Why Does The Internet Enable Such A New, Effective Face for Stalking?
Focused Inquiry, 10 AM Section
October 27, 2014
In this article, I posed the question of why the internet provides such a new, effective face for stalking. To assess this, I first defined cyberstalking—a form of stalking which uses online methodology to compile information which is then used to harass a user both on and offline. I then turned to the two main factors in why the internet allows stalking to take a new, effective avenue: anonymity and transparency. After analyzing these, I countered both in a small paragraph. Lastly before concluding my paper, I talked about how this is an extremely complex issue and will likely require a complex solution.
It wasn’t until the late 20th century that the first legislation against stalking was passed within the United States. After the first legislation was passed, as in most cases, the legislation started to move forward in more leaps and bounds. Stalking legislation wasn’t prepared for the new face of stalking though, the face it found on the internet. The face where stalking was able to become anonymous. That anonymity enable stalking to become efficient and downright scary. The face where people were putting more of themselves out there than ever before, creating a whole new layer of transparency. This is an issue on the rise, and an issue that will soon need a variety of solutions.
According to Sheridan and Grant (2007) cyber stalking is defined as follows: “seeking and compiling information on the victim in order to harass, threaten and intimidate the victim online or off-line; repeated unsolicited e-mailing and Instant Messaging; electronic sabotage such as spamming and sending viruses to the target; identity theft; subscribing the victim to services; purchasing goods and services in the victim’s name; impersonating another online; sending or posting hostile material, misinformation and false messages” (p. 627). As the reader as able to see here, cyberstalking is a problem beyond just an internet avenue for harassment, as they define it with the offline interactions as well. This negates the claim, heard all too often by victims, that users should simply ignore what’s happening (Hess, 2014, p. 206).
In response to this issue, it’s necessary to assess just what causes this issue. There are two major factors that can be analyzed: the anonymous environment the internet provides and the transparency users provide on the internet. These two factors often combat for the guilt in situations of internet harassment or cyberstalking. First, analysts turn towards anonymity as the culprit. In the face of anonymity, it becomes more and more difficult to define the culprit in a harmful—or even criminal—situation. Davenport (2002) says “If people remain anonymous, by definition, they cannot be identified, making it impossible to hold them accountable” (p.34). This means that it becomes impossible on countless levels to persecute the abusers and law breakers. When faced with false internet names and proxies, it becomes extremely difficult to find these users—albeit not impossible if the legal system is willing to introduce the resources—and hold them responsible for their actions. Anonymity detaches the users from their victims, making them ruthless and brave. It is a widely known fact that many experts believe that few, if any, of the individuals who harass others would be capable of doing it in a real life, face-to-face situation. Anonymous users are brave and unafraid as they continue to learn more and more how difficult it is to persecute a criminal who you cannot see.
There is a second culprit as the internet continues to create such an esteemed, effective face for stalking, however. The second culprit in this issue is transparency. Transparency, or the ability to easily be seen through, is on the rise in such a technology based society. In this society, it is common for one to put his or her name, location, picture, work information, school information, and birthday all on Facebook, one of the most common social media apps. This means that given the user has little to no regard for privacy—as most of them do—any abuser could look up the user and find all of the quick and easy information to begin the process of stalking and harassment. Not to mention that fact that any abuser who offers up a little determination is able to find the user’s proxy (and location). Transparency allows the user to keep his or her friends and family up to date, but also the abusers he or she never saw coming.
Many will counter the arguments against anonymity by stating all the good it allows in social media. For instance, with anonymity, the user doesn’t have to worry about being more transparent and easily stalked. With anonymity, college students are able to get on apps like Yik-Yak and express themselves in ways that the founders of our country and constitution never imagined were possible. In contrast, the lovers of transparency—like Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg—will argue that transparency creates a more stable and legalized world. This is known to be true as it has been noticed time and time again that users will not behave as sporadically and crazily if they know that they can be held responsible for it on both social and legal levels. People like Zuckerberg will argue that technology frees users of their faults and keeps them responsible in the face of their actions. It is easily seen, unfortunately, that the lovers and anonymity and of transparency continue to fail to understand how detrimental both can be in the face of stalking. That’s one of the scariest things of all of this.
The internet’s new face for stalking isn’t an issue that will be able to solved simply on a legal level (by finding a way to charge the anonymous) or on a social level (by encouraging internet users to reduce how much they put of themselves out there). This is a multi-causal situation which will require a layers of solutions in years to come, as the problem will evolve with technology and the carelessness of users.
The internet provides such a new effective face for stalking in the face of two major factors: anonymity and transparency. It is not a common occurrence that the problems in a situation are on polar ends of the spectrum, which really emphasizes how complex this issue is in an evolving technologically based society. With a complex problem, complex solutions must be found to assess the damage of a situation. The internet is allowing a lot of scary things to happen, and it is time users begin to look toward the dangers with a weary heart.
Davenport, D. (2002). Anonymity On The Internet: Why The Price May Be Too High. Communications of the ACM, 33-35.
Hess, A. (2014). Why Aren't Women Welcome On The Internet? In Evolving Ideas (2014-2015 ed., pp. 202-213). Plymouth, MI: Hayden-McNeil Publishing.
Sheridan, L., & Grant, T. (2007). Is cyberstalking different? Psychology, Crime & Law, 627-640.