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Stalking In The 21st Century

Each morning I surf the 'net looking for news articles that I find of interest.  I find it faster (and a little less opinionated) than watching the news on television and quite often I get treated to some rare piece of news I might not otherwise have seen.  This morning I saw two pieces of news, both centered around the social media website, Facebook, that caught my eye.  One was more of a nuisance bit of news:  Facebook has changed everyone's contact email address on their profile to their facebook email.  (I didn't even know I had one of those)  The second was of greater interest to me:  it was about the 'facebook stalking' app.

Now, to understand my opinion on this application, it's important that you first understand my outlook on stalking.  I'm glad it's a crime.  I believe that a lot of 'stalkers' are actually harmless, but the victims - those being stalked - never have a way of knowing who is harmless and who isn't until the stalker has demonstrated his or her intentions, and then it may be too late.  I believe there is a difference between the 'innocent' love-struck stalker and the possessive or dominant stalker.  In the end I believe stalking is wrong and it's good to have laws in place empowering law enforcement professionals to deal with stalkers if that need arises.  (I also believe that many a stalker could be more efficiently dealt with by a husband, father, brother, etc.)

So, along comes facebook.  I use it.  I know a lot of cops who don't, and for very good reason, but having retired once already and no longer actively working the street, I view facebook as a convenient way to stay in touch with friends and family who don't live close (and I suck at making 'stay in touch' phone calls).  I get to see pictures of my grandchildren, my older kids, extended family, etc.  I get to see news items from various law enforcement related organizations who maintain facebook pages.  I get to maintain the facebook page... Wait; that's work - not enjoyment, but it takes me onto facebook just the same.  In other words, facebook is not, in my opinion, a bad thing.  Every now and then, however, facebook does something that is in their best business interest but seemingly without regard to how it may negatively affect society in general.

So, Facebook has launched what is being called the 'facebook stalking app."  This app allows facebook users to opt in, allowing facebook to display to every other facebook user, their location in relationship to the searching user.  Called "Find Friends Nearby" the app allows facebook users to seek out other facebookers in the local area.  "What's the problem?" you ask. The problem, as I see it, is twofold.

First, there are those younger or more naive users of facebook who think any new feature MUST be cool and so they dive in with both feet, never considering how the info they so willingly provide could be used to target them.  It is up to the parents or other family members of these younger or naive folks to insure they understand what exactly they are doing and what they may potentially be unintentionally inviting through the use of such an app.

Second, the app can obviously be used by anyone with a smart phone to target, track and stalk potential prey.  The two-legged predators are NOT becoming LESS common; their numbers are growing as the cyber-world continues to expand and the physical world struggles to keep up.

So, first off, I encourage you NOT to use that app without fully understanding the ramifications.

Also, I encourage you to get educated about potential cyber-crimes such as cyber-stalking.  Here is a good place to start: National Center for Victims of Crime, Stalking Resource Center

Stay informed.  Keep yourself safe.  DON'T automatically buy into everything a social media site offers.  Those sites profit from sharing your information.  Be sure of how you will benefit (or not) before empowering them with any more of your information than is absolutely necessary to get what you want out of it.

Stay safe!