Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

The Underbelly of Online Social Networking: Stalking & Other Obsessive Behavior

For many professionals, the Internet is a valuable supplemental tool for promoting themselves as well as for meeting new and valuable contacts. Like other life phenomena however, building social connections over the Internet is not without risks, and this becomes very apparent when one experiences a rare encounter with a very attached individual.


Gifts (Photo credit: Guudmorning!)

Information communication technology (ICT) provides an easy, convenient way to annoy and stalk others. Once upon a time, unwanted suitors would unnerve the object of their affection by constantly leaving gifts at the person’s doorstep. Such acts have taken new forms, for example emailing information or links for months even when the recipient never responds. Different forms, same purpose: an attempt to force some kind of connection with their target. This behavior is described in the following selected excerpts from a forensic psychiatry podcast which can be found here along with the transcript. (The paper this information is based on is here.)

Lynne Malcolm summarizes stalking methods facilitated by ICT by stating, “Stalking can involve all sorts of contact and these days e-mails and SMS messages have added another dimension.” Paul Mullen compares this persistent communication to related behavior where ICT isn’t involved and describes the significance of the 2-week critical time period along with problematic stalking behavior:

It’s associated with sending gifts… If a stalker persists for more than two weeks the chances are they are going to persist for at least six to twelve months…  About 10% have a serious mental disorder. Though they don’t have serious mental illness very few people who stalk are exactly well-balanced individuals. They tend to be people who have difficulty with relationships; either they are rather inadequate, shy, dependent types or they tend to be the sort of arrogant, demanding individuals, very sensitive to their own rights and insensitive to the rights and prerogatives of others. Difficult characters, but they are not actually mentally ill, most of them.

The summative assessment from this podcast is that severely mentally-ill as well as homicidal individuals are rare among stalkers (as there are various types – described below) as well as among victims (yes, some victims become homicidal as a reaction to extreme stress and anger at their stalker).

Lynne Malcolm: … There’s the rejected stalker, usually ex-partners trying to reinstate a relationship. The intimacy seeker, who professes love but is oblivious to their victim’s feelings – people who stalk celebrities usually fall into this category and are the most persistent. There’s the incompetent suitor, who lacks the social skills necessary to establish an intimate relationship; the resentful stalker, who’s motivated by anger and a desire for revenge – they can be very frightening but rarely physically violent. And lastly, and thankfully the most rare, is the predatory stalker – they are driven by sadistic pleasure, their stalking is sexual in nature and often leads to attack.

Even with these odds however, it is recommended that this obsessive behavior be taken seriously when it persists beyond a couple of weeks. It is unfortunate that general advice to be persistent in order to attain what you want (in sales and in matters of the heart) is often misinterpreted to mean that one should repeatedly try to chip away another person’s will – this is heinous if you ask me! I always thought that persistence means that when someone says “no” to you, that you move on to the next person (it’s a numbers game isn’t it?).

It’s true that some interpret persistence as a measure of boldness and determination and, thus, something worthy of admiration. However, some of us find it indicative of desperation, neediness, and control issues and react by losing respect for, or even reviling, the pushy pursuer. Hence, it behooves pursuers who don’t mean any harm to recognize the signs of a “lost cause”:

  • Nonreciprocal communication patterns are one indication of this. In other words, don’t respond to those who don’t respond to you!
  • Pay attention to the person’s personal status information – or lack thereof! For example, I’d say it’s a safe bet that those who either listed themselves as “married” or chose not to display their status at all are not interested in anything more than developing professional connections or friendships on LinkedIn.

Finally, for those who are trying to get away, here are some steps you can take to ensure your own safety and regain your peace of mind: 10 Tips To Scare Away the Cyber Stalker. Take care and Happy Thanksgiving to all in the United States!

2 responses to “The Underbelly of Online Social Networking: Stalking & Other Obsessive Behavior

  1. Mike November 28, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Finally, somebody urges caution! Yes, there are a lot of kooky people out there. Thanks, Lynn!

    • Lynn Patra November 28, 2013 at 11:22 pm

      You’re welcome! Yeah it can be hard to identify these people within the first couple of weeks of harassment. Well-balanced people tend to adjust and leave you alone after that, and it’s when someone’s been hanging on for longer than that is when the thought enters your mind, ‘Wow… seems like this will go on for awhile.’ O.o

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