This week’s post is a follow up to my presentation on the use of technology in stalking and domestic violence (sorry I had posting dates written down wrong so you’ll hear from me next week too). For all of the benefits of social media and other digital technologies, unfortunately people have found ways to use these platforms to cause very real harm. While the whole point of social media is to connect with other people and it is normal to view the profile of someone you are attracted to, it can be difficult to know when someone has crossed the line from casual “facebook stalking” to more problematic and potentially harmful behaviors. A quick google search even provides several light-hearted articles focused on the intricacies of scouting potential dates (like this article or the video below).
Since these technologies are relatively new to society and are constantly changing, social norms related to their use are constantly evolving and we are navigating this terrain with little guidance. Complicating these matters even more is that conversations around healthy and unhealthy behaviors in relationships are rare and lack a focus (or more likely an awareness) of the harmful ways technology could be used. Even if our parents summoned the courage for an awkward birds and bees conversation, they likely lack experience dating in a digital world and know even less about stalking and domestic violence. This topic is very broad so this post will focus on a few things to raise awareness and consider ways to limit risk for you and your loved ones.
First and foremost, I recommend that everyone spends some times learning about stalking and domestic violence. There are countless resources online ranging from general awareness (such as news publications – see video above or watch this 48 hours special) to more formal educational programs (sample video below) and webinars. Your local university and community organizations will also offer lectures and workshops regularly. You may also decide you want to get involved on a volunteer basis once you learn more about the topic. A baseline understanding is necessary in order to be able to recognize behaviors and take steps to prevent or respond to them.
My first piece of advice is to keep your information private. While some people possess the skills necessary to access your accounts without your permission, sharing passwords (even with people close to you) can provide almost anyone with easy access to the same content. Convenience is not a good reason to sacrifice privacy and potentially safety. When I was a hall director for college freshmen, our students would constantly share their room codes so they wouldn’t have to get up to let friends in their room. These same students were often shocked when something went missing from their room or they began to feel their friends were abusing that privilege (letting themselves in when nobody was there as an example).
Now of course I would trust one of my best friends of many years with access to my home. But I share that example because there is a parallel to dating and abusive relationships. There is a common expression in the field addressing this subject. “How do most abusive relationships begin?” The answer – “…just like every other relationship – full of butterflies, kind gestures/words, and warm affection.” Unfortunately, sometimes people change and regardless of my relationship with another person, I believe I am still entitled to some privacy. My partner does not have a right to access my email, social media accounts, or other sensitive data and I should not feel pressured to share such information. I believe trust is an important component in a relationship and trusting my partner to have that autonomy and privacy is critical for a healthy relationship.
If you believe you are being stalked or are in an unhealthy/unsafe relationship, prioritize your own safety and seek professional help. Telling a friend is great but they may not know how to best handle the situation either. If you are a college student, you can consider seeking help from staff members, university counseling services, or police officials. There are also regional and national resources including community centers and hotlines available 24 hours a day. Just remember that if you think someone may be stalking you, you may want to use a public phone and/or computer (public library) to reach out or conduct research about organizations just in case you are being monitored. If a friend comes to you, I encourage you to follow the same advice and seek help. The most important thing you can do though when a victim of stalking, domestic violence, or even sexual harassment/assault is to convey that your believe the victim (no matter what they say). One of the biggest fears of victims of these types of crimes is that they will not be believed and don’t know who to trust. Even if you are left speechless and can’t think of anything else, just listen and say “I believe you, thank you for coming to me.” It may save someones life.
Lastly, (for this post at least and as an educator I had to include it) consider how you will use this knowledge to help protect the children in your life. This digital world has been difficult for adults to navigate and while many of us have been learning to adapt to new technologies, are children will be born into it. People are only beginning to study the effects of social media on psychological and social development. While many are currently researching these topics, we won’t know the long term effects for many years. Steve Jobs shared (to much surprise) that his children don’t have ipads and that the family limits their use of technology. It turns out this sentiment is shared by many in the tech industry which is something for all of us to consider. While it may seem convenient to have a child occupied when we have something important to do, the dangers are still unknown.