If someone starts stalking you online, you could be in for a rough time.
Cyber stalking has caused serious mental distress for many people, as noted by a new report indicating the impact on the victim’s psyche can be hugely detrimental.
The research, carried out by the University of Bedfordshire, even likened the eventual trauma to experiences of sexual assault or bomb victims.
It also showed three in 10 cyber stalking victims felt let down by their service providers, so evidently more support is required.
This is where employers could help. We spoke to Professor Carsten Maple, co-director of the University of Bedfordshire’s National Centre for Cyber-stalking Research, about what businesses could do to help workers affected by this worrying trend.
How bad can cyber stalking actually get?
In extreme cases, of course, it has led to fatalities and murder, but that is very, very uncommon.
There’s also this measure of whether you’ve got Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What we can say is that when people are stalked by more than one method, maybe online and offline, they have reported similar levels of PTSD as bomb victims.
Now, we’re not trying to say it’s as bad, but people can have the same level of PTSD.
We live so much of our lives online now it’s a real concern.
At the other end of the scale, over 45 per cent of males were concerned about loss of reputation, so you can see how it builds into the workplace environment.
Is the problem in part due to inherent flaws in modern communications technology?
Well, it’s a new communications paradigm, isn’t it?
With modern communications, things can be taken in the wrong way. You must have sent a text which has got you in trouble before, right?
When you’re next to someone you can read body language and you just can’t get that online.
Where do you draw the line between when it’s just banter and when it is harassment?
So what should businesses do to either prevent this from happening or help employees who are victims?
This is a really important area as businesses should try and help.
If I was a good business leader, I’d talk with my staff about what’s allowed with technology in and around the office. You need to remember online things need to be taken differently.
People who are being cyber harassed don’t know what to do about it. Should they go to police? Our research showed over half of those affected didn’t go to the police.
So businesses should have processes in place, firstly because if someone is being harassed in the workplace the business can be legally liable for it.
Companies should try and create mechanisms so workers can report cyber stalking.
With things like Facebook, people don’t feel like they have enough support… that’s what I’ve heard from victims.
Should companies look to block certain websites where cyber stalking is prevalent and watch over employee behaviour more?
Well you have some rights as an employer. With things like looking over emails though, you have got to be careful about privacy.
Banning Facebook, for example, would be pointless as people would find a way around it.
Businesses should have fully developed use policies and should then adhere to them. They don’t want to be caught out not adhering to them if something goes wrong.
They need to make sure the use policy is not just some document people don’t read.