Online Stalking: Jargon or Not, It’s No Laughing Matter

Somehow the word ‘stalking’ has folded into the teen (and even adult) vernacular to mean someone who is annoying on social media but really isn’t a threat.

‘Stalker’ has gradually become more of a lighthearted term to describe someone online who pays ‘extra special’ attention to your social profiles and at worst, is annoying. Its meaning hovers somewhere in teen talk between ‘creep’ and ‘crush.’ The (alleged) ‘stalker’ might go through your Instagram photos and “like” every photo. He or she might leave comments on your Facebook page within minutes of you posting, or they may just be overly enthusiastic to connect with you more than even the people who know you know well. This version of a ‘stalker,’ is more doating than dangerous.

Kids use the term as an insult in phrases such as, “OMG, she is such a stalker,” or even as a term of endearment when introducing a friend, “don’t mind him, he’s just my stalker.”

And therein lies the rub.

Diminishing the true meaning of the word ‘stalker’ means our kids may let their guards down online and miss the threat altogether.

Today online stalkers range from the annoying jilted boyfriend, to the co-worker with a crush, to the physically dangerous stranger who pursues you on and offline or the mean girl who is obsessed with defaming another girl. Serious stalking cases are well documented online and are no laughing matter.

So the next time your son, daughter, or grandchild jokes about a stalker, just take a minute and make sure they know how to distinguish annoying from dangerous.

5 warning signs of a cyber stalker 

1. They are everywhere you go online multiple times a day and often reach out personally to you with instant messages, emails, texts, or in chat rooms.

2. They ask personal questions and inquire about things such as hobbies, friends’ names, favorite colors/foods, and where you go to school.

3. They know information about your life you never shared with them.

4. They ask you why you have not responded to their emails, messages, etc.

5. They leave inappropriate or sexual photos or comments about their victim on boards, blogs, and texts.

Remind your child to make his online profile private and to only accept friends he knows into his digital circles. Remind him to keep his friends list hidden and change his password often. Frequently, a true cyber stalker will befriend the “friends” of their victim to gain information, influence, or spread rumors. A cyber stalker can also steal their victim’s identity so keeping personal information hidden and passwords strong is a must.

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes. (Disclosures)

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