Checked In: Is Social Media Stalking You?

social media stalking
Photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center on flickr creative commons

I have a single friend who “checks in” on Facebook everywhere she goes.  “Ursula is at Starbucks”.  “Ursula is at work”.  “Ursula is at such and such Mexican restaurant.”  Yes, she is probably guilty of oversharing, but is it more?  Is she putting herself in danger by “checking in”?

I spoke to Shannon Tulloss, a licensed private investigator, about the pros and cons of geotagging (also known as checking in) and how we can protect ourselves and our children from stalkers, both on and offline.

TM: What are the benefits of geotagging?

ST:  Geotagging is a service that can help you remember where you’ve been on family vacations or business trips.  Many people enjoy the use of geotagging while traveling because photos taken, while tagging is enabled, provide an exact location identification of each photo.  I wish geotagging was available when I toured Europe, then I would be able to look at my photos now and recall exactly where I was, even in remote locations.  Users of this service can also “check in” upon their arrival to different locations and also note the other people that are with them at the time, should they allow it.  Many people enjoy looking at their movements on a map provided by sites associated with geotagging.  The main benefit of geotagging is that it provides a visual history of your life’s travels without the use of a poster board and push pins.

Another benefit of geotagging is that it can be used for family and friends to keep track of a user’s location.  For example, when I travel for speaking engagements or conferences, I always “check in” upon my arrival and departure of certain locations to ensure that my family knows where I am for their reference.  Should anything happen, they will have a time and date stamp of my exact whereabouts, where without geotagging, they would have no idea where I was.  I use this feature because my personal social media accounts are locked down and not visible to the public, so there is minimal concern.

Of course, the above applies to children too.  It can be helpful for parents to enable the geotagging function of their children’s cell phone, should they have one, to be able to pinpoint their whereabouts as they are allowed more freedom with their activities away from the home.

TM: What are the hazards of geotagging?

ST: Along with the benefits of geotagging, there are some inherent hazards too.  Of course, access to geotagging, in my opinion, should be limited to immediate family or friends within your immediate circle.  I can’t conceive of why anyone would want to publish to the entire world that they are waiting for their brother, alone in a parking lot, at night.  I have seen this, even recently.

TM: What are some ways we can protect ourselves from stalkers?

ST: To prevent yourself from being stalked, there are many ways to take matters into your own hands.  First, use discretion when choosing friends and dates.  Use the “would my mother like this person” test. Even better, consider your grandmother’s reaction to your choices.  If you are desperate for social interaction then you will find that you are allowing people into your life that don’t hold you in the highest regard.  You should not have 600 Facebook friends.  Once a person displays personality qualities that your grandmother would chalk up as “creepy” or oddly aggressive, move on.  Don’t hesitate to unfriend, just do it quietly, without fanfare.  If you create drama within your social networks or personal circles, you invite reciprocal drama that may evolve into stalking.  Stalkers are motivated to pursue a target because they feel angry or spiteful and as a result wish to retaliate.  They also wish to control their targets either personally, socially or emotionally.  Many stalkers are simply mentally ill or emotionally unstable.   Stalkers frequently suffer with a type of OCD wherein they objectify their target so they feel a need to “complete” the stalking, which of course cannot be completed, so their unwanted attention continues.  Stalkers will never see things from their victim’s point of view, only their own.

Stalking is a crime under Federal law and under the laws of all 50 States including the District of Columbia.  Should a person experience repeated unwanted attention, contact or harassment from anyone, local law enforcement should be immediately contacted.  Victims should keep detailed notes documenting the harassment including screen shots of interaction on social media and smart phones to ensure that the evidence is not lost or erased.
(Teressa’s sidebar: for more information on our family’s trouble with cyberstalking, see Cyberbullying, a Mother’s Story)

TM: What are some ways we can protect our children from stalkers?

ST: Know your kids friends and their parents, if possible.  This is more difficult when your children are well into their teen years, but with open lines of communication it can be achieved.  If your kids are not agreeable to sharing their personal life with you, then take action to ensure that you still have access.  Friend them under an alternative social media account with a name that they are unaware that you use.  Make certain that their geotagging capabilities are turned off when they are home.  If they are shall we say, a “parenting challenge”, allow them the use of a phone with few capabilities, only for emergencies.  Follow your children’s interactions.  One of my favorite things to do is to sit next to my son and watch the Facebook feed roll by on his account on a Friday night.  I have found this to be very enlightening, and recommend that all parents do this regularly.  Make certain that your children do not “friend” anyone that they do not actually know.  If at all possible, make it a house rule that all friend requests must be approved by a parent.  This keeps parameters in place for the kids and the friends of the kids and helps them to feel protected by you, which is your chief responsibility.  Turn off the Internet at night.  Keep your router next to your bed and shut it off so your kids cannot turn it back on without your knowing.

Talk to your kids

Ask them about their social networking interactions.  Just like discussing their day at the dinner table, show you are interested in all aspects of their life.  Let them know that you care and do not hold them accountable for what their friends are doing or saying, just what THEY do and say.  Warn them about interactions with people that they do not know.  Explain the true dangers of discussing topics of a personal nature online.  Parent them through it.  You will undoubtedly experience a degree of eye rolling, but your children will know that you are not only dedicated to their personal safety but every aspect of their well being, even online.

About Shannon:

Shannon Tulloss earned her California private investigator license in 1997.  She began her investigative career as a claims adjuster over 20 years ago working for large insurers.  She is a wife, mother of two teens that she homeschools, college graduate, conference speaker and foodie that is known for frequent volunteering and Tweeting.  Named as one of the top P. I.’s to follow on Twitter, you may find her Tweets enjoyable since they are terribly informative and are not always investigation related.

You can find Shannon at tullosspi.com or follow her on Twitter.

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