Staying safe

reading the signs

Cyberstalking’s a word that’s frequently bandied about in the news.

But the real deal really does hurt. These recent reports (“Leandra Ramm’s cyberstalker gets 3 years’ jail“, CNA, 20 Dec 2013; “Cyber stalking case: American singer harassed by Singaporean has written an e-book about it“, Straits Times, 4 Dec 2013; “Singaporean who cyber-stalked US singer Leandra Ramm jailed 3 years”, Straits Times, 20 Dec 2013) bring to light the psychological consequences of exposure to online harassment: symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (“He kept me in a virtual prison”, Straits Times, 23 Dec 2013).

But it can be suggested that two emails of harassment, of any nature, are already one too many. Actually, two too many. Given the serious consequences of cyberbullying on mental health, it’s important to know what to do in that situation.

The case above also raises the issue of being alert to situations in which interactions involve hurtful communications and unhealthy relationships. We may not be stalked by someone with an antisocial personality disorder, which as defined by the Mayo Clinic, is “a type of chronic mental condition in which a person’s ways of thinking, perceiving situations and relating to others are dysfunctional — and destructive“, but we may have come across or had to deal with someone who, to some degree, shows poor respect for others, lacks compassion for others, and is manipulative towards others. It may be someone we spend time with regularly (Psychology Today offers advice on how to gently let go of a toxic friend). It could be someone with whom we have had only online contact with. Either way, we need to recognize a situation for which we want to do something about.

A CNN report offers advice on how to deal with stalkers on the Facebook platform (“How to handle a cyberstalker“, CNN, 21 July 2010), while Yahoo has general tips for dealing with a cyber stalker. And WikiHow has an excellent step-by-step guide. The advice from succinctly states, the first rule is not to engage. It’s excellent advice, but in this digital age, you can protect yourself with one more thing you can use to your advantage: Emails can be automatically filed in a folder you’ve created specifically for the purpose of a) not reading it and b) documenting all correspondence, using keywords in a rule or filter in your email client. The canned response function on gmail is one such example. Finally, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) offers wonderful advice we should heed. Stay safe!