Cyberstalkers Are Difficult to Stop
Lack of Internet regulation benefits cyber stalkers.
Posted December 22, 2017
I never gave much thought to the victims of cyberstalking until I became one. During the month of June 2017, a woman I did not know, who resides in a distant state, began using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to disseminate damaging lies about me.
She also figured out my personal email address, and began to bombard me with messages that ranged in content from sexually explicit to threatening or simply incomprehensible and bizarre.
Her messages were so outrageous and erratic that I quickly suspected she was mentally ill or otherwise unbalanced. She did not conceal her identity. Instead, she invited me to her home to engage in activity that I will not describe here.
My years of training in criminology told me not to respond to her because, in all likelihood, that is exactly what she wanted—my attention and reaction. I knew that any direct response from me would only encourage her to continue or even escalate her assault. Instead, I blocked her on all social media platforms so that she could no longer see my profile or communicate with me.
I also blocked her incoming email messages. Nevertheless, her emails continued, and accumulated in my “junk mail” box at a rate of one-to-two-dozen new messages each day.
By the end of June, my friends and colleagues around the country began to ask me whether I was aware that a woman was defaming me “all over the Internet?” I told them that I was indeed aware, and my defense strategy was to block and ignore her—hoping that she would eventually find a new obsession and stop fixating on me.
Outwardly, I tried to be lighthearted about the situation with my friends and colleagues but inwardly, the situation was beginning to disturb me.
Unfortunately, my strategy of blocking and ignoring my stalker did not deter her, and she continued her daily email and social media assaults throughout July and August. I reported her abusive and defamatory posts to the website administrators at Twitter and Facebook.
To its credit, Twitter quickly took action to censor my stalker’s false public accusations about me. Facebook, however, refused to remove similar lies and defamatory content, despite the fact that a large group of my social media friends and followers reported her abuse to its administrators.
Facebook claimed that the posts did not violate its vague “terms of service” guidelines for abusive content. In fact, Facebook seemed completely indifferent to the damage that was being done to me by my stalker’s lies on its social networking platform. (I also reported my stalker’s abuse of the Internet to the FBI. My report was unanswered.)
By September, it was clear to me that my stalker was not going to stop her harassment and abusive actions. Her email attacks escalated to 30-to-40 threatening or sexual messages each day. In addition, she posted a short video about me on YouTube in which she made the same outrageous and slanderous claims that she was making on the other social media platforms.
Similar to Facebook, YouTube refused to remove the video, claiming that it did not violate its privacy guidelines, despite the fact that it contained my personal information and damaging lies about me.
When it comes to regulating abusive content, the Internet is essentially self-governing, which makes it the cyberspace equivalent of the Wild West. Social media and networking services such as Facebook and YouTube enact content regulation guidelines that facilitate their business models and have little or nothing to do with protecting the privacy rights of the public.
I found out this disturbing fact the hard way.
As my stalker’s harassment escalated in September, I began to receive messages from my business partners and associates who were concerned about my safety and public image. At that point, I realized that I had to take aggressive action in order to protect myself and make my abuser stop what she was doing.
I contacted the local police department in her hometown to file a complaint. Upon seeing all of the evidence I had collected in the form of abusive and threatening emails, and libelous social media posts, a compassionate police sergeant filed multiple criminal harassment charges against her on my behalf. I am very grateful to him because he could easily have ignored my plight.
My stalker was soon arrested and taken into custody. That same day she appeared before a judge to hear the charges against her. A trial date was set for January 16, 2018, and the judge issued a restraining order that forbade her from contacting me or posting about me in the social media. She was then given a psychiatric evaluation and sent home on bail.
The morning immediately following her court appearance, I received a barrage of threatening, new emails from her. She also posted new lies about me in the social media. Incredibly, it had taken her less than 24 hours to violate the court order. It seemed as if she was either deliberately defying the judge or simply so mentally ill that she could not control herself. I suspected the latter.
Her violation of the no-contact order resulted in immediate arrest and revocation of her bail. At the time of this publication, she is sitting in jail and waiting for her trial to begin in January.
This story is not yet complete. In fact, the outcome is quite uncertain because my stalker’s mental competency to stand trial is being evaluated by a court appointed psychiatrist.
Nevertheless, I am confident that I have done everything possible thus far to defend myself against a very disturbed individual—that is, a complete stranger—who is determined to harm me.
I will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect myself in this situation. I will also trust the system and hope that my stalker receives the psychiatric treatment she clearly needs. She is a very sick woman.
I will try to accept the official outcome of this case, as well as my stalker’s fate, whatever they may be. In some ways, accepting an unknown criminal justice outcome is easier than accepting the indifference of social media networking services to the harms of cyber stalking.
If you or someone you love is a victim of cyber stalking, please visit the Stalking Resource Center.
I examine the public’s intense fascination with notorious serial killers, including David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”) and Dennis Rader (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) with whom I personally corresponded, in my best-selling book Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers.
Dr. Scott Bonn is an author, professor, public speaker and media commentator. Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter and visit him at DocBonn.com