world when serious risk exists not only on the streets, but also online, are there certain rules people should be following to make themselves less vulnerable? And is the degree to which they follow these rules similarly based on perceived risk and how easily they believe they could be victimized?

Cyberstalking is a modern problem where people use the Internet to follow, spy on, research, harass, or spread rumors about their victims. And since the Internet allows a stalker the ultimate in identity protection, as they can watch their victims unnoticed from across the hall or across the country, a victim is often not aware that they are being followed, let alone by who. As a result, Internet users generally do not feel vulnerable because they are completely unaware if they have been watched or followed and by who.

Since perceived risk is low, many people engage in risky Internet behaviors and most users do not see a need to explore or utilize the many safety options that have been installed by their Internet providers. By never learning how to manipulate these options, people make themselves easy targets for abuse.

The first step in curbing cyberstalking would be educating Internet users. They should be advised about the high risks of creating profiles on searchable databases like America Online, a University Web site, or a private service like Friendster. A user who does this is making personal information about him or herself accessible to anyone who has the time and inclination. People should remember that any and all information they choose to post on a profile is public. For this reason, posting one's address, phone number, picture, or any personal information includes a certain amount of risk which is rarely acknowledged by the Web sites. Avoiding other risky behaviors only takes common sense. While few people would engage in long or personal conversations with complete strangers, many Internet users foolishly believe it is safe to use chatrooms and to accepting emails or instant messages from strangers on the Internet. It is only by accepting that real risk exists on the Internet that users will respect that certain universal rules of behavior should apply online as well as in life.

Once they accept how risky the Internet is, users will be more willing to learn about the many safety and privacy options that exist, most of which go unnoticed. Instant Messenger, for instance, offers a variety of different privacy and protection options which often go unutilized. Users have the option of blocking all Internet users except the people they specifically list from knowing whether and when online and from seeing their profiles, but few people do this. Another setting stops other users from knowing how long you have been online and if you have gone idle, but this is also rarely used. Friendster allows users to qualify and choose who can access their profiles and to what extent. These features demonstrate that protection is, indeed, attainable and only requires interest on the part users.

In addition to "preventative medicine," resources should be made available that advise people what actions to take once they become aware that they have been targeted. People should know, for example, to immediately block users who seem aggressive and should be advised to make a new screen name if necessary, an easy action which yields a great deal of protection. Internet stalking must also be taken seriously and should be reported to online protection services or to the police if other actions are ineffective.

There are many factors in life which are uncontrollable. Luckily, the Internet generally is. Users have many options and services that allow them to pick and choose if, how, and to whom they disseminate information. It is only once people learn their options and begin to realize how many threats come along with the benefits offered by online services that they will begin to use and rely on said services and options as a fundamental and necessary form of protection. By taking such actions, users will have an active role in separating the violent tendencies that often accompany sexual desire or obsession.

Teenangel Lisa

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