How safe are you behind your keyboard? Samantha Cook and Tallulah Habib delve into the minds of internet stalkers to find out.
It’s just so easy. One click and a couple of mouse scrolls later and you have all the information you need. No, we’re not talking about the answers for your economics tutorial – it’s the relationship status on your crush’s Facebook profile. Single it says? Mental high five! You all know what we’re talking about, because we’ve all done it. After all, what better use is there for Facebook or Myspace than to find out all the interesting information that you would rather not ask for? Innocent enough, but where do you draw the line between innocent investigation and the phenomenon of cyber-stalking? Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone’s unwanted affections? At least one Rhodes student has, and there may be many more. A certain Turkish individual appears to have made quite the impact on campus, but what is puzzling is the fact that he has never even visited South Africa. His Facebook friends list contains a large amount of female Rhodents, despite being a complete stranger to some of them. Just recently he has targeted one student in particular who made it quite clear that his written outpourings of affection were neither wanted nor appreciated. Despite this, he continues to post declarations of love and devotion to her on his own profile, with a determination that is chilling to read. But does this qualify him as a cyber-stalker? Surely not, since he has not attempted to – or threatened to – harm her in any way. Wrong. By definition, a cyber-stalker is an individual or a member of a group that uses information, communication and the internet to repeatedly harass another individual or group, whether threatening or not. Cyber-stalking is different from physical stalking in that the harassment possibly only occurs in cyberspace, and does not pose bodily threat to the victim. However, this does not mean that it’s not traumatic. Cyber-stalking can cause great emotional distress and, of course, what starts out in cyberspace does not necessarily stay there. There have been more than a few reports of instances where the situation has escalated to physical harm, even murder. On the 21st of August, Cary L. Patrick, a 20 year old American, was sentenced to 350 years in prison. He had been stalking a 14 year old girl in another state, but when he learned she had family in his part of the country, he turned his attention to them. At first he spray-painted their house, then he set it on fire. Luckily they survived. Surprisingly such drastic cases are few and far between. Despite the credit that Hollywood gives them, psychopathic stalkers like the one above only constitute a small percentage of stalkers. Most stalkers, according to the FBI, are “intimate partner stalkers” who have a prior relationship with the victim and just can’t let go. These stalkers fall into the category of “bullies”. They are usually emotionally abusive and controlling during the relationship and will not take no for an answer once the relationship has ended. Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Hi5 enable these stalkers to find out exactly what their former partners are doing, and who they are doing it with. A scary thought. The Turkish Rhodes fan however, would probably not fall into this category either. He is more likely to be classified as a “delusional stalker”. His love poetry and kind words may fool you, but his obsessions are not natural. They are symptoms of what is known as erotomania – the belief that someone (usually of a higher social status) is in love with you, even though they have given you no reason to think so. In the past few years, Rhodes has made many adjustments to try and prevent stalking on campus, particularly the cyber kind. Previously an Oppidan directory was available listing every student in digs along with all their details whether they consented or not. Now, instead, we have the optional student directory on ROSS. If you wish to unlist your details from the directory go to https://ross.ru.ac.za/directory/. Photographs of students, once freely available, are now also hidden behind log-ins (which are recorded). While there isn’t a cyber-stalking policy, there are other policies that contribute to the prevention of cyber-stalking. The main one is the Acceptable Use Policy (http://www.ru.ac.za/intranet/policies/rhodes-aup.html) which every student is required to read before accessing the Internet. Rhodes also has the Policy on Privacy and Network Monitoring, the Harassment Policy and a manual on the Promotion of Access to Information Act. Rhodes’ Systems Manager, Guy Halse, suggests that if students feel physically threatened they must go to CPU immediately. Even if they are not physically threatened the University can still help them through the Harassment Officer at the counselling centre. CPU and the counselling centre can then work in conjunction with the IT Division to make sure that the stalking stops and, if possible, the stalker is found. Sidebar: 10 Easy Steps To Growing Your Own Cyber-Stalker*
- DON’T share personal information in public spaces like chat rooms or forums.
- DON’T use your real name as a screen name or user ID.
- DO take a friend with when meeting online friends in person.
- DON’T delete any messages or communication from people you suspect to be harassing you.
- DO report potential cyber-stalkers to your local friendly service provider.
- DON’T respond to any unwanted messages sent by the stalker.
- DON’T imply that he/she may have a chance at a relationship with you.
- DO use your common sense and natural caution.
- DON’T ignore any possible red flags (displays of anger, intense frustration, control etc.)
- DON’T give out your personal phone number to strangers that you have never met.