Social Media Stalking Statistics: A Closer Look at Cyberstalking and How to Prevent it
Social media can be a great thing. You can keep up with friends and family, even with celebrities and trendsetters. But there are downsides to social media. Privacy is a large concern for all of us online these days, and social media should be no different. That's why we're taking a look at social media stalking, and how to stop it.
Let's say you've had a bad break up. Or maybe you've fallen out with a friend, or even a family member. It can be pretty easy these days for people to see what you've been up to, even if you don't want them to. From your Facebook feed to your Tweets, keeping things private from people you don't want following you can be tougher than you might think.
So just what are you supposed to do if you want your social media posts to stay private? Well, that depends on which service you're using. We've got the low-down on how to stay private on the top four social media sites. And that means that you can post in peace, knowing that your scary ex won't turn up by surprise at your next big event…
Social Media Stalking: The Stats
Before we get to prevention though, let’s take a look at just how common cyberstalking is. You might think that this isn’t a big deal, but cyberstalking is actually more common than face-to-face stalking nowadays. And given that most of us would be proactive (not to mention terrified) if someone was physically stalking us, it makes sense that we should be proactive about cyberstalking as well.
Who’s At Risk?
When it comes to who’s at risk, the stats are common sense. According to WHOA (the organization Working to Stop Online Abuse):
- 60% of cyberstalking victims are women, 40% are male
- 38% of victims are between the ages of 18 and 30 (the second biggest group is 30% between the ages of 31 and 40)
- 52% of victims are single
According to the Pew Research Center, 7% of Americans have been cyberstalked. There are no equivalent UK figures. However, London crime figures show 1400 reported stalking cases in 2018, and 12,933 harassment cases.
Who’s the Attacker?
The same WHOA study also breaks down stats about the attacker:
- 40% of cyberstalkers are male, 30% are female, and in 30% of cases gender was unknown
- In a little more than half of cases (53%) the attacker had some previous knowledge of the victim. But in 47% of cases the cyberstalker had NO prior knowledge of the victim at all
- In 47% of cases where the attacker had prior knowledge of the victim the stalker was an ex-partner
And finally, there are stats about the crime itself:
- 30% of cases began via social media (tied in first place with a further 30% of cases starting over email)
- A whopping 76% of cases escalated (meaning they moved to other services or social media accounts or became physical)
- 25% of stalkers threatened physical violence
- 75% of victims reported the harassment
- 37% of cases were reported to the police
Prevention by Provider
Depending on which social media site you’re using, there are ways that you can stop people seeing what you’re up to.
Facebook makes social media stalking easy since most people just use their real names. However, the site also makes it pretty easy to stop others from seeing what you're up to, which seems like a fair trade-off. And you've got a fair few options here.
Firstly, you'll want to make sure that your posts aren't public. Just hit the question mark icon in the top right corner, hit “privacy shortcuts”, then change “who can see my posts” to “friends.” That means that only people you actually friend are able to see what you're doing. If you haven't friended someone, this is all you need to do.
If you have friended someone, maybe an ex, then the simplest solution is to unfriend them. You'll need to go to the Facebook page of the person in question, then in the middle right go to where it says “friends” and click, then select “unfriend.” You can always add them again as a friend later.
If you want to be truly safe, then you can block them. This means that you will no longer exist to them on Facebook, they won't see your posts, they won't even be able to see your profile if they search for your name. Go to the person's Facebook page, click the three little dots in the centre right, then hit “block.” Confirm and you're done.
If a person is abusing you or unduly bothering you, you can also report them to Facebook. Just go to the post they made that's abusive, hit the arrow at the top right of the post, and click “report.”
The easiest way of getting rid of people on Snapchat is to block them from seeing your Story, and this is simple. Open up the app, drag downwards and click the “settings” icon at the top right, then go to the section that says “who can.” Under the heading that says “see my story” click the word “custom” to the right and then simply click on the name of the person you want to block from seeing your Story. You can add them back later if you like.
If you want to completely block someone, so they don't show up in your friend's list anymore, you can do that too. Be aware that they won't be able to re-add you as a friend. Again, go to the settings page, then “my friends” then press and hold on the name you want to block. Choose “block,” confirm, and you're done.
You can report abuse on Snapchat, but since snaps only stick around for 24 hours, you'll need to be fast. This can't be done from the app, you'll need to visit the support page. Choose “policies and safety” and go from there.
Blocking on Instagram is a two-step process, but again, it's pretty simple. The first step is to block the person themselves. Go to the person's profile page and hit the three little dots at the top right, then hit “block” and confirm. Once that's done, you'll need to set your account to private so that anyone who tries to add you will need your confirmation (to stop the person just following you again). Go to your profile page, hit the three little dots at the top right, then toggle on “private account.” Your followers will see your stuff, everyone else will need to ask your permission first.
You can't report a user on Instagram, but you can report abusive posts. Go to the post in question, hit the three dots at the top right, then hit “report.”
Last, but not least, there's Twitter. Again, this is going to be a two-step process. Firstly, you'll need to block the person. Simply go to the profile of the person you want to block and hit the little gear icon that's next to the Follow button, then choose “block@username.” Done.
You can stop now, but there's nothing to stop the person just following you again. So again, you might want to make your Tweets private. Go to your profile, click the little circle with your profile pic at the top right, hit “settings and privacy.” On the menu that appears at the left hit “privacy and safety” then check the box next to “protect my Tweets.” Now only your followers see your stuff, and new followers will need your approval before seeing your Tweets. Done.
What To Do If You’re Being Cyberstalked
Any form of stalking or harassment is potentially a legal case in the UK, according to the Crown Prosecution Service. Do not think that just because you’re not physically being followed that you do not have the right to make a complaint. The laws cover online harassment in the same way that physical harassment or threats of violence are covered. If you’re being cyberstalked, here’s what you need to do:
- Close your social media accounts. If you cannot do this then at least ensure your profiles are set to private and that your passwords are changed.
- Inform your internet service provider.
- Inform whichever platform your attacker is using to stalk you (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
- Collect as much information as you safely can, including screenshots and print outs of threatening messages.
- Call your local police station to arrange to make an official report (do NOT call 999 unless you’re in immediate danger, call the station directly)
Worried About Making A Report?
Many online harassment victims worry about making a police report. You shouldn’t. Stalking and harassment are both crimes. The police WILL take you seriously. It’s important that you make a report so that there’s a legal record of what is happening to you. This could be key should harassment escalate, or should an eventual prosecution happen. And, though it’s not nice to think about, it’s important that there’s a record of the harassment just in case anything more serious should happen. No one will laugh at you, no one will blame you, cyberstalking is a serious crime.
Help and Advice for Victims
There are resources available to help you, you’re not in this alone. The following centres are all there should you need help:
- The National Stalking Helpline at 0808 802 0300 (Mon-Fri, 9.30-16.00)
- The Network for Surviving Stalking
- Protection Against Stalking
You can also contact the UK Victim’s Information Service to help you find local resources.
Tips to Prevent Cyberstalking
Finally, prevention is always better than cure. If you want to protect yourself against cyberstalking then there are various useful things that you can do:
- Avoid posting personal information on social media accounts. It might sound tough, but it will make you safer
- Ensure that privacy controls are set up on your social media accounts, most sites allow you to set your profile to private
- Regularly do an internet search of your full name, just to see what comes up. You can’t stop other people posting about you, but you should know what kind of information is out there about you
- Have safe, secure passwords that you regularly change. You can get advice on creating solid passwords here
- Beware of emails, calls, texts, or posts that ask for personal information. Never hand out information to someone that you don’t know or that isn’t in a position to honestly need that data
- If you’re leaving a relationship then change your passwords and consider blocking your ex-partner from social media sites and email. The same goes for “breaking up” with friends or family members
- Only accept friend or follower requests from people you’ve met in person
- Be careful when setting up social media profiles. Use a second email address for set up (separate from your regular email), don’t feel that you have to fill out all the information unless it’s required (particularly things like address, phone number, and birth date), and use a profile picture that isn’t clearly recognisable as you if possible
- Regularly update software for your computer and phone (don’t just ignore the update messages) to keep your data safer
Social Media Stalking: The Bottom Line
Cyberstalking does happen, and it’s as unpleasant as you might imagine. But as long as you stay up to date with your online privacy, there's no reason that you should be stalked on social media. Whether it's a crazy ex or your disapproving mum, all you need to do is make sure your settings are correct, and you can post in peace.