Online harassment comes in many forms. For each, there's developed a basic, comprehensible protocol for dealing with perpetrators. Abusive tweets can be muted. Gamer trolls can be reported. Your idiot cousin on Facebook who won't stop posting about politics can mercifully be blocked. The power to make these decisions evolved not too long ago and mostly out of necessity. Once we realized the awesomeness of the internet could be sullied by online jerks, it became necessary to shut them up.
Lincoln Spector over at PC World has a short piece detailing these and other customary courses of action for dealing with online abuse. Now that we're about a decade into "the social media age," we're approaching a point where we can feel comfortable with established definitions and labels for contentious online behaviors. Cyberbullying, for example, seems to pop up in the news every week. The ambiguities surrounding it have receded in recent years as experts and lawmakers hone in on establishing proper protocol for dealing with online harassment.
I'd argue that one online phenomenon we haven't quite sorted out is how to properly deal with an internet stalker. This may be because the line that must be crossed to reach "stalker" status, both online and in real life, can be difficult to place. There's also the frightening threat that an online stalker could easily become a real-life problem if not handled the right way. This ambiguity innately means uncertainly, and uncertainty is a difficult road to travel. Thus, how one reacts to a stalker situation is going to vary person to person.
Even if you're someone who throws caution to the wind, it's important that you seek assistance -- either through the police or a work/school official -- at the first sign that your line has been crossed. For most, I'd say this means that you're getting unwanted, potentially disturbing attention from someone you've already tried to block from reaching you. As soon as you feel like online annoyance is becoming real life fear, it's time you got some sort of authorities involved in your case. Until then, all you can really do is break off communication and hope they can't or don't feel like getting through.
What's your take? Where's the line between trolling and stalking, and what do you do when it's been crossed? Have you ever had to deal with an online stalker? Tell us in the comments below.
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