Would You Die For The Glory Of Russell's TeapotSocial media is great. Social media brings people together. Social media opens the conversation. Social media puts you in the eyes of the world. Social media gives you a voice.

All true. All valid. All beneficial.

But what happens when the eyes that social media puts you in front of aren’t the friendly kind? What happens when being transparent in social media opens you up to harassment, abuse and virtual stalking?

Sadly it’s a very real problem. Even sadder, some of the social networks seem very slow to react to this problem. Does this mean they’re not taking it seriously, and if so, will virtual stalking be the straw that potentially breaks the social media camel’s back?

Online Friend? Case Study

People are friendly by nature. We want to connect and meet others – it’s in our genetic make-up. The last few years have made this easier than ever.

Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Ning, MySpace, Friendfeed and more open up the world to us. Our blogs are our own private community in a public setting. Online forums and chat rooms mean there’s no such thing as physical walls or barriers.

Which makes targeting someone easier.

Karen* is a blogger who owns her own business and also runs a Moms community online. It allows other bloggers to take part in community discussions, write, sell and buy products and generally acts just as an offline community would.

Last year, she invited a new girl to join the community. For Karen, this is what happened next:

  • Her business was reported as unethical and fraudulent on Ripoff Report
  • The girl set up fake social network accounts to spread lies about Karen’s business
  • Karen is followed on every network and forum by the girl, who publishes false information on Karen and her business

These are just some of the ways Karen has been targeted.

Why doesn’t she have the lies taken down from Ripoff Report or contact the police? Unfortunately, the owner of Ripoff Report Ed Magedson seems more interested in traffic to his site than actual facts being reported.

I’ve written about why Ripoff Report is just as big a ripoff before, and the fact that the site won’t take down old reports says it all about their integrity.

As far as Karen reporting her stalker to the police, she’s more afraid for her little girl’s safety as well as the continued anguish cross-state law cases would cause. The cost is prohibitive as well.

Karen isn’t the only example. On Twitter, I’ve seen first-hand examples of guys throwing sexual abuse at female users, with graphic descriptions of what they’d like to do to the user. I’ve seen other users bombard accounts with profanity, racial slurs and more.

I know that these cases have been reported to Twitter’s support team and nothing’s been done about the abuser, who instead continues to add new people to their account to abuse further. This says a  lot about the customer service support that sites like Twitter has. Or doesn’t, as is abundantly clear.

We’ve also read the stories about suicides from MySpace bullying and Facebook groups spreading malicious and hurtful lies.

So what’s the answer? Some people have suggested that the very transparency that is advocated on social media is part of the problem. By offering too much information, we’re feeding the abusers and the harassers and the stalkers.

Is this true? Can our openness be used as an excuse for virtual abuse? Personally I don’t buy into that argument. I can see why it’s suggested but no excuse can make up for the type of mental anguish people are put through for being honest.

I don’t have the solution. But there are questions that can be asked to work toward a solution.

Do we make it more difficult than just signing up with a false email account? Should social networks be more pro-active at responding to reports of abuse? Can we as a community highlight and name and shame abusers?

Websites like Jodi’s Voice help raise awareness but they’re currently the few among the many abusers.

Like I said, I don’t have the solution. It’s clear that one is needed though, before the likes of Karen and others like her become another real-life statistic from a virtual hate campaign.


* Karen is a pseudonym to protect the real identity of the person behind her. Her stalker has admitted to Karen that it’s jealousy behind her hate campaign. It’s still continuing today.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Dude Crush

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32 Comments on "Virtual Stalking – A Real World Problem for Social Media"

Social Media: Your Private Life Made Public! | Orange County Private Investigator Blog
1 year 5 months ago

[…] Well, every tweet, image, video, comment, or blog that you post is kind of a micro-chapter of your public profile that anyone can access online. Sure, you created it for your friends, family and colleagues but it is also out there for other people with less virtuous interests. Social media are prone to internet lurkers and are leading to a real world problem like virtual stalking. […]

Jacek Becela
5 years 6 months ago

Brilliant, I really enjoyed reading this post. Online stalking is a problem, a person in my family was being stalked. I wonder how many of commenters was having such problem among friends and family…

5 years 8 months ago

I had an online stalker since 2001 up until 2008. Apart from stalking me he also impostored my real name and attacked members of the following website, he published hundreds of malicious, defamous and libelous posts about me on the same website, all ending up in google searches. Through his activities i received death threats from around the world. He made a big mistake one day on where he did the majority of his stalking. He posted in their forums under the pseudonym 'ronnielockstock' and from certain things he said in the post i knew for sure now who my stalker was. I googled his alias, and over several weeks found years old posts he had made on various websites using that alias, that were very interesting and mentioned other aliases which i searched and found even more. One of the posts revealed certain information that proved to me who he was, i then googled his real name and found more interesting information. in 2007 i presented certain information to my local police and this led to him getting a harassment notice, but it did not stop him, just fired him up to do more, and it got much worse. At one point, his antics started a war on saatchi and they closed down their forums, blogs and chatroom several times for long periods. Eventually i had enough information early 2008 to return to the police, and in april it resulted in him being arrested, not once, but twice. I have found out a lot more about him since.

What he did to me destroyed my life, career and reputation, and i will never ever forgive him.

5 years 10 months ago

hello. i read your article and found it useful and gave me some incite. i am a victim of harrassment and a stalker. i have 2 order of protections in real life, but i have not enough proof for the cyber stalking. all i do is print out the info, and report the person with fake names to facebook and to myspace. i dont know what else to do. i hate that he is getting away it breaking the orders, and the cops wont help me. do you have any advice for me? also, i would also love to help other victims like me out there. thank you!

Danny Brown
5 years 10 months ago

Hi Mary,

I’m sorry this is a problem for you, and that the networks don’t seem to be helping (or in a position to help).

One of the best options is to visit this site:

It is the world’s largest resource for cyber bullying and online harassment and has a multitude of resources available.

I hope it helps, and my sincerest wishes your situation is resolved.

5 years 10 months ago

Thank you, Danny, for raising the issues of stalking and harassment on social networking sites. These issues are much larger than most realize. I constantly struggle to balance the online expectations of transparency with my personal need for online privacy and security. I wish I knew a good solution to the problem. In my experience, many abusers, stalkers and bullies are adept at leveraging information and technology for their hateful purposes. Information is power, and these types are all about power and control.

I dealt with a very tech-savvy stalker (and hacker criminal type) who made my online and offline life hell for a couple of years. More recently, I was unfairly maligned by bullies from an apparently disreputable, yet highly regarded and successfully marketed nonprofit organization with whom I previously volunteered. Both situations leveraged buddy lists and online communities to magnify the effects and reach of bullying and harassment.

Bullies and stalkers will always be bullies and stalkers. Obviously, social networking increases the reach, efficiency and effectiveness of their negative activities. Most bullies, stalkers and abusers are not fringe types, by the way. They are often popular and public figures in an online (or offline) community. The usually have large networks and are skilled at twisting perceptions and flying below the radar.

The details one provides online do enable those haters to cause damage in a myriad of ways. I choose to speak the truth, shine a light on bullies and abusers, and block or ignore all those who participate in OR otherwise enable negative activities of that sort. Sometimes that makes me the bad guy and odd man out, but I sleep very well and am happy with the difference I make in the world. It would be great to see more doing the same. Most don’t want to get involved.

Thanks again for your thought-provoking article.

5 years 10 months ago

That’s really sad to hear, Christy, and the fact that a non-profit could act this way is equally as upsetting.

It makes me wonder at times whether some bullies do so without realizing that’s exactly what they’re doing, or if it’s always calculated?

Either way, you’re right – we need to take a stand and highlight these issues as opposed to hoping they just go away.

5 years 10 months ago

Yes it is upsetting and disappointing. If you knew the entire story about that non-profit group you would be quite appalled. In those two cases it was quite calculated, but I imagine that is not always the case.

Global Patriot
5 years 10 months ago

It’s quite sad that such abusive situations occur in today’s social media, but it’s an age old problem going back (I’ll date myself here) to bulletin boards and then in chat rooms. I think there is a dynamic in which people commit these acts online because they can hide behind their monitor and mouse – they typically wouldn’t do such things in public.

As to the social media sites, they absolutely need a dedicated department to handle abuses and complaints, suspending accounts that engage in any uncalled for behavior. It’s no different that a bunch of us showing up in a bar or restaurant to have a conversation. If someone gets out of line the bouncer/manager/bartender asks them (or forces them) to leave.

Kimberly Saia
5 years 10 months ago

I think maybe some have no problem treating us the same in public.

“It’s no different than a bunch of us showing up in a bar or restaurant to have a conversation.”..Actually, it is different.

In an offline atmosphere, the supposed offense is viewable and likely supported by persons which have no incentive to lie or relation to one another. Online, it is frequently the opposite and claims against someones supposed fouls, can (and does) harm innocent and otherwise productive members of communities. Those sorts of resolves are not hindrances to determined haters and gangs who are more than willing to email 100 friends asking them to terrorize you.. the abusers call it “Reputation Management”.

5 years 10 months ago

Morning Danny

How you doing Grt post

Danny I have an intresting take on the situation; blocking is indeed the right way to go for most.

Ignoring is a grt way for ohers

Taking them to court or getting them removed off a sight or reporting them to the social or police are definetly ways to go.

But here is the real problem wih all of the above tactics they do not learn, and they move on and become someone ele’s issue.

Tthe individuals and the problem of what basically are just schoolyard bullies, is an age old one. We all knew the schoolyard bully and we all know someone who was harrassed by them. Danny it’s kinda like your noisy neighbors. No matter how hard you ignore, you try to block out you really accomplish nothing more than sending them away, letting them be someone else’s problem.

We need to remember how the school yard bullies learn thier lessons. By meeting someone bigger stronger, tougher, and meaner. The best way to handle a social bully is not to make them someone’s elses but with creativity, an inventive spirit, and sharper wit. Be so nice they get the message. Let them be the one who blocks, ignores, and runs.

Because when they recieve a lasting memory than perhaps the next time they may do it; they may remember WOW That smarts

Perhaps no, Perhaps yes, but usually until they experience they wont learn.

Maybe warped thoughts or a warped way to deal with it. But then you know me Danny


5 years 10 months ago

It’s an interesting take and certainly relates to the school bully mentality.

The only “problem” I can see is that at least in school you had a physical being to “target” with recourse; online it’s less obvious who you’re dealing with.

Anonymity gives a lot of power that the abuser may not have felt otherwise, and perhaps (as has been mentioned elsewhere in the comments) they feed off the attention. The more they receive, the more they abuse?

Tricky one.

5 years 10 months ago

We’re in the midst of a similar sit. on twitter, being trashed by a guy who hasn’t been very successful. He has a decade long history of spamming, identity impersonation, faked messages, signing people up for ezines. He always gets caught, and been turfed once by twitter, once by yahoogroups, and banned from pro groups.

He’s trying to prevent us using hashtags, by pouring junk posts into the timestream that are irrelevant. It goes on and on, and he’s caused on good twitter to go private because of harrassment on twitter and elsewhere. Her sin was, many years ago, to complain about his violating her copyrights.

The bottom line is that the time and effort needed to do something is high, while the returns are small. When he was turfed from twitter, he just made another account and started over. But the deal is that people like that have very little real influence, and most people simply aren’t interested in mudslinging.

Harrasers still end up with their own sad lives, and that’s often the biggest punishment life doles out.

This guy has been in and out of court so much in “real” life that its unlikely he has anything to lose, anyway. If you can live with it, try to ignore it.


(Sorry, couldn’t log in via twitter.

5 years 10 months ago

Hi Robert,

That’s really sad to hear – sorry you are going through this kind of grief at the minute.

I guess that’s the main problem with online identities – you can be whoever you want, and many sites won’t really care just as long as you boost their numbers for stakeholders.

IP blocking would work, but only minimally – he’d simply move to a library or a friend’s house to log in.

As you say, when you get to his level of activity, legal sanctions probably don’t bother him – there’s a far deeper underlying reason for what he’s doing.

It’s a minefield for sure – question is, how do we traverse it?

Stuart Foster
5 years 10 months ago

When you invite the public into any forum (and give them access to monitoring tools) you are opening up some vulnerable people to exploitation. Unfortunately I think that is just the price of certain darker aspects of human nature. I think it’s insanely screwed up…but a necessary evil for the advances that are being made every day through easier communication.

5 years 10 months ago

While I can see what you’re saying, Stuart, on this one I’d have to disagree:

“… a necessary evil for the advances that are being made every day through easier communication.”

I can’t see how any kind of persecution is necessary. Evil, yes; necessary, no.

To me, necessary evils would be having to give up your date of birth to confirm eligibility for a promotion; or put up with spam emails or messages to use an online forum or similar.

I don’t see how you can relate abuse and harassment to spam.

Jaime Marin
5 years 10 months ago

Very interesting article, thank you for pointing out the dangers, we all can incurred by venturing in the web. It is scary that we have predators amongst ourselves.

Simon Mason
5 years 10 months ago

I have friends and relatives who still won’t shop online much less get involved in social media because of this issue. I have tended to think they are being a little paranoid, but perhaps I’m wrong.

I suppose this is one of those situations which the vast majority of social media participators will never encounter, but for the unfortunate few it must be a nightmare.

Like you I don’t have an answer to this problem – it is hard enough stopping bullies in as small and area as the school playground – and the internet takes the problem accross all borders. All we can do is try to offer support to our friends who have been targeted and keep operating with openness and generosity ourselves.

Kim Woodbridge
5 years 10 months ago

I believe the blocking feature on twitter is effective. It is my understanding that if enough users block the same account it triggers a review by twitter. Now I believe this is uses as an anti-spam measure but it seems that it would also work against stalkers.

I do not believe the answer is becoming less open. That causes bad to win over good and that is never the ideal solution.

5 years 10 months ago

The blocking option is definitely effective. I’m just curious how many times someone has to be blocked before Twitter investigates, while in the meantime the abuser or harasser continues to bombard people. Sometimes they seem really slow to react.

Mickey Gomez
5 years 10 months ago

As always, a great and thought-provoking post. For a long time, I was reluctant to get involved in social media because of this very issue.

I think that this will always be an issue as long as, first, people use aliases or fake e-mail addresses to sign-up for an use social media. This gives abusers a false sense of security and enables them to act in ways that they would never dare to do if using their real name and contact information.

Second, it will also continue if there are no repercussions. I don’t have the answer either, but if there are no negative consequences for their actions, there is no meaningful reason for them to stop (keeping in mind that a reasonable person would never have started it in the first place).

I think Shelly is right, part of it does involve not watching in silence on the sidelines. As they say, silence breeds consent. If we see someone abusing someone else, we should step in and do what we can to stop it. If we see others stepping forward to address it, we should back them up.

Thanks, Danny, for starting this excellent conversation!

5 years 10 months ago

Hi Danny,

Terrific article and great suggestions above by commentators. Another suggestion – let us not be a group of social media enthusiasts who are content with sticking our respective heads in the sand. If we see bullying or inappropriate behavior, let us rally together to help counter it. All to often people are too afraid to “get involved” or to stick their noses where they feel they don’t belong but, in many cases, that’s just bull – plain and simple. It’s always easier to sit on the sidelines and do nothing than to take a stand.

I’ve been involved in a few instances of inappropriate Twitter behavior, bullying and the like and it has been amazing to me the number of people who have watched, commented, applauded me for taking a stand and validated the belief that good people don’t let mean people do nasty things. If they can help it, that is.

Simply by writing this article is evidence, Danny-boy, that you are veritable definition of quintessential “good people” (not that I didn’t already know that!), but the ability to take on serious topics like this one is a big deal … I applaud you.

Thanks for a great read.


5 years 10 months ago

Agree with you 100%, Shelly – we do need to be more active as a community in helping out those affected.

I know in the past I’ve tweeted conversation links of people doing the abusing, and I’ve seen others do the same as well, so it’s encouraging.

I guess the problem is there’s only so much we can do, and it would just be nicer to see the networks themselves get involved as much as the users of their sites.

And thank you for the compliments, very kind :)

Roger Hjulstrom
5 years 10 months ago

There are no perfect solutions, and there are different types of social media stalking and harassment. I would divide them into personal and business attacks meant to damage the person’s reputation, and personal and sexual stalking. The last thing we want to do is put more restrictions on social media, like the Internet, it’s healthy and vibrant growth is partly a product of it’s non-regulation. I like one of the previous comments by Brenda Drake about posting the amount of times someone is blocked on Twitter, this could be extended to supplying more of such type of data on all social networks, and allow the individual to make a more informed judgement of someone’s ‘social validity’.
The other type of stalking is much more difficult to deal with, the only mechanisms available now are blocking someone, and having the hosting social network remove them altogether. It remains to be seen if this will prove sufficient. As social media evolves, new coping mechanisms will surely evolve with it.

Observation Humanoid
5 years 10 months ago

“like the Internet, it’s healthy and vibrant growth is partly a product of it’s non-regulation.” I disagree with the “healthy” part.

Slow growth of healthy innovation ranks higher than fast growing harm in my book.

5 years 10 months ago

It’s an interesting take, Roger, that could definitely offer more protection.

Businesses that are targeted can often afford to have the legal costs absorbed to combat fraudulent or abusive claims, but this isn’t always the case for individuals.

If it was easier for the individual cases to be dealt with and helped, maybe it would deter the instigators?

The Lovable Rogue
5 years 10 months ago

Another interesting post, Danny.
My suggestion would be that perhaps the answer to these issues isn’t social media related per se. I entirely agree that platforms such as Twitter do have an obligation to remove damaging content, but perhaps these virtual outbursts are illustrative of real-world problems. Perhaps the solution involves the joint development of some type of service specifically designed to target those creating this disparaging content with the intention of identifying the reasons behind these actions. This would only work however in collaboration with ongoing efforts from the social platforms themselves I feel.


Kimberly Saia
5 years 10 months ago

Unless I’m understanding you wrong..If you suggestion were the case, it would have to be ‘discreetly’ inserted into prominent communities. Hubs, where the ‘herd’ inevitably flocks.

Ironically, this allows the criminal ample time to establish readership, reliant clientele, sales/conversions, and increased stats for Jimmy Criminal & assoc..having time to fortify a larger crew. Amplified.

Like the myth of drinking milk to rid stomach acid. Milk ceases production of the acid temporarily, then rebounds to increased production x 2.

It sounds a bit similar to how a dope dealer is oftentimes apprehended by the use of a discreetly planted observer/participant. By the time the apprehension takes place, they have already created multitudes to continue on. Neverending. Temp solution. ..Online law will have to be comparative to offline, yet twisted in a fashion that will not double or triple what began.

Awake at night trying to catch the angle.

I see more when I step inside cycles of conversations, personalities and what nots and simply observe..wondering how offline law would react if the win/lose ratio were equivalent to SMs in their attempts to regulate comparatively, and the adaptation/adjustment of those left behind. I feel SM drama extends beyond the virtual zone, as you seem to have suggested, and it’s possible that the this zone can be an effective testing ground for offline application as well.

I’m a blonde hair twirling creative nobody yet I Do know this: SM is a [potential] breeding ground for serious criminals. It’s not a movie. It’s on and underguestimating. not. good.

Brenda Drake
5 years 10 months ago

EXCELLENT post and certainly pertinent information as these communities grow larger. Fortunately these communities do tend to police themselves, but as they grow larger what is the best way to handle those who are absusive in their posts? Speaking specifically of Twitter, perhaps showing the number of people who have blocked someone else would help. That way the people who are frequent offenders will be flagged. People who want to get around any guidelines/deterrrants will get around them…but how should the companies and/or communities balance keeping the sites open for all users against making sure that people who are nuisances are removed. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I look forward to seeing the discussion!

Kimberly Saia
5 years 10 months ago


5 years 10 months ago

That’s a great idea, Brenda. Kind of like the amount of Diggs or a RT are displayed? It’d certainly be an instant visual and make people more wary of who they’re about to connect with.

Kimberly Saia
5 years 10 months ago