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Cyber harassment and cyber stalking are often used synonymously to describe the actions of people who relentlessly pursue others online with the intention of frightening or embarrassing the victim. Sometimes a harasser intends to teach the victim a lesson or solicit information from him or her, and stalkers generally want revenge or attention. Laws against this behavior vary depending on the country, and victims should report their case to local authorities. To prevent crimes from occurring, it is important for everyone to protect their identity while on the Internet.
There is no universal legal definition of cyber harassment, but it typically is defined as repeated, unsolicited, threatening behavior by a person or group using mobile or Internet technology with the intent to bother, terrify, intimidate, humiliate, threaten, harass or stalk someone else. The harassment can take place in any electronic environment where communication with others is possible, such as on social networking sites, on message boards, in chat rooms or through email. Just posting a general opinion on a discussion board or in a forum is not considered harassment.
A stalker or harasser often will post comments to the victim that are intended to cause distress and will try to incite others to do the same. He or she might break into the victim’s accounts and send numerous obscene or hurtful emails and instant messages to the victim’s significant other, family, friends, coworkers and boss. A harasser might even hack into the victim’s computer and take over his or her accounts, change passwords or sign up the victim for things such as pornographic websites and spam. The person might set up websites using digitally manipulated, sexual images of the victim or send those images to amateur pornographic websites.
Laws protecting citizens from cyber harassment can vary from place to place and country to country. Western European countries have explicit laws providing their citizens with protection from cyber harasser or stalkers, but as of 2010, some Asian countries had not yet enacted laws against this crime. In the United States, many states have laws that provide some protection. There are no U.S. federal laws that directly address this issue, but there is some legislation that addresses stalking in general and may cover some aspects of the behavior. There are also laws that protect children age 16 or younger from electronic sexual offenses.
People who feel they have been victimized should begin to document and collect all harassing messages, postings and other activities. If there is any indication that a perpetrator knows where the victim lives or works or how to find him or her offline, the victim should contact the local authorities immediately. In some instances, the authorities can track the harasser through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and issue a restraining order against the individual. Victims who cannot file criminal charges against an offender might attempt to file a civil suit, have accounts revoked and have damaging websites shut down.