How the Digital Age Is Lending Itself to Cyberstalking and Trauma
In today’s age, there are many ways to follow people and keep up with their personal lives online. Certain platforms such as Twitter even use the term “follow,” and on Facebook, you can find friends and acquaintances from years ago.
This all seems pretty harmless at first … until you experience your very first cyberstalker.
First, I’d like to establish what I mean by the term “cyberstalker.” A cyberstalker is not someone who follows you on social media from their own accounts, nor is it someone who excessively communicates from their main account.
While excessive communication can be unpleasant, sometimes it can stem from someone feeling angry or as if you have not heard them out. This can be solved by simply blocking the person. Even if you block someone on social media, if your account is public, it’s not stalking if they log out and look at your social media. We should be careful not to confuse lurking with stalking.
Cyberstalkers usually take their “following” to a whole new level, even after they have been blocked or told to cease communication with the victim.
Most of the time, cyberstalkers will figure out your email, (without you publicly announcing it), they will create fake accounts on all the social media platforms you’re on, message your family, friends and find you on other websites, incognito. They also go to great lengths to gather private information about your personal life and post it all over the internet so others could have a go at it. They are bullies by default.
The first thing to understand is cyberstalkers are usually battling some issue of perception and obsession with their victims. They can’t take no for an answer, nor can they accept you want nothing to do with them. They get to a point where even being your enemy is good enough reason to continue because they are still connected to you, somehow.
If you’re like me and can’t stand to be anonymous online, then you are probably pretty open on your social media. I made the mistake of being too open and welcoming with my social media accounts and this made me susceptible to those with ill intent to stalk and use information against me. One thing to remember about social media is even if people are not sending you likes or messages, it does not mean you’re not being watched.
I’ve had a few cyberstalking incidents, but the one from last year was the most notorious. The latest cyberstalker escalated his stalking into stealing pictures from different people and creating multiple fake accounts online, also known as catfish accounts, to add me and any man they saw me interacting with on my profile. When I would block one account, another would show up.
For awhile I kept it to myself and worked behind the scenes to de-escalate the situation, but it didn’t work. A few of my male friends ended up adding my stalker, who was also male and they begin crossing more lines I thought possible. I then had to disturb those friends with warning messages for the past several years because the stalker would reach out to their friends and family with lies concerning my relationship to the people on my friends list.
After repetitive incidences concerning me and the different accounts the stalker made, my friends started seeing me as being part of an ongoing drama and started becoming annoyed by my rants of frustration. I started feeling isolated.
In my case, those close to me know I already battle intense emotions due to borderline personality disorder (BPD). And what makes matters worse, is the stalker knew this information already and attempted to use it against me.
I became distraught and depressed. The stalker would email me from different email addresses on my personal blog, resulting in me having to temporarily shut it down. I also ended up deleting my Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as having to start over on Youtube. The stalker had subscribed to my new Youtube channels and I had no idea how he found them. Eventually, I had to change my phone number and email addresses.
The stalker ended up admitting to being obsessed with me and creating fake accounts to spy on me, but instead of apologizing and owning up to the behavior in a mature manner, he laughed at my distress and claimed I was in love with him because I expressed anger. He also picked a fight with a male friend of mine he tricked on one of his fake accounts, as well as emulated my speech while talking to him.
My friends became overwhelmed and tired of my constant paranoia in which this cyberstalker induced upon me and they didn’t want to hear my constant distressing rants about him.
“Just block him,” they would say, not realizing it wasn’t that easy. Each time I would block the stalker, he would return with a brand new fake account. While it is true one should try to ignore it, it is also bothersome to see a stalker attempting to trick those you care about into adding him. At that point, some would say, “If it is so bad, get off of social media.”
The truth is, everyone has the right to feel safe enough on social media without having to worry about people creating multiple fake accounts, contacting friends and family and so forth. The stalker even expressed the feeling of wanting to harm everyone on my friends list out of jealousy and threatened to come down to where I live.
My friends and acquaintances had no idea the turmoil I had been going through, nor how lonely it was to deal with that all alone. The constant attacks from my cyberstalker last year led to some very grave consequences on my and others’ behalf. The situation was so damaging to me, I ended up losing my temper and taking my anger out on those I love, as well as losing contact with friends I’ve had for years.
I felt angry, alone, sick and isolated. Everyone I had tried to warn about the stalker was either unresponsive or passive about the severity of it and the impact. I was coming across as dramatic, argumentative and so forth. I wasn’t anything like myself. I started seeing those around me as fake friends and as though they weren’t there for me when I thought they should have been. I snapped.
I didn’t have anywhere to turn and I had become angry at everyone involved and ended up doing something to a few people who didn’t deserve it. My reaction could have ruined others’ lives and reputations, but because I didn’t know how to handle the situation at the time, I performed actions those weeks I can never take back.
In the end, the cyberstalker got what he wanted and I lost my contacts, gained trauma and was considering suicide last year.
After the entire thing, the stalker continued to taunt me all the way until I deleted my social media accounts. I ended up taking a long hiatus from social media, changed the names I go by online and took a break from writing any articles here.
After I overcame my physical illness and deleted my social media, I realized how traumatized I was by those years of being cyberstalked. Any time I saw anything that could remind me of the stalker, I went into a crying fit and was struggling heavily with suicidal thoughts.
On top of that, those involved with the incident might be a bit squeamish as well. It was a traumatic event that caused branches of other traumatic events. I almost completely ruined the lives of others because I was angry at the time. I thought they weren’t there for me, and where they should have been responsive — even if it was a, “hey don’t worry,” — they weren’t.
I now understand there is no excuse for my actions. Even though I was dealing with a lot, I handled the situation in the most unacceptable way and I am still striving to forgive myself for what I’ve done. I lost all of my friends and I am now starting over again.
I’m a woman with anxiety so the internet provides me some relief from that, which is why I love writing blogs and using social media like Twitter and such. So you can imagine how frustrating it was to feel the need to delete my last outlet for connection and self-expression. Even that was taken away.
Since then, I have been healing from the impact, apologized to those I’ve hurt and have learned the hard way how to handle such situations. These days, I use aliases to detour stalkers from finding me and I am now monitoring who I communicate with. I advise people online not to use their full government names. Think of a good nickname because the internet can be a scary place and if you’re as unlucky as I was in this situation, it can be completely damaging to your mental health and relationships.
Cyberstalking can induce a paranoia one never had before. After this event, you may feel uncomfortable with new people you meet. You could instantly be taken back to the time period in which the entire situation happened and be traumatized all over again.
The impact cyberstalking has on people’s lives is incredibly downplayed by society, but in a world growing in communication via technology, this needs to be addressed much more frequently.
I was one of the lucky ones in that I have emotional endurance. However, for some people, cyberstalking can lead to suicide. Social media platforms should do a better job at putting rules in place for the inevitable future: the complete age of technological communication.
Getty image by Wavebreakmedia