What Type of Selfies Attract Stalkers?
Posters beware of the perils and pitfalls of showcasing too much information.
Posted Jul 05, 2020
On social media, most of your friends, fans, and followers will view your selfies with interest, admiration, amusement, or whatever other emotion you (hopefully) aimed to innocently inspire. And then, perhaps after giving you a thumbs up or a “like,” they will move on. But not everyone. Depending on who you are, what you are posting, and who is looking, your photographs might prompt unwelcome pursuit.
I have prosecuted stalking cases for over 20 years; It remains one of the invisible yet insidious crimes that notoriously flies under the radar. The age of the Internet has not decreased stalking behavior; it has made it much easier. Cyberstalking victims sometimes find themselves in the terrifying position of wondering if their stalker is on the other side of the world, or on the other side of the cubicle five feet away at work.
We worry in particular about our precious young people posting indiscriminately, and showcasing much more of themselves and their surroundings than they should. Research and news reporting validates our concern.
Friends, Fans, and Followers
Social media posters who have accumulated respectable numbers of friends, fans, and followers are more likely to have eyes on their photos for all of the wrong reasons merely by virtue of statistics. If potential victims make themselves too available or easy to find, they might become targets of unwelcome contact—even physical assault.
Apparently, high-resolution selfies are more revealing than you might think, and could provide more information that you intend, to the wrong people.
According to news reports, a man in Japan studied a selfie posted by a young Japanese pop star so well he was able to deduce an incredible amount of detail; much more than she ever intended to share with her viewing audience. As a result, he was able to gather the information he needed to locate her, and follow her to her residence where he assaulted her.
How? According to the South China Morning Post, he found her through identifying the train station where she took the photo, from the building reflection in her eyes.[i] It is further reported that after using the social media post to locate the station, the perpetrator used Google Street View, along with other details the victim had shared online, to locate her home.
Is this story really true? Consider the reality of enhanced technology. The Post notes that because phone manufacturers continue to enhance the quality of camera features, users are able to capture images that reveal an extraordinary amount of detail, particularly when the user zooms in on the image. So pay close attention to what you are capturing in the background of your selfie, because sharp-eyed viewers might be taking note.
This example is extremely important in today’s world because many people both post images and “check in” from where they currently are, making them easy to find. Unfortunately, according to research, it is not only your “friends” who are looking.
The Prevalence of Cyberstalking
Rebecca J. Drake et al. (2020),[ii] define stalking as a “complex, terrifying and all too often misunderstood crime.” They note that previous research cites prevalence rates as quite high, with one in six women reportedly experiencing stalking during the course of their lifetime. They note that despite these statistics, stalking is still misidentified and in some cases may not properly be addressed by the criminal justice system.
Regarding cyberstalking, Drake et al. note that technologically savvy perpetrators can hide behind technology, making it hard for victims or authorities to prove their identity. We can imagine this is particularly true when victims are unaware of how many eyes are on their postings, especially when they are streaming Facebook live or otherwise posting in a fashion that allows other users to easily track them in real time.
Smart Selfies—If There Is Such a Thing
While it is always great advice to avoid sharing your personal habits with strangers, especially in an amount of detail that makes you easy to find, this is particularly true when you have a large online following. You could at least attempt to mitigate your risk by taking a selfie and posting it at a later time when it is obvious you are now somewhere else (i.e. “Great time at Disneyland last week!”) to prevent someone who God forbid knows where you live from being there waiting for you when you return, or burglarizing your home while you are advertising that you are gone.
Managing your online profile and posting activity requires wisdom and discipline. Pause before you post, and when in doubt, leave it out.
[ii] Dreke, Rebecca J., Laura Johnson, and Jennifer Landhuis. 2020. “Challenges with and Recommendations for Intimate Partner Stalking Policy and Practice: A Practitioner Perspective.” Journal of Family Violence, May. doi:10.1007/s10896-020-00164-2.