Victim of Cyberstalking On the Internet Concept

Online Safety: Intensifying measures to criminalise cyberstalking that destroys lives

*Report indicates cyberstalking is fast becoming a common crime on the Internet, with severe consequences in real life, as it usually causes serious psychological damage to victims

*Experts suggest practical ways to protect yourself from cyberstalking on the Internet

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

It has been stated that only a handful of countries, including Australia, India, the United Kingdom (UK), and Poland, as well as a few US states, have wide-ranging legislation on cyberstalking –even though it is becoming a common crime on the Internet, with damaging consequences in real life in recent times.

In the UK, for instance, the Malicious Communications Act 1998 classifies cyberstalking as a crime, and in Australia, the Stalking Amendment Act of 1999 includes the use of any form of technology for the purpose of harassing a particular victim, reports CyberNews.

Whereas in the United States, Alexsander Carvalho, a lawyer expert in digital law, explains the first such law was introduced in 1999 in California, and soon other states added definitions of cyberstalking to their legislation.

It was gathered that misdemeanour cyberstalking could result in a year of jail time plus a fine of up to $1000 in California State in the US.

Whereas a felony charge of cyberstalking could result in a sentence of five years in a state prison plus fines of up to $1,000 in the state.

There is also the federal anti-cyberstalking law, known as the Violence Against Women Act, report stated.

The expert attorney said: “Each with its own characteristics, several US states have included prohibitions of harassment by electronic communications, computer or email in their anti-harassment legislation.”

Soon, others were reported to have followed suit.

According to report, Brazil is now one of the countries that recognise this problem. Stalking, or rather “the persecution of someone, repeatedly and by any means,” became a crime in Brazil April 1, 2021, with the publication of a new law, with a penalty of 6 to 24 months in prison and a fine in the country.

What is cyberstalking?

ConsumerConnect reports cyberstalking usually involves a pedophile using the Internet to seek sex with children, or to harass victims.

Carvalho also describes stalking as “a form of cyberbullying, a crime against honour committed in a virtual environment, while cyberstalking is a crime of threat, which may be reflected in the criminal misdemeanour law due to the disturbance of tranquility it promotes.”

Put differently, Tulio Vianna, criminal lawyer and law professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais says the practice is the insistent persecution and threats made against someone that, “usually causes serious psychological damage to its victims and must be combated in an appropriate manner.”

Putting it in a context, imagine having someone who, for example, claims to be your admirer and tries to have a conversation with you on any social media.

Suddenly, they start showing up at the same places you go, sending you messages on all of your social media, even finding out your phone number and texting you – and even your relatives and friends.

It is noted that this individual might not even make a discernible threat.

However, the insistence, the invasiveness, and the refusal to hear “no” make the practice extremely harmful to the victim and, in some countries, a crime.

In terms of legislation and consequences, the practice is becoming commonplace around the world, mainly through social media networks.

Therefore, experts advocate that governments formulate specific legislation in this regard.

Carvalho added: “If we analyse its results and the psychological consequences of cyberbullying and cyberstalking, they will always be an individual’s worst nightmare in an increasingly hyperconnected age, and sometimes these culminate in the death of the victim.

“I believe that yes, we have a duty to combat this unconscionable primitivism in the information age with all the legal weapons the state has at its disposal.”

Certain examples of people denouncing victims of such crime are quite common on the Internet – and women are often the target of hate, bullying, and stalking online, report noted.

Laura (not her real name), a 35-year-old woman, told CyberNews that she noticed that someone had created several fake social media accounts to send her uncomfortable messages.

The person disclosed she later discovered it was a man she met once after matching on Tinder.

He started showing up in the same places she was, leading her to delete all of her accounts for fear he might try something more than just “casually showing up.”

On Twitter, content creator and Twitch streamer Haru Jiggly as well shared the “terrible situations regarding stalkers and personal data” that she has been facing for years.

She says she got messages from “many (phone) numbers, (from) many social network accounts, to a level that I couldn’t block.

“WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, SMS, Telegram, messages to my relatives, even relatives I didn’t know.

“He lied, asked for more information about me, pretended to be my friend, called everyone.”

This person, whom Haru did not identify, made her consider dropping out of college for the mental damage that cyberstalking was causing her.

She was receiving messages from the stalker about her whereabouts, pictures of her home and workplace.

In the end, she found it extremely difficult to report him to the police or to sue him.

After four years of trying to report her cyberstalker, Haru was sentenced to a derisory fine, forcing her to live in fear.

Report further stated her story is similar to thousands of others. Therefore, creating specific legislation is not only welcomed, but necessary.

“Preserving the citizen’s ‘privacy’ in the digital environment is an obligation of the State,” and such legislation is an “evolution,” said Carvalho.

Vianna agrees. For him, previous legislation ended up treating the practice as a minor crime, like “defamation or a simple isolated threat.”

Considering freedom of expression?

Not everyone is happy with the new legislation, however. Criminal lawyer Tulio Duarte says that the new legislation “was unnecessary, since the new law did not bring great innovation in terms of criminalisation, as it was already possible to frame a certain person within the crime of threat.”

Duarte believes that there is a danger that the new law will criminalise behaviour that may be uncomfortable, but not necessarily threatening. This is true for Brazil, as well as for other countries of the world.

He stated: “Criminal law should only be used as a last resort. In the case of cyberstalking, I see that such criminalisation was only a legislative answer to society and that it will not solve the problem.

“Instead of creating a new criminal type, sometimes investing in specialised police stations would be more interesting.”

Cyberstalking, cyberbullying and prescribed penalties in Nigeria

ConsumerConnect reports that Nigeria also outlaws cyberstalking and cyberbullying, and prescribes punishment ranging from a fine of not less than N2 million or imprisonment for a term of not less than a year or to both fine and imprisonment, up to a term of not less than 10 years or a fine of not less than N25 million or to both fine and imprisonment for offenders.

Although there is said to be no ‘standalone law’ on cyberbullying in the country, some aspects of cyberbullying amount to offence under the criminal laws in Nigeria. Cyberbullying is expressly criminalised by the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) in the relevant Act

It is also noted that under the country’s Cybercrime Act 2015, if hackers are found guilty of unlawfully accessing a computer system or network, they are liable to a fine of up to N10 million or a term of imprisonment of five years (depending on the purpose of the hack).

How to protect yourself from cyberstalking on the Internet

There are a few things one can do to prevent being the target of a cyberstalker, such as keeping a low profile online, hiding your IP address, never posting any personal and sensitive information on social media (such as address and phone number).

Others are keeping most of your profiles private and never allowing strangers to have access to your private posts and messages, and so forth.

Duarte recommends “the only way to protect yourself from cyberstalking is to select who you add on social media, avoid further exposure and, as a last resort, when the person is already known, seek help from the specialised police stations.”

However, experts says we all know how hard it is not to expose any data online, and often stalkers are skilled enough to find gaps in your protective measures and gather enough data to make your life difficult.

Still, there are a few important things to have in mind if you become a victim of a cyberstalker, such as not engaging – not giving the person any power over you or the feeling that they have you under control, report stated.

It is also important to document everything. Take screenshots of any profile that looks off, of every message sent to you and also if the online stalking escalates to offline stalking, try as much as possible to keep a log of any suspicious activity, of anyone near your location who was not supposed to be there, etc.

People who are stalked often end up becoming paranoid; so it is better to use it against the stalker.

Alerting friends and relatives is also an important step – stalkers often use them to get to you, also spreading lies and fabricating stories.

In the end, the police must be notified – as they are the ones capable of properly dealing with the situation – and lawsuits and restraining orders can also be requested.

In Brazil, just a few days after the law against stalking came into effect, a 39-year-old man was arrested in the state of Paraná.

He is accused of threatening to leak intimate photos of a 26-year-old woman with whom he had contact online – he blackmailed her to get sex, report added.

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