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The term Cyberstalking refers to the act of stalking an individual or group through electronic means, particularly the Internet. Cyberstalkers employ the communication capabilities and access to information made available by the Internet to monitor, solicit, slander, and otherwise harass their cyber victim, who may be an individual or group.
Gathering information on an individual or group typically needs to be carried out in a menacing manner in order to be qualified as Cyberstalking, wherein a threat is made or implied. Cyberstalkers may use ordinary electronic means such as search engines, message boards, social networking sites, email, and other tools to monitor the activity of their victims. Cyberstalking may also involve illegal means such as computer hacking to breach the victim’s personal information, or attacking the victim’s hardware and data with viruses and other electronic violations. Tracing a victim’s Internet Protocol (IP) address is also a common form of Cyberstalking, used by Cyberstalkers to locate their victim’s home address.
Contacting or soliciting the cyber victim or their associates is a common form of harassment in cyberstalking. Since the advent of chat rooms, Instant Messenger, and Internet networking tools such as MySpace and Facebook, children and adolescents have become especially at-risk for Cyberstalking, whether they are targeted by their peers for Cyberbullying or solicited by sexual predators. To combat this, several law enforcement teams have organized task forces which includes individuals who pose as children or adolescents online to pro-actively seek out and capture child predators. Dateline NBC’s show, To Catch a Predator, is a popular example of such a Cyberstalking sting operation, featuring online sexual predators who are led to a home where they believe a youth is waiting to see them, questioned by the show’s host, and subsequently arrested.
Slander is an especially prolific component of Cyberstalking due to the ease with which a Cyberstalker can post defamatory accusations on the World Wide Web while retaining their anonymity and thus avoiding repercussions. Cyberstalkers will often set up websites or blogs specifically to post slanderous information about their victim, which may then be picked up in a simple search engine query of the victim’s name, thereby damaging their reputation. Cyberstalkers may also pose as the victim online to distribute pornographic, derogatory, or otherwise defamatory information under the victim’s name.
In 1999, California became the first state to legislate an anti-Cyberstalking law. Since then, states such as Arizona, Alaska, Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New York, New Hampshire Oklahoma and Wyoming have prohibited forms of Cyberstalking as part of their larger anti-stalking and harassment laws.