September 02, 2010

How To Protect Bangladeshis From Cyberstalking

Time and again we have heard stories about how women and kids and even men are being stalked online in Bangladesh. As internet is new to the Bangladeshi societies and most of the users are young and in their teens they do not take any precaution in their engagement.

Just today I was reading an article about how e-stalking is thriving in Bangladesh. Examples include:
  • Faking a Facebook account and posting obscene pictures
  • Threats on Cell phones
Cyber bullies use text messages on cell phones, or email, instant messages, social networking blogs, or Web pages to harass, embarrass, and intimidate other kids. The bullying takes many forms, from spreading false rumors and posting embarrassing pictures of others to sending offensive messages, repeated harassment (sometimes sexual), stalking, threats, and even extortion. (Cyber Bullying - anti social behaviors online)
The problems multiply when the victims hide the fact from their parents and are subjected to stress and depression.

And the media is only talking about the threats and not the naivety of the users in not talking the proper precautions while interacting online.

But these problems can be avoided if the online users be a lot more cautious in their approach. If they can maintain these precautions then I think they can escape a lot of trouble down the line.

Protecting yourself online:

  1. Protect your identity: When opening a facebook or blog account, do not use your full name - Use nick name or a fabricated stylish name - your friends will know you - so no need to give stalkers a head start.
  2. Protect your account in Facebook: There are privacy controls - you can fix what type of friends can see what - for example - make some friend profiles - allow everything for best friends and family members- allow limited contents for class and coursemates - allow the minimum possible for new friends.
  3. Register your birthdate - but do not put the actual year. For example if your birthdate is 3rd April 1986, you register as 3rd April 1975. You will still get birthday wishes from your friend - but the stalker will not be able to assess your age.
  4. Use photos cautiously: I do not usually upload my or my family photos in Facebook or blog. If I ever do it I do it cautiously - limiting access to family members and close friends only. So use minimum photos and try to use photos without face - side view, blurred images etc.
  5. And more importantly don't put friends photos and tag them without their consent. If you find your photo is tagged - go and untag it if you feel you friend is not using privacy control and its not safe.
  6. Do not and I repeat do not put your address or telephone numbers online - in Facebook, in forum emails or other sites. You can write about your location like this - Dhaka, Bangladesh. But not like Dhanmondi, Dhaka. In Facebook if you are an advanced users you can limit who can access your telephone numbers - if you require this.
  7. Be careful before opening emails. Do not open attachments until you realize that the mail is from a friend and is important for you.
  8. Here are information on how to set privacy control in your Facebook site

Protecting your identity on Mobile phones:

  1. Do not give your phone number indiscreetly
  2. If you receive any unsolicited call then first tell that person that you are going to tell your parents that you are being harassed.
  3. If the person still calls you - first keep your phone off to show that you are not interested. If the problem persists use the phone operators complaint service (I think GrameenPhone has that). If the service is not available tell your parents - they will guide you by talking with the caller or changing the SIM.
  4. Alternatively tell your friends that you are being stalked from a specific phone. They will call that number to give piece of their minds to the stalker.

What the parents and authorities can do:

  1. Many US states have anti-cyberstalking laws - the authorities can consider implementing one.
  2. Its the parents' responsibility to make sure that their children are neither victims or bullies. The parents need to be supportive of their kids. They must know that identity falsification and theft is a reality in the cyber world and keeping offline cannot guarantee their kids from being stalked in the roads. They need to tell their kids to inform such incidents and they should help them with open minds and not accusing them.
  3. NGOs and other organizations can implement a phone in help/consultation center which can guide the young people if they feel scared to tell the family.
  4. The police should have a specialized cell to deal with this - so they can provide guidance and help.
I think with some precautions most of these cases can be avoided. As being online is and will be an important feature of our lives we need to sort out these anomalies and let the stalkers know that they cannot get away.

Image by Flickr user Terry Freedman. Used under a Creative Commons license - BY-NC-ND.


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