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Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet messaging services or other electronic means to stalk someone. This term is used interchangeably with online harassment and online abuse.


A cyberstalker follows the victim's online activity to gather information, initiate contact, make threats, or engage in other forms of verbal intimidation. Cyberstalkers target victims using online forums, bulletin boards, chat rooms, spyware, and spam. They may engage in live chat harassment or flaming or they may send electronic viruses and unsolicited e-mails. More commonly they will post defamatory or derrogatory statements about their stalking target on web pages, message boards and in guest books designed to trigger a reaction or response from their victim, thereby initiating contact. When prosecuted, many stalkers have unsuccessfully attempted to justify their behavior based on their use of public forums, as opposed to direct contact. Once they get a reaction from the victim, they will typically attempt to track or follow the victim's internet activity. Classic cyberstalking behavior includes the tracing of the victim's IP address in an attempt to verify their home or place of employment.[1] According to Wayne Petherick (2005)[2] cyberstalking is an extension of traditional stalking using the Internet as a new modus operandi.

Stalking does not consist of single incidents, but is a continuous process. Similar to stalking off-line (physical stalking), cyberstalking can be a terrifying experience for victims, placing them at risk of psychological trauma, and possible physical harm. As Rokkers writes, "Stalking is a form of mental assault, in which the perpetrator repeatedly, unwantedly, and disruptively breaks into the life-world of the victim, with whom he has no relationship (or no longer has)....Moreover, the separated acts that make up the intrusion cannot by themselves cause the mental abuse, but do taken together (cumulative effect)."[3] (For a list of effects, see Stalking)

Some cyberstalking situations do evolve into physical stalking, and a victim may experience abusive and excessive phone calls, vandalism, threatening or obscene mail, trespassing, and physical assault.[1] Moreover, many physical stalkers will use cyberstalking as another method of harassing their victims.[4]


Some cyberstalkers (and some private investigators) use web sites such as,, and to track people. People who do not want to be tracked often can request removal of themselves from such sites.

Cyberstalking legislation

The first U.S. cyberstalking law went into effect in 1999 in California. Other states include prohibition against cyberstalking in their harassment or stalking legislation. In Florida, HB 479 was introduced in 2003 to ban cyberstalking. This was signed into law on October 2003. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

States in the U.S. have begun to address the use of computer equipment for stalking purposes:

  • Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire and New York have included prohibitions against harassing electronic, computer or e-mail communications in their harassment legislation.
  • Alaska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and California, have incorporated electronically communicated statements as conduct constituting stalking in their anti-stalking laws.
  • A few states have both stalking and harassment statutes that criminalize threatening and unwanted electronic communications.
  • Other states have laws other than harassment or anti-stalking statutes that prohibit misuse of computer communications and e-mail, while others have passed laws containing broad language that can be interpreted to include cyberstalking behaviors

Cyberstalking has also been addressed in recent U.S. federal law. For example, the Violence Against Women Act, passed in 2000, made cyberstalking a part of the federal interstate stalking statute. Still, there remains a lack of legislation at the federal level to specifically address cyberstalking, leaving the majority of legislative prohibitions against cyberstalking at the state level.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag In the United Kingdom, the Malicious Communications Act (1998) classified cyberstalking as a criminal offense.[5]

Most stalking laws require that the perpetrator make a credible threat of violence against the victim; others include threats against the victim's immediate family; and still others require the alleged stalker's course of conduct constitute an implied threat.(1) While some conduct involving annoying or menacing behavior might fall short of illegal stalking, such behavior may be a prelude to stalking and violence and should be treated seriously.[6]

Online identity stealth blurs the line on infringement of the rights of would-be victims to identify their perpetrators. We need to debate how internet use can be traced without infringing on protected civil liberties.

Cyberstalking law enforcement

Law enforcement has often not caught up with the times, and officials are in many cases simply telling the victims to avoid the websites where they are being harassed or having their privacy violated. Some assistance can be found by contacting the web host companies (if the material is on a website) or the ISP of the abuser. Many victims note that persistence is a key. At times the seriousness of the impact of this type of violation is not comprehended and the third party facilitators of cyberstalkers tell the victim to work it out with their harasser. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts


  • Bocij, Paul. Cyberstalking : Harassment in the Internet Age and How to Protect Your Family. Praeger Publishers, 2004. (ISBN 0-275-98118-5)
  • Meloy, J. The Psychology of Stalking. Reid. Academic Press, 2000. (ISBN 0-12-490561-7)
  • Mullen, Paul E.; Pathé, Michele; Purcell, Rosemary. Stalkers and Their Victims. Cambridge University Press, 2000. (ISBN 0-521-66950-2)


  • Adam, A. (2001). Cyberstalking: Gender and computer ethics. In E. Green & A. Adam (Eds.), Virtual Gender: Technology, Consumption and Identity (pp. 209-224). London: Routledge.
  • Adam, A. (2002). Cyberstalking and Internet pornography: Gender and the gaze. Ethics and Information Technology, 4, 133-142.
  • Bocij, P., Bocij, H., McFarlane, L. (2003). Cyberstalking: A case study of serial harassment in the UK. British Journal of Forensic Practice, 5(2), 25-32.
  • Bocij, P. (2005). Reactive stalking: A new perspective on victimisation. British Journal of Forensic Practice, 7, 23-34.
  • Ellison, L. (2003). Cyberstalking: Tackling harassment on the internet. In D. S. Wall (Ed.), Crime and the Internet, (pp. 141-151). London, UK: Routledge.
  • Spitzberg, B. H., & Hoobler, G. (2002). Cyberstalking and the technologies of interpersonal terrorism. New Media & Society, 4, 71-92.
  • Tavani, H. T., & Grodzinsky, F. S. (2002). Cyberstalking, personal privacy, and moral responsibility. Ethics and Information Technology, 4, 123-132.

Additional material




External links