January is National Stalking Awareness Month and we're focusing on how technology has made stalking very easy to do without someone knowing. Social media has been an amazing tool to connect family and friends on a regular basis. However, it has also made it very easy to find someone and take a peak into their life.
Let's start with the definition of stalking so we can really understand what it is. Each state laws vary, but New Jersey's law is "purposeful conduct directed at specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear bodily injury or death to himself or family member and knowingly, recklessly, or negligently places person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or death to himself or family member." (Definition from here.)
The majority of stalkers are someone who the victim has either dated or is currently dating. Stalkers can be any gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. Stalkers typically do some form of stalking weekly, if not daily. With technology's integration into our every day lives, it has become even easier to stalk someone without them knowing.
When we post on social media, we give our online community a glimpse into our lives. What people may not know is that each picture you post has a location built into it, so if you're live posting a picture, it is very easy to find where you're currently at. Also, depending on the social media platform (and this is always changing as we learn more about technology) once you post a picture on their platform, you do not have the rights to that photo any more, but rather the company does.
Here are some tips to keep your social media accounts private and safer. Please know that this is not a comprehensive list, and the algorithms and protections are constantly changing, so please keep up to date with any security updates.
To make your profile private by clicking on settings in the top right corner of your home screen. On the left there is a button for privacy and security. You can make your entire profile only available to friends, friends of friends, or anyone. There is a preview function so you can see how it looks to each group. You can also prevent someone from adding you as a friend. Each time you post on Facebook, in the top right corner of the post, you can edit who is allowed to see your posts - Friends, Acquaintances, or Anyone. You can also edit who is in each group by going through you friends list. Since Facebook has been around for over a decade, it may be a good idea to go through your friends list and keep people who you actually still want to stay in contact with.
Instagram has taken over social media as a photo sharing app. You can find people via their username, email or through hashtags. In order to make your profile private, you click on settings on your account page. By making your profile private, you have to approve anyone who wants to follow you. This gives you complete control over who sees your pictures. It also prevents you from showing up in hashtag searches and people finding you that way.
While Snapchat has been seen has one of the more private social media accounts since it originally deleted photos after being viewed, the app has significantly changed. As of this writing, Snapchat has the rights to any photos posted on it. While it is deleted on your app and the person you sent it to, it is stored in the Snapchat cloud. Over the years, Snapchat has begun to allow you to keep photos and messages without deleting them. They've also allows you to customize who can follow you, who can see your snaps, who can see your story, and you can turn off your quick add. All of this can be done in the settings tab of your profile.
Technology is not inherently bad, in fact it is such a useful tool in our every day life to stay connected. However, sometimes it is good to hit a reset button and check out what we're posting and who is seeing it. You can always google yourself and see what comes up as well.
For more information on stalking, visit the Stalking Prevention and Awareness Resource Center website here. If you think you're being stalked or need someone to talk to, our helpline is available 24/7 at 908-453-4181.