Temple students spend a lot of time on their computers, but few take time to worry about their safety while browsing the Web.
In one year, an estimated 3.4 million adults are the victims of some form of stalking. One in four is a victim of cyberstalking.
As the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace continues to rise, concern about how safe personal information is on the Internet has also increased.
College students between the ages of 18 and 24 experience the highest rates of cyberstalking.
To promote awareness and education on the subject, January has been named National Stalking Awareness Month.
“Cyberstalking falls from regular stalking. It is a course of conduct and a series of incidents that lead the victim to feel that he or she is at risk or fearful,” said Michael Kaiser, the executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
Cyberstalking can mean harassing e-mails or instant messages, or it can mean surveillance, phone calls, creation of harassing or embarrassing Web sites by the perpetrator and the posting of false information.
National Stalking Awareness Month stresses the importance of smart, preventive behavior of Internet users. Updated anti-spyware, antivirus protection and a firewall are highly recommended. Without them, stalkers may be able to track a person’s username and password.
When in a crowded place like Paley Library, Starbucks or the TECH Center, students should not leave their laptops unattended. Anyone can download unwanted technology, which could lead to victimization, in a matter of minutes.
When using social networking sites, it is important to keep privacy settings turned on and personal profile information at a minimum.
“I would say that living in a society where technology is on the rise and information can be easily accessed, I don’t think putting your name up on the Internet is a problem, but putting something up like your cell phone number or any other personal information makes you a target,” said freshman Kenloy Henry, a mathematics and secondary education major.
Students should make sure their answers to security questions are uncommon and secure passwords using a length of at least eight characters, including both a numeral and symbol.
Cyberstalking has many warning signs.
When computers are infected with spyware, they begin to perform slowly, and users repeatedly receive harassing e-mails. These signs can be followed by someone suspiciously following a person’s whereabouts.
If this happens, it is important that users stop using their computers immediately, open new e-mail accounts and close existing accounts and profiles.
Freshman biology major Angelica Thorne has experienced cyberstalking and harassment on the Web.
A man continuously instant messaged and e-mailed her after he received her screen name from a chat room.
“He wanted to show me pictures, but I just kept saying that I was not interested,” Thorne said. “I eventually blocked him, but he did not give up. He started to e-mail me, and he would not leave me alone. I blocked his e-mails, and he has not contacted me since. This experience was both weird and scary.”
Even if it seems it’s only a minor situation, the case can escalate into a violent crime, so it’s imperative that all cyberstalking incidences are reported to the police.
At Temple, students can report to Campus Police. Tuttleman Counseling Services also offers help to students.
Victims’ services include the National Center for Victims of Crime and www.staysafeonline.org.
Students can actively spread awareness by informing themselves, posting information and statistics on student organizations’ Web sites, hosting poster campaigns, encouraging their peers to read university policies and encouraging the topic to be covered during freshman orientation.
“I think people need to be a lot safer about what they put online,” said freshman Octavia Carr, a criminal justice major. “They need to really think about what they are going to show the world because if they put the wrong things up, they are setting themselves up to be cyberstalked.”
Anne Knorr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.