The Jakarta Post -- WEEKENDER | Thu, 01/29/2009 7:45 PM |
It may come as a shock to blissfully naive Internet users everywhere, but according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there are at least 500,000–700,000 predators “online” on a daily basis. By predators, they don’t mean man-eating creatures from another planet, but regular people who look a lot like the guy or girl next door with dark designs you never guessed at.
You may scoff when superstars respond in panicked outrage after their devoted-fans-cum-stalkers reportedly try to enter their homes or, worse, push them off a ledge. However, when the same happens to you or someone you know, there’s little chance you’ll react any differently.
In 2006, Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler and analyst, provided a commentary on MSNBC that confirms “online stalkers” are very serious threats for both adults and children. (In 2000, the U.S.-based Crimes Against Children Research Center noted “one in five youth received a sexual approach or solicitation over the Internet in the past year”.)
“Internet predators sometimes attempt to pass themselves off as a peer of [someone] they meet on the net,” writes Van Zandt. “…They constantly [comb] through blog sites, [crawl] around in Internet chatrooms and online dating services, pretending to be someone and something they’re not.”
Well, that’s pretty much everyone we know who’s got a little bit of time to spare and nothing else to do but cruise the net with a fake identity. Public chatrooms are full of such “idle cruisers”, not to mention online dating sites. Most of them are harmless, and lack both the time and the will to stalk someone they casually bump into in cyberspace. The worst they will do is engage their “potential cyber suitors” in a phony relationship, treading the fine line between white lies and personal fun. Hardly noble, of course, but not criminal, either.
The wisest solution is to treat every anonymous person online with the same suspicion and regard, applying the theory of “everyone is guilty until proven innocent”. Because of the nature of cyberspace – infinite in size and untraceable therein – we can’t single-handedly sort out the “bad guys” from the “jokesters” even if we tear at each optic wire that connects us to the Internet.
Here’s a few tips to keep safe and secure on the Net:
Blogging is fun, because you can write about anything your heart desires, from your childhood crush to your annoying roommate. Never before in the history of diary writing has the world been so keen to expose their lives to the general public. But, whether or not you realize it, you have just given potential stalkers from here to the North Pole access to your personal information.
“What many [predators] want is to develop a level of rapport that will allow them emotional intimacy and ultimately physical contact with their new ‘victim’,” says Van Zandt, in his commentary piece titled Beware of Cyberstalkers. “What they need to develop this relationship is information.”
Van Zandt advises bloggers everywhere to “think of anything that you write or post on a blog as you would a large tattoo your forehead”.
So, on your next blog, remember to remove all personal and identifiable information which may end up being used against you, such as birthdays, photos, phone numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, etc.
Ignorance is Bliss
Do NOT respond to anonymous or disturbing emails. Anything that threatens or spams is better ignored and deleted. While it is sometimes safer to acknowledge and report, most predators are just waiting for their prey to take the bait. Any response may cause you to inadvertently give out certain information about yourself.
“Giving an assailant enough information to track you down, or consent to meet the wrong person, your mistake may be fatal,” says Van Zandt.
This is a tactic that has been used many times and proves to be somewhat fruitful in swatting off online stalkers and predators. The longer you keep them at bay, the more frustrated they get, and the sooner they move on to other things (hopefully not to the next victim). According to the National Center for Victims of Crime in the U.S., “stalkers are often thrilled by making their victims angry and laying down a guilt-trip on them. With each response, the threat escalates to a worse level.”
Do not threaten them, either. That only makes them want to “convert” you even more into believing whatever they want you to believe. Stalkers are a special breed: they actually love being threatened, mostly because they know they have the upper hand. That is, unless you have your own personal cyberguard.
Trouble in Paradise
Learn to recognize a stalker or predator. In cyberspace, love seems to grow out of digital trees and shower us with affection every minute of every day. The phrase “I love you” has become the lingua franca for “online buddies”, as is “I need you” and “I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you”.
Forget the images of stalkers portrayed by Hollywood, because most of them appear nice and prove to be great listeners (this is how they get you). When it comes to stalkers, what you see is almost never what you get – so pay attention.
Van Zandt warns, “Although you could meet the man or woman of your dreams via a blog or Internet dating site, you could also meet the person of your nightmares.”
Online relationships may be the big thing right now, but it’s probably wise to treat them as any other relationship: with caution. In the real world, you wouldn’t buy the words “I love you” from someone who you just met yesterday, would you?
+ Maggie Tiojakin