Digital communication is a constant in our lives today—from email and text messages to various social media platforms and all the ways of interacting. We’re online and attached to devices 24/7.
And there’s a lot of good that comes with it. We can instantly connect with friends, family, and business contacts and communicate in real-time; feel connected over great distances; share photos from our daily lives and special occasions; create engaging content; and even generate income.
But there is a vulnerable side to all this electronic connectedness.
What happens when someone—including your ex-spouse—maintains digital contact with you against your will in ways that cause you distress or fear?
Cyberstalking is on the rise.
Cyberstalking is an umbrella term for many forms of online harassment and digital abuse, including sending hostile, aggressive, or threatening texts or emails; using social media platforms to bully, intimidate, gossip, spread lies, or defame you (harm your personal or professional reputation); setting up fake accounts to troll your comment section, even after being blocked; hacking your digital accounts; using GPS or other tracking devices to monitor your physical location; impersonating you online; publicly posting your private information; and other malicious tactics.
Cyberstalking can severely impact the victim’s daily life, health, and general well-being. Victims may experience confusion, fear, anger, anxiety, depression (sometimes severe), sleep disorders, and PTSD. It may become challenging to go about regular business.
Keeping pace with technology and digital culture can be challenging for the law. Fortunately, however, under California law, cyberstalking is a crime—a subcategory of traditional stalking.
California Penal Code Section 646.9 defines stalking as follows:
“Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses someone and makes a credible threat with the intent to place the victim or their family in reasonable fear for their safety is guilty of the crime of stalking.” And includes “that performed through the use of an electronic communication device.”
Appropriate social media monitoring sometimes plays a legitimate role in divorce proceedings, such as when an attorney or investigator reviews the other party’s accounts for evidence of hidden assets that may impact your settlement. Note, however, that in a no-fault divorce state such as California, you don’t need to prove wrongdoing to get a divorce; therefore, evidence of infidelity, for example, which you may find online, has no bearing on your divorce.
What to do if your ex is cyberstalking you:
Take it seriously. Most cyberstalking victims know their stalker, including a former spouse. But online communication can give people a (false) sense of anonymity and encourage them to write, send, and post things in anger that they wouldn’t say or do in real life. Nevertheless, cyberstalking should never be taken lightly—even if there is no history of domestic violence in your relationship. Technology-based abuse is serious and could be a red flag about the potential for physical harm.
Report it to the police. Cyberstalking by your ex is a crime and a form of domestic violence.
Document everything. Save messages, and screenshot social media posts and interactions. Many forms of cyberstalking produce a significant and useful digital “paper trail.” Limit your online presence. Reduce how much you post on social media, and be careful what you share on any online platform. Turn off location tags in your posts.
Upgrade your digital security. Change your passwords. Use two-factor authentication. Check your privacy settings. Regularly delete your browsing history. Make sure you’re running the latest versions of software and apps. Antivirus software can alert you to malware or spyware. Turn off GPS on your phone, location history, and web and app activity on Google. It’s also wise to consult a cybersecurity professional.
Contact a domestic violence service. Support services can refer you to experts who will do a comprehensive tech sweep of your devices and home.
Keep your attorney informed. Your family lawyer can advise you about your rights and potential legal avenues for protection, such as a restraining order. Evidence of cyberstalking may be necessary for your case.
The skilled and caring family lawyers at SFLG provide aggressive and effective representation for clients experiencing domestic abuse, including cyberstalking. When dealing with a malicious or unstable ex-spouse, we take immediate steps to ensure your rights are protected and can assist in obtaining abuse prevention orders.
By Debra Schoenberg