Social networks like Twitter and Facebook have changed the way we communicate in our personal and work lives, many would say for the better. Yet these useful portals also provide conduits that others can use to make our lives miserable.
A relatively new concept variously called cyberstalking, cyberharassment or cyberbullying involves an individual or a group making repeated personal attacks online, such as posting negative comments on every tweet you make or posting crude altered photos of you on a social network. The perpetrators may hide behind online aliases to hide their identities. By law, cyberbullying becomes a federal crime if a stalker makes any life-threatening comments.
Most of us have heard of a handful of well-publicized cases of cyberbullying among teens, but it's also on the rise for adults who connect to social networks from their place of employment, according to Kathleen Baty, a personal safety consultant and CEO of SafetyChick Enterprises. These workplace-related attacks might involve another employee, or someone trying to steal company information.
"Cyberstalking in the workplace has become more and more common and is tough to define because there are so many different forms to threaten or harass in this digital world and so many different motives behind the behavior. It can be anything from a personal/romantic relationship gone bad, to a co-worker/business conflict, to a competitor trying to wreak havoc on a company," says Baty.
To keep cyberstalkers off company networks, businesses should implement all the usual corporate security tools, such as firewalls and encryption, Baty says. Additionally, companies should institute a social media policy that outlines clear guidelines for what kinds of information employees should and should not post or discuss on public sites.
If you do become a victim of cyberstalking or cyberbullying, Baty advises you to report it immediately to local law-enforcement authorities; if it happens at work, report it to your HR department as well. Don't delete harmful posts or other electronic communications, she says, but instead retain all documentation of incidents, mainly as evidence but also because the headers for e-mail and forum postings can be used to track down the offender.
That said, the best defense is to protect your personal information as carefully as you can. For instance, never reveal online such details as where you live, and don't announce your movements, such as that you are on vacation or home sick and have left your workplace computer open to attack -- which rules out public "check-in" social networks such as Foursquare.