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How to Handle Online Harassment & Cyber Stalking

About 15 years ago, having an email address and/or an instant messenger screen name meant you were riding the cutting edge of the internet. A couple of years after that, the hot trend was having a MySpace profile. Today, it’s generally assumed that everyone has at least a Twitter account or a Facebook page.

Over time, and as online services gain more and more capabilities, a couple of things happen:

  1. We forget about all the old stuff we signed up for, and that information stays out there.
  2. We offer up even more of our personal information simply because the boxes are there for us.
  3. We open ourselves up to being tracked online and become subjects of data-mining projects because the boxes are not there to opt-out.

Why is this a problem?

If you don’t know the answer to this question, you probably shouldn’t join any social networking sites.

Still don’t know why it’s a problem?

Nothing done online is 100% anonymous. Not only can the source of the effort to put it online be tracked, but also the person’s online persona (the account and global online identity of the person), as well as the physical place of the person. Once the information exists on the internet, it is available for search in one way or another, then compiled and categorized. The more information that’s out there, the more to gather.

Why is this bad? Simple: cyber-stalkers or cyber-bullies. These acts are cyber-stalking or online harassment.

Cyber-stalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group of people, or an organization. It may include false accusations, monitoring, making threats, identity theft, damage to data or equipment, soliciting minors for sex, or gathering information to harass.  “Harassment” must meet the criterion that a reasonable person, with the same information, would regard it as enough to cause another reasonable person distress.

Source: wikipedia

The rest of this blog series will discuss how to protect your information from this kind of stalking effort, but the rest of this post will tell you what to do if you become a victim of these acts.

1.) Do NOT react. Period.

The very most important thing to remember is that you must not react. Don’t respond, don’t reply, don’t acknowledge the person at all. The people who get involved in this type of activity do it only to get a reaction out of the person, as shown by this writer when he got angry tweets about one of his columns and contacted the person. Often times they’ll do it under a fake online alias (whether it’s a fake human’s name, or a fake screen name) so that you can’t tell who it actually is.

If it’s happening over a SMS, or via your mobile phone, you can use apps like Mr. Number, CallerSmart, or Google Hangouts / Google Voice to block the number from contacting you, and possibly report them via the service to help other users of the app.

As upsetting and stressful as the messages like this will be, avoiding a response is the most important thing to remember.

2.) It’s not personal, it’s serial.

It is most likely that the person behind the act doesn’t even know you. Instead they have a preset collection of messages and responses and look for people online that have posted something related to the subject they have created responses for.

In my most recent case, I had someone come after me because my fiancée and I went to dinner at Uno’s Pizza. Later I found out he sent the same message to someone who’s girlfriend had a party for him at TGI Fridays. In the real world, we had no connection. Online, we fit the individual’s serial criteria.

3.) Take action on the site.

Chances are, this is all taking place on a public website that you don’t have control over. If you do have control over it, then you are probably aware of how to block the person. If you’re not, contact your web host’s customer service to ask about your options.

Most people who get targeted aren’t their own web host, I’ll focus on them: block the person.

My instance described above happened on YouTube. YouTube can block users from sending you messages, posting on your channel, and making comments on your videos. More extreme measures might also include blocking your Subscriber list, Friends list, or even Channel from public view altogether.

The main thing to remember, no matter what the social site is: make sure you have taken proper measures to prevent this person from contacting you…and don’t urge the person by responding or indicating that you even received a message from them.

4.) If needed, report it to the web service.

If the person continues to find ways around the privacy measures available from the web service, then visit the help pages to find out what their policies are on harassment and other unwanted acts.

For me, it took 3 separate reports, and a nasty message via Twitter to finally get results. Among the other things I did in preparation for the last day, I don’t know if it was the person, or YouTube themselves, but at the end of the day the individual’s account disappeared (after being active for several months with several thousand views to it).

5.) If it continues, report it to the police or FBI.

If the web service is not taking the proper actions, or if the person is threatening your physical safety by disclosing personal information, making physical threats, or other types of harassment, contact the Police. According to the US-CERT webpage on dealing with cyber-bullies the local police department or FBI branch are good places to start when reporting online harassment. If you are unsure where your local FBI office is, here is a directory of all their US locations that you can search by providing your state or zip.


The most important things to remember when someone picks you as a target for their online harassment are:

  1. Do not react: They feed off the target’s reactions.
  2. It’s not personal: Don’t take anything they say personal. It’s just stuff they found online, or made up completely.
  3. Block the person: Take any measures necessary to block the person from further contact.
  4. Contact the Website: If the person is making extra effort to get around the blocks you’ve put in place, contact the website
  5. Contact the Police/FBI: If the threats are becoming more real, or the harassment does not stop, alert the local authorities before it’s too late.

Next up, finding out what information is out there about yourself.

By [[Neo]]

I am a web programmer, system integrator, and photographer. I have been writing code since high school, when I had only a TI-83 calculator. I enjoy getting different systems to talk to each other, coming up with ways to mimic human processes using technology, and explaining how complicated things work.

Of my many blogs, this one is purely about the technology projects, ideas, and solutions that I have come across in my internet travels. It's also the place for technical updates related to my other sites that are part of The-Spot.Network.

15 replies on “How to Handle Online Harassment & Cyber Stalking”

Yes, some of your info is good, but let’s be frank here. I have been harassed and stalked for years, have been to the police here countless dozens of times, with the evidence, written bomb threats, harassment, items stolen from my home, broken window, etc etc.etc. Nothing gets done. They tell you”lack of jurisdiction” because the stalkers are out of state. If you call the police in the town where the person lives, they tell you to contact your own police dept. None of the online cyberbullying advice sites I have seen really know what to do. I had my business targeted and have suffered all of the physical threats, emotional, mental anguish, financial, legal ad infinitum. I am disgusted with our govt. It is a sham. My photo was taken and altered with lewd videos, then superimposed on a list of targeted companies. All my business competitors (about 4200 industry blogs, sites and forums) thought it was hilarious. The site was called Made by Science Fiction Writers of America and what the bloggers did they would post my name as many times as possible in their articles, then hyperlink my name or the name of my company to the lewd videos. I am in a court case over 6 years, you can imagine the drain on my family and the physical and emotional illnesses it has caused. I don’t see anything out there that really gives help to victims of this crime. It is a terrifying crime and poses a very real danger to the victims. Cyberbullying in my case was done by big business and publicly traded companies. Even Wikipedia did it to me, and they got off the hook because of the “immunity” of the Communications Decency Act. I understand this problem all too well. Just saw a special on Good Morning America about teens in Westchester NY on a slut list and they advise them to sue for defamation. Rots a Ruck kid. The bad lawyers are very good at what they do. They will drag the victim through the mud and have ways of making the victim pay for the stalker’s legal fees. The legal system is so corrupt and all the victim does is put their fate in the hands of strangers who care nothing about the victim or their injuries. The media giving this lousy advice to sue is just setting up the victims to be victimized by lawyers. All this I know too late, but very well.

Thanks for your reply Barbara. I agree with you that it’s much more difficult than a simple 5-step program can clear up.

In your story you mentioned only contacting local police. From the stuff I’ve read online and .gov sites, if it is happening out of state, it is then a matter for the FBI – thus it would be true that it is out of the jurisdiction of the local police, but not outside the FBI’s jurisdiction.

I, too, know the lack of interest from un-involved “protectors”, and while my scenario was no where near the seriousness of yours, my complaints appears to fall on deaf ears. The lack of attention implies disregard, and for someone who does not have the resolve to see it through to the end, it could push the person to more drastic course of action (like the suicides happening last fall among homosexuals being bullied).

The anonymity of the internet is a powerful double-edged sword, and is governed only by the entities that run the services being used. My goal in the following posts of the series was to show how some of the personal information the attackers have access to gets leaked out, and offers methods to start restricting access to that information and try to prevent access to photos and information that cause one to become a serial target.

I’m not a lawyer or even a person well-versed in laws, just an IT Administrator who does everything online under an alias after making a few mistakes leaking my own personal info. This being the case, unfortunately, I’m not able to give much advise about resolving it at an advanced state, especially when it has escalated as much as yours has. My thought is that there has to be some point where it’s not even worth the fight any more, and legally changing your name becomes a viable solution. At that point, you’d be able to start all over with your online persona, if you even started it at all.

I hope that yours gets resolved soon, and if you haven’t talked with your local FBI office about it, I would look into that. Here’s a link to their branch listings:

Hang in there, and Good Luck!

Dear Pizzy:

I have a harrasser that is harrassing me for what reason I dont know, I dont even know this person. He has put my whole name in chat-rooms, I found this out by an online friend, now he has my picture on his website from my BUSINESS address.
I have contacted his site to no avail, he still has my picture up, he also has other pictures up of other people as well.

How do I find his web-hoster to make a demand to take my picture, name, ip, etc OFF his website?

To find any contact info for the owner of a website, you can go to and type in the website’s domain name (just the “” portion, i.e. “”) into the WHOIS Lookup box.

Scroll down the page past the Ads, and you’ll see some information that’s available about the domain. There *may* also be a link “For complete domain details” at the bottom of the outlined box. Copy that link into your browser and see what information is available there.

Not everyone has their information publicly available – some can use a privacy service that places the “owner” in a foreign country with false information. But that’s your best shot for finding that type of info.

If you feel you are in physical danger, I would contact the local police department where you are (*not 911*, just call/visit them) and bring any available information you can.

The only “official” advice I can give you is to 1.) report it to youtube, or to the admins of the medium being used to harass you, and 2.) that if the harassment leaves the internet and/or implies there is some real-life threat, that you contact your local police or FBI office with the evidence that it is directly explicitly at you. The article above describes how to go about doing all that, with some links to help you find your FBI office, etc. This only works if you have not responded in kind to any of the harassment. If you have responded equally then you’re just caught up in an internet drama war, and I can’t provide any advice on that.

In my case, I reported 3 different methods of attack that my stalker used via youtube’s harassment page, but took it upon myself (which I do not recommend) to find the individual’s personal information and see if there was someone more rational that knew them who could talk them out of it. I do not know which method worked, because within 24 hours of reporting the 3rd incident and contacting who I determined to be the stalker’s family, the youtube channel was gone. The only reason the user would have deleted it their-self would the amount of personal information I had amassed about the actual user who thought they were anonymous…not all users care, necessarily, about who knows what about them, so it could only exacerbate the issue if it backfires.

I realize that my attitude for others are kind. Others feel that I’m in that criteria mentioned in the blog, so they think I’m a easy target for harrassment.

I am in Belgium and I have been severly harassed by a cyberbully from California.
Your claim that I shouldn’t react is odd, because this involves a person who is a member of yahoogroups that I am a member of as well. On the groups themselves he is very well behaved. I did most of the things you suggest here. One of the group owners has reacted very well and immediately posted his offensive comments in the group and told him off. The other group owner however, faulted me in this, and proceeded to bully me in almost exactly the same way as the original bully and on top of that sullied my reputation to the group and prevented me from defending myself by blocking me from posting in the group.
This group-owner is based in Utah. Who do i contact adn what can i do?

You could do a couple things and it all depends on what route you want to take.
1.) is to simply leave the group. Belonging to the yahoo group, while fun, is not inescapable. Someone that carries the conversation beyond the boundaries of the yahoo group setting though is a different story.
2.) would be to report it to yahoo themselves with any evidence you have on the issue. They would be the authorities you would contact in this situation. If the issue leaves yahoo and continues with safety-threatening conversation, then you would probably contact the California or Utah law enforcement.

I am not an expert on any of this and I don’t know how it pertains to anyone outside the US. You might want to check with your local laws and see if there is anything you can do. However, it is an interesting situation you’re in.

Im in a group on facebook and being mobile with no way to leave or report the content, its hard to just ignore the rude posts. I originally thought it was a group for the recently deceased Amanda Todd as the poster put loving and kind messages about how she would be missed and now shes posting pics of bleach and saying how much of a slut she is and that she deserved t die. How do i go about reporting her and her fake group?

With facebook, your options are really limited, but they’re really simple as well. At the time of this posting (since facebook has a knack for changing everything frequently) you can go to their Help page and search for “abuse” and select from the available links on that page. In most cases it would be as simple as finding the “Report Page” link for the group or page.

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