CNN anchor Anderson Cooper has long been adamant that despite the frequency of stalkers on social media and what he considers an increase in menacing messages on messaging apps like Snapchat, there’s no legitimate way to tell the difference between a person who is a threat and someone who simply expresses their anger online.
Cooper said that people can still get hurt if they engage with random strangers — an ironic observation considering the most common way people get hurt online is by simply sharing personal information, but Cooper was right about the extent to which those interactions can incite violence.
Here are five telltale signs to look for:
Talking in secret
If your fellow work colleagues are asking about you as if you are a spare part, you might want to figure out what’s going on. First off, they might want to talk about getting a drink together after hours. If you refuse to share your personal life, you’ll eventually be added to their list and could become a target themselves. Keep a sense of humor.
Why you are suddenly un-friended
This is another indication that something could be up. You are not a friend to that person anymore. You might have some history with that person. They are just not your friend anymore.
Increasingly risky public activity
If you suddenly spend a lot of time in front of a window, hanging out in crowded places or appearing in a mug shot on an obscure social media site, it might be time to talk with your friends. One recent instance, a 13-year-old boy was stalked by someone whose tweets turned violent, grabbed headlines and inspired policy changes in Tennessee. The perpetrator was charged with stalking, as was his mother. How is he doing?
Online harassment of strangers
If there is a barrage of hostility posted against a person on social media or text message, it might be time to call a friend. Often times online harassment comes with a well-crafted backstory, which could influence how much you believe the information.
A letter, note or spreadsheet might contain a threat. For example, a social media user might send a post about a particular person, show up at the person’s work, or follow them around the city while professing that they are going to kill them. Do yourself a favor: Do not respond or engage. Instead, to diffuse a situation, call an office at least three times and leave a voicemail. They will be taken care of.
As we have learned, there are no cases that are straightforward when it comes to social media, and whether you think that somebody you know is being stalked or you are the victim of a cybercrime is subjective. For those who believe you are an untrustworthy person online, here are four tips for how to stay safe online:
Have a plan. When you need to get information, you should write it down. Pack a bag, find an ATM and remember the code. Do not let yourself be taken advantage of — even if you don’t necessarily trust the person. Think before you tweet.
Stay alert. There is no great way to be 100 percent safe from cybercrime, but you can make sure you are one step ahead. The Federal Trade Commission says that most incidents of “low level cybercrime happen between users of the same social media network, which makes it essential for users to know their friends’ passwords.” The post also recommends using multifactor authentication to protect your information. Look for social media networks that support this feature.
Write down every message. If you notice an increased number of posts or messages sent at unusual times, it could be that a person is stalking you.