Online stalking a growing concern

With the advance of the Internet cyberstalking is becoming a serious issue

The world is changing.  Our parents and even our parents’ parents are likely to be savvy in the ways of text messaging and Facebooking.  The internet and other communications technologies are rapidly altering our social landscapes.  But as the excitement and euphoria from the initial newfound freedoms and avenues of expression have worn off there have grown widespread fears of the extent to which we have all been exposed.

Those who study these new modes of communication such as Dr Krotoski, who presented the BBC television series The Virtual Revolution, have warned that we will all increasingly have to “live like celebrities” wary of giving too much away in our interactions with the public realm.  Pictures and comments posted to sites like Facebook may seem innocuous enough, but potential employers are aware that a little online research can give them extra insight, and pictures of you and your mates drunkenly coning a statue might not give you the edge in that job application.

Even more of a worry though, is the phenomenon of ‘cyberstalking’ – so much so that The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has just announced new guidance to prosecutors promising to get tough on cyberstalkers.  This is made even more pertinent by the recent sentencing of Michael Williams – a postman from Cornwall who was given 8 years for sex crimes – using social networking sites to aid in finding and gaining access to hundreds of children.

Cyber crime has been a growing area of concern for governments and citizens alike for many years such as online fraud.  But the more recent rise of social networking sites has added a new dimension to the issue.  Williams represents an extreme case.  However, there are all sorts of electronic abuses, from the reasonably harmless obsessions of teenagers to much more serious criminal harassment.

Responding to the same issue, and announced just a day after the (CPS) declared new guidelines, the Electronic Communication Harassment Observation (Echo) survey was launched by researchers at the University of Bedfordshire on Friday.  It is commissioned by the charity Network for Surviving Stalking

The study intends to seek out people who have been stalked online or similarly harassed or threatened through electronic means such as email or internet chat-rooms, or on social networking websites like Facebook and Bebo.

This academic response to a developing problem in the electronic universe adds yet more strength to the view that the law and social conventions are playing catch up to technology which is transforming the world we live in.