Sabrina Fortier* didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she started dating a young Spaniard on an exchange. They agreed to not pursue a long distance relationship, but to stay friends. They kept in touch on Skype and through Facebook. But soon things began to get creepy.
When the Concordia graduate student started refusing his Skype calls, he got in her face. “He called my house phone and yelled at me for ignoring him,” she said. “How he got my home phone? I don’t know.”
The young man started spamming Fortier on Facebook, demanding to know why she didn’t take his calls. He got her address somehow; he sent her a package of cured meats and jewelry.
“One year after I took him off Facebook and Skype and everything else, I ‘run into him’ at a party in Toronto!” she said. The man had apparently befriended a friend of Fortier’s through Facebook, got her to invite him to Toronto, and was staying at her place. Fortier said she left the party “disgusted and scared.”
Fortier had a stalker, and it wasn’t some stranger she didn’t know.
Stalking, which is defined as when an individual frequently intrudes on another person’s life in a way that can be perceived as threatening, has likely been happening for a long time, but cyberstalking is a new phenomenon.
Many use social networking to keep tabs on others; a 2011 study by Brian Spitzberg at San Diego State University found 84 per cent of undergraduate students say that they use social networking sites to monitor their romantic partner’s activity.
Big Brother-like activities range from the seemingly benign, like looking at a partners’ comments or pictures on Facebook, to the obsessive, such as hacking into Facebook profiles to check on private messages.
Another study from East Carolina University found that five per cent of male and two per cent of female undergraduates have used webcams to keep an eye on their significant other.
Technology is changing the way people interact: social networking sites are increasing interactions, and dating websites’ numbers are exploding. But the news isn’t all good for love in the information age, as social media also fuels jealousy.
According to Spitzberg, “There is some evidence to suggest that social media add new incentives to the experience of jealousy because they increase the ability to monitor, lurk, and snoop.”
Uncertainty about a relationship (How much does he like me? Is she seeing someone else?) causes anxiety. People try to alleviate this anxiety by seeking information to dispel doubts about their romantic partner.
Concordia graduate student Anne Lovell* said that she checked a boyfriend’s email account because she was insecure about his relationship with an ex-girlfriend. “I also checked it a few times again after we broke up because I wanted to know if he had moved on,” she said.
Although it may feel like figuring out what a current lover or ex is up to will relieve anxiety, social media is often equivocal. “Every new piece of information provided by social media has about equal opportunity to increase uncertainty as it does to decrease it,” said Spitzberg.
With 72 per cent of young adults using social networking sites, and with these sites becoming an essential tool in our interpersonal interactions, it seems unlikely that the uncertainty-information-uncertainty cycle will subside. So what to do?
The key is to find the right balance between what goes public and what stays private. “We need to know about others because we can benefit and learn from them but we also have a fundamental need for privacy,” said Spitzberg.
Perhaps it is just a question of a new media social revolution that has yet to be harnessed. “The thing about media is that it is also part of the solution; as means of invading privacy increase, means of protecting privacy increase,” said Spitzberg.
Concordia students seem to know how to set up the right barriers. Jean Crevier, investigator in the university’s security department, confirmed that no cyberstalking incidents have been reported this year.
Mike Babin, director of infrastructure and operations at IITS, Concordia’s information technology department, says that they have revoked student accounts due to harassment, but that it has been rare. In a few cases, the harassed student was redirected to the police.
When harassment happens in cyberspace or through email servers that are not regulated by the university, it is unclear who should take responsibility.
“Lets say a person is using a computer at Concordia but the harassment is happening on their Facebook page, well then it’s not really a Concordia issue,” said Babin.
Concordia security’s role in situations where a student feels threatened is guidance or counselling, says Crevier. He has had discussions with students as to what is on their Facebook pages and how it may be contributing to unwanted attention.
With a medium with so few rules and regulations, Spitzberg suggests that the power is in our hands. Each individual needs to be motivated and knowledgeable in their use of technology in order to be able to protect themselves.
While in Toronto, Fortier’s stalker used Facebook to track her movements, probably to arrange ‘accidental’ bump-ins. She had to threaten to call the police. Her friend finally kicked him out of her house when she found out his ulterior motive. Finally, Fortier never heard from him again.
She is more careful on Facebook now. “If someone new asks to be my friend and we’ve only met once, I don’t usually accept,” Fortier said.
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.
Tips to be stalker free:
-Tell your friends not to share any of your private information in public areas
-With any sign of cyber harassment, block the person and send a report to Facebook. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
-Change your privacy settings to the most private setting
-Accept strangers on Facebook
-Share your password with anyone. You never know when the relationship could turn sour and friendly sharing could turn into spiteful hacking
-Reveal your phone number or address anywhere
-Rub your relationship information all over Facebook. People are naturally attracted to drama and this will encourage snoopers to stalk your boyfriend/girlfriend
-“check-in” everywhere you go on Facebook. This is practically an invitation for stalkers to coincidentally show up at the same place you’re at
By: Paola Rivas