Stalking is clearly defined under criminal codes around the world and a good example of the definition of ‘stalking‘ can be found at Section 21(A) of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) as outlined in this link.
Upon review of the legislation relating to stalking it appears to be a broad piece of legislation that has moved with the times to ensure it also covers a course conduct that involves the use of the internet. It is quite clear that under Section 21(A)(2)(ii) that a person who “arouses apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety or that of any other person-with the intention of causing physical or mental harm to the victim to the victim. including self harm, or of arousing apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety or that of any other person” can be deemed to be stalking.
As a practising Attorney I have recently been involved in several matters where Magistrates have referred to ‘stalking’ and it is one of the conditions set in domestic violence or personal safety intervention orders, however law enforcement bodies have limited resources to investigate stalking offences in general.
Whilst the law is quite clear with regards to ‘stalking’ the reality is enforcing such legislation is quite onerous on law enforcement and it appears that only in extreme cases will such matters proceed to court.
It is here that I would like to focus on ‘location stalking’ which whilst it applies to the general public at large it is extremely prevalent amongst celebrities, sporting stars and various other public figures and with social media use being adopted by society the opportunities for persons that engage in such activity will also increase.
The majority of social media users are aware that under various privacy settings in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like that individual location geocodes(1) can be turned off therefore the exact location is not highlighted on a map for all to see. However, where people want to share a momentous occasion or just share a picture for their ‘friends, family, followers, subscribers and fans to see that one picture may in fact identify their exact location.
As a business decision to understand my law practice area and for other parts of my business where my market is heavily involved in social media I am an avid user of social media and use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where I ‘follow’ or ‘fan’ a variety of persons, celebrities, sporting stars and businesses. Most I must say as mentioned previously are conscious of having privacy settings set so that their exact location is not revealed, however simple photographs can give away locations to persons who may be set on ‘stalking’ that individual.
I can appreciate how sporting stars and celebrities are using social media as a way to get their personal ‘brand’ out there and it is imperative that they use social media in a manner that encourages growth of their ‘fan’ base it must however, be front of mind that some photographs that they want to share may best be ‘posted’ 24 hours or so after the event so not to give away their current location.
Constantly I see persons who are very protective of their privacy for security purposes post photographs of locations that to most people in the area would know the location and as an example I have posted my favorite picture of my preferred hotel for when I am in Sydney, the Intercontinental. It is here, this morning I awoke to see a sporting star that I ‘follow’ on Instagram post a picture that was taken at this particular hotel. For the sporting stars ‘privacy’ I have not posted her ‘picture’ but have posted a picture that reveals how a ‘picture’ can pass on your exact location.
Not only can iconic locations give your position away, general landmarks, backdrops of freeway/interstate highways, buildings etc can also assist persons who are set in their ways on ‘stalking’ or just finding out your location, whether it be your workplace, home or favourite restaurant or bar.
We cannot live our lives in ‘bubble-wrap’, we can however be mindful that whilst sharing pictures on social media is part of everyday life for a lot of people, personal safety is an area that needs to be considered before every ‘posting’.
(1) For geographical data to be stored on a map it requires a geocode that contains the address in detail.
With 2013 just hours away, now is the perfect time to sit down with your children and have a family round table and review their social media activity and open communication channels to make sure that all their activity is safe and most importantly enjoyable for them.
Awareness is the key to online safety and by being aware of all the possible dangers out there in ‘cyber space’ places you in a good place to sit down and openly discuss the dangers that may lurk in the world of ‘cyber space’. These dangers are more than just physical threats, they can even be psychological threats and threats from unscrupulous spammers who flood our networks with pornographic links and the like that place material that if sold at our newsstands to minors would be deemed illegal.
Having a thirteen year old daughter who is an active social media ‘early adopter’ I am all too aware of how easy it is now for children to be exposed to these dangers and illicit images and as a parent it is paramount that open communication is maintained to make sure her safety online.
Australia‘s leading and largest telecommunications provider Telstra have an excellent ‘Teenagers & Young Adults’ internet safety page located at http://www.telstra.com.au/abouttelstra/advice/internet/teenagers-young-adults/ that reinforces what most of us have already shared with our children but it is always good to refer back to regularly to make sure that no one in the family has become complacent. The following is a summary of Telstra’s Internet Safety advice:
- Be careful about talking to people you meet online. Not everyone is who they say they are.
- Don’t post, send or share anything you wouldn’t want your parents, teachers, future employers or someone who may be making unwanted advances towards you to see.
- Remember what you post online stays online for a long time – so think before you click!
- Keep your private information private – do not give out personal details online like your birthday or address, even on social networking sites like Facebook.
- Your username and password should belong to you, and only you.
- Remember to change your passwords regularly. Passwords should be completely random and unique, but still memorable. Try using numbers and letters.
- Don’t leave a computer whilst your account is still logged in – anyone could start using it.
- If you wouldn’t say something to someone offline then don’t say it online.
- Monitor your online and mobile usage. Not all content you view online is free to browse. If you’re with BigPond, look out for green dot content as it doesn’t count towards your download limit. Look at your usage meter regularly or think about getting a pre-paid account.
- If you feel like you are being bullied talk to someone you trust – don’t deal with it on your own. Your parents, teacher or even the Kids Helpline can help you. You can call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 – it’s Australia’s only free, private and confidential, telephone and online counselling service specifically for people aged between five and 25.
Friends Fans Likes Followers & The Dangers
Across all social media networks a common perception is the more ‘friends, fans, likes and followers’ one has the more popular they are individually or if the social media page is for a business they appear to have an extended reach in society. However, it is here that the dangers can hide beneath the façade of ‘friend, fan or follower’.
How many of you would meet a person in reality and instantly call them a friend? Yet online people tend to ‘friend’ at a drop of a hat with little or no due diligence performed with regards to checking out who they are actually ‘friending’. Yet time and time again cyber safety warnings constantly remind us all to on friend those we really know.
This area would have to be one of the toughest to reinforce with your children and it is here that your New Years resolution with your children should consider consisting of a regular informal chat over dinner, breakfast or any other time where you actually sit down with your children and discuss what is happening in the world of Facebook and the like. Incorporate social media activity where they openly discuss with you their ‘new friends’ and I would suggest having an informal policy with them that they quarantine all new ‘friend’ requests until you all sit down for your regular family discussion and really identify how well they really know this person or persons.
How you approach this area is most important and I honestly believe if you sit down and talk generically about ‘new friend’ requests regularly without making them feel like they have to tell you all the details of how the request may have come about it is a good way for them to feel like they can open up and discuss the key events surrounding the new friend. At this point you can reinforce how it is ok not to ‘friend’ everyone initially and to just wait until they feel really comfortable with ‘friending them if it is an appropriate person in their network.
Twitter is an excellent business marketing tool and its use with teenagers is increasing and so are the dangers of ‘followers’ either gaining access to your childs personal ‘tweets’ or ‘spamming’ them with links to illicit sites that promote pornographic images and the like.
Once again open communication is the key where you highlight to your children that the amount of ‘friends, followers or fans’ is not a social indicator as to how popular they are. All Twitter accounts for children should be set as ‘private’ and all follow requests should be vetted carefully. Advise your children that the latest trend in social media and Twitter is the ‘Social Imposter’ who impersonate celebrities and the like and if they want to allow a ‘celebrity to ‘follow’ them it is best to look for the Twitter ‘verification’ tick next to their name. Again, it may pay to let them know it is most likely the marketing machine behind the celebrity that is ‘following’ them and not the real teenage heart-throb.
Instagram is virtually ‘Twitter’ with pictures and all your children’s accounts should be set to ‘Private’ and similar ‘follower’ vetting that is applied to Twitter should apply to Instagram following requests. Spam posts are on the increase in Instagram and whilst they are trying to implement safeguards to protect the user experience, your children’s accounts are still vulnerable to unscrupulous persons trying to have your children view their sites.
Encourage your child to share all friend, fan and follower requests with you and if not all at least the ones they feel are a little dubious. Sit down with them regularly and reinforce the importance of online privacy and security and how you really appreciate that they are sharing with you their online activity and that you trust them and value the way in which you all can sit down and discuss the online environment.
Social media is here to stay with constant instantaneous connectivity consuming our teenagers at some would say are alarming levels. As parents we all need to keep abreast of the current trends to ensure we are all aware of any dangers that may lurk behind each social media platform.
Cyber Guardians Online constantly monitors the trends in social media and any threats will be shared with our ‘followers’. Feel free to share this blog post with friends or family if you feel it was helpful and should you subscribe to our blog you will be updated with current trends and threats across all social media platforms.
Social media and effective management of your teenagers daily engagement is at the forefront of every caring parents mind. With the proliferation of social media mediums such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintarest, My Space (yes its making a comeback) just to name a few and instant messaging/communication services such as Skype, Viber, Blackberry Messaging, Whats App and We Chat all providing various means of communication channels for your children it is no wonder parents and school administrators are worried.
However hard you may try to limit access to some or all of these social media and communication channels it is imperative that you keep across what is available to your children and how they interact with each service. One way to start an effective social media and digital communication relationship with your child is to encourage your children to openly communicate with you about each social media and communication medium they wish to install on their smartphones, IPODs, tablets etc and collectively you should review the privacy settings and ensure they are aware that geotagging is switched off in the first instance.
Once you discuss each service and both understand how it works, take a genuine interest in the digital environment that they are using, become active yourself even if only to a small degree as this way it will not appear you are ‘intercepting’ their communication that is in open forums but just being ‘you’ and communicating with your own friends in a forum that your child sees. Of course they like you will have ‘private’ messages and it is here you must establish trust with your child.
Over the next week Cyber Guardians Online will post a blog that will focus on capturing crucial evidence on social media and messaging services and we urge you to watch out for that blog post and share it with your children.
By showing your child how to use effective tools that are at their fingertips on how to preserve any forms of bullying, harassment, intimidation or misconduct for reporting to you and or the relevant authorities is reinforcing to your child that you are working in partnership to ensure their digital experience is a safe one.
It is open communication that is the pinnacle to effective parental/child working relationships with the internet and their have been instances where parents have taken a strong ‘arm’ approach where parents have either disallowed social media or been far too restrictive on its use thus backfiring on the parents. Children are computer savvy at an early age and more than likely know peers that have created ‘phantom’ accounts on Facebook and the like and these ‘friends’ are actively using these accounts. It is here that those children are most at risk in that they know more than likely that their parents do not know about the ‘phantom’ account and engage in online behaviour as if they are ‘bullett-proof placing them in extreme danger.
Previous cases involving children being groomed to meet online older strangers have in a high number of instances come from children defying their parents and having a ‘phantom’ social media account. Kidnappings, sexual assaults and even murders have occurred where persons have either stalked the phantom account holder or lured them to meetings at remote locations.
Whilst Facebook, Twitter and the like are based in the United States and generally coöperate with law enforcement agencies, up and coming instant messaging services are being established at an alarming rate in countries that have limited internet controls or safeguards nor do their governments encourage information sharing with law enforcement making it harder to identify, track and locate persons who engage in criminal activity.
Over the coming weeks Forensic Psychologist Tim Watson-Munro will post a blog with regards to such behaviour and go into detail with regards to this area of social media activity.
Ultimately a good understanding of all your childs digital content and activity and open communication channels will result in your child more than likely enjoying his or her online activity with their peers but will also make it a safer place for them to take part in.
A recent article in the New York Times by Nick Bilton, ‘Girls Around Me: An App Takes Creepy to a New Level’ raises some important questions of whether a person granting access to third-party Apps to their Facebook, Twitter, Four Square etc are really aware what in fact they are granting access too.
We have all experienced it, you see an App on Facebook where usually you are invited by a friend to join and before you know it you have clicked on it and up pops a notice about access to your Facebook account.
Once you have read Nick Bilton’s article below, ask yourself these questions.
- Are we desensitized to understanding the ramifications for granting access to third-party Apps?
- Do we trust the App just because our friends have sent it to us?
- Do our children really understand what access to their Facebook account may show?
Whilst the App has since been removed it is a timely reminder to understand what you are granting access to when you opt in for such Apps via social media.
Most importantly share this information with your children and maybe suggest they check with you before they grant third-part Apps access.