Some portray the internet as the “Wild West” with no enforceable rules of conduct or behavior. However, it is important to keep in mind that any behavior that constitutes stalking or harassment if it takes place in face to face interactions does not become “ok” if the behavior occurs online.
Here are definitions of “cyberstalking” and “cyberharassment” adapted from the National Conference of State Legislatures (Note: “cyberbullying” is a term generally limited to interactions between minors):
- Cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet, email or other electronic communications to stalk, and generally refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors, including communicating a credible threat of harm.
- Cyberharassment. Cyberharassment differs from cyberstalking in that it is generally defined as not involving a credible threat. Cyberharassment usually pertains to unconsented conduct such as threatening or harassing email messages, instant messages, or to blog entries or websites dedicated solely to tormenting an individual. Harassment does not include constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose (i.e., free speech).
In Michigan, depending on the circumstances, cyberstalking and cyberharassment can constitute misdemeanors or felonies. These behaviors would also typically violate Michigan Tech’s Student Code of Conduct and Computer Use rules and regulations. Therefore, if you are the target of this type of inappropriate online behavior, or if a student confides to you that he or she is being harassed or stalked online, resources are available on campus.
- Contact Public Safety and Police Services.
- Contact the Dean of Students Office.
- Seek help from Counseling and Wellness Services.
- Educate the harasser about the risks of inappropriate use of cyberspace or refer student to the Dean of Students Office. Sometimes young people are unaware that their online communications can violate the law or university regulations.
- Encourage the harassed student to take appropriate action through the Dean of Students Office or local law enforcement.
- Ignore the problem.
- Assume that there is nothing that can be done.