Pretty much any woman with an internet presence has experienced some form of online harassment.
I have had a multitude of social media accounts over the years, and it is fascinating to see how differently one is treated when interlocutors “know” your gender and when they do not. Because I tend to talk about analytical fields like finance, economics, and technology, most folks online assume I am a man. (Even when I include hobbies like gardening or cooking in my profile, they still assume I am a man.) On accounts where I do not correct their assumptions, I experience practically zero harassment or trolling. On accounts where I do, it becomes open season for trolls. It’s amazing.
What is responsible for this discrepancy? My educated guess is simply that there are a lot of men out there who, for whatever reason, feel deeply emasculated, and they derive some kind of comfort or pleasure in attacking what they perceive is a weaker target. Of course, any man who wants to tangle with me in this way is only going to end up feeling further emasculated. (The last person I am going to be intimidated by is some anonymous malcontent who has failed at life and needs to take it out on someone else. I mean, come on. I have a hard time being around women who act like divas, but diva men are somehow even worse.) But I am sure they continue to do it because they encounter at least some women who feel intimidated by their behavior and that gets them off. Or maybe they know that a well-educated and well-read woman would never go for them romantically, and they feel the need to lash out.
This dynamic is certainly not the sum total of cyberstalking and online harassment, however. There are plenty of women who engage in cyberstalking behavior and online harassment now. And their motivations are frankly not all that different from the men who participate in this behavior. They feel like they have failed in their personal lives. They are disappointed in their professional life. (This is quite true for women who bought in to the “girlboss” worldview to the detriment of their family life. You should see the obsessive harassment trad wives receive from other women online.) They have no friends in real life that aren’t friends of utility (as Aristotle would call it).
Another fascinating aspect of cyberstalking is the extent of the obsession. Many of these folks will latch onto a certain personality for years and even decades. They will create fake social media accounts and join specific chatrooms just to get their daily fix of their obsession. It’s not all that different than having a heroin problem. When they get blocked, they create more fake accounts. Oftentimes, not responding to stalkers does not deter them. You belong to an imaginary conversation in their mentally ill and deluded mind – so it doesn’t matter if the connection is “real.” In fact, many men and women develop powerful obsessions with folks they have never met in real life or haven’t seen in a very long time.
An even more interesting aspect of their commitment is the fact that this behavior is illegal in most states. In a sense, the cyberstalker is in a worse legal position than someone who engages in stalking in real life because they leave the biggest paper trail of their behavior. But they continue to do it anyway, because mentally ill people are not very good at negotiating personal risk.
Cyberstalking does not have to progress toward violence or threats of violence to become legally actionable behavior. Defaming people on the internet (or members of their family), trying to cause damage to someone’s business interests, impersonating someone on the internet, etc. can all result in lawsuits that will ruin someone’s life. And again, a digital trail is often the best trail. It cracks me up, for example, when people send me harassing messages from anonymous accounts and don’t think I know who they are and where they live. Seriously, how dumb do you have to be to stalk someone who works in tech? Talk about swimming in the shallow end of the gene pool. (Awww, you are sending psycho messages to a website that I own through a proxy server with a burner email account? How precious. What, are you a time traveler from 1995?)
So, what is the profile of a person who chooses – over and over again – to seek out negative interactions with someone who clearly wants nothing to do with them? It turns out, psychologists have a pretty good idea what these people have in common.
Profoundly low self-esteem
Many cyberstalkers are either unemployed or underemployed (meaning they are not working enough hours to support themselves financially, or are doing jobs that they are embarrassed of / think are unimportant). Many choose targets they feel rejected or judged by (or have been judged by as a matter of fact). A psychologically well-adjusted person can receive criticism and move on with their lives. They can establish goals for themselves and make credible progress toward improving their situation. They can relocate to less toxic environments. But for some folks, the world is a conspiracy against them and that conspiracy is exemplified by certain personalities. They are the least common denominator in their personal failings, but will never run out of others to blame.
This would also include people who feel like they have been rejected romantically or in friendship. This can certainly involve social relationships where there was no real romantic/friendship interest but some sort of abstracted alienation of affection. We see this unfold all the time on social media these days – someone feels something akin to genuine friendship because they are seeing a stream of quasi-intimate posts someone makes (what they eat, vacations, baby pictures, random musings), but then they start acting like an asshole, people get tired of their drama, and cut them off (or tell them bluntly what they think). That person then takes their fake affectionate relationship (years of likes, loves, virtual hugs, shared laughs) and converts it to obsessive hate. They do anything they can to reinsert themselves into that person’s life again. Tagging them, tagging known connections in hope that they will see it, following them across platforms, etc.
In fact, most of the psychos who get caught up in this behavior will eventually try to recruit a third party to join in their efforts simply because they NEED some sort of feedback. (This is the behavior of online mobs on sites like Twitter. It’s sort of crowdsourced harassment. The stalker finds people who share their own negative psychological characteristics to help them act out their twisted revenge fantasies.)
Established psychological issues
Stalkers often already have psychiatric pasts. Negative interactions take on a life of their own because they are already depressive or psychotic. Chances are, you are not the first person they’ve tried to abuse in their lives. This is how they treat their spouses, their children, their coworkers. They aren’t secretly toxic individuals, resentment is their entire lifestyle. You are talking to people whose kids will move as far away as possible the moment they turn 18 years old. They have a countdown going.
If you are dealing with these folks, keep judicious records. Screenshot their threats. Screenshot evidence that they are tracking you across a multitude of platforms. Screenshot your telling them to stop. These are the folks that will try to hurt you. They will not be content with being ignored and they have episodes where they are flat-out not connected to reality and capable of anything. Many try to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol that make their conditions even worse. Gather this evidence and take it to authorities, who can make contact with their medical professionals or utilize red flag laws.
Many cyberstalkers go after people who have lives they want. It’s a sort of footnote to the “Fear of Missing Out” phenomenon. They see people posting lives they wish they had or feel they cannot have, choices they wish they themselves had made, and it literally drives them insane. This is why celebrities end up with stalkers (apart from romantic delusions).
But it also applies to anyone who shares the good things about their lives at all. A woman who can value interest rate derivatives is a source of envy to a man who gets passed over for entry level finance positions. A trad wife with a beautiful homestead who homeschools her children becomes a source of envy for the divorced girlboss whose kids prefer their “fun” father. The chick who works out religiously becomes a source of envy for the person who has let himself go. The rejected boyfriend can’t stop thinking about the chap that was found to be husband material. Etc. etc. etc.
Young people have a lot of insecurities, but it doesn’t even begin to measure on the Richter scale when compared with some people facing down middle age, as they are appraising their lives and have fewer perceived opportunities to turn the ship around. Add in an Aggressively Online lifestyle and unhealthy obsessions are born.
I have provided a lot of information here for victims of cyberstalking and online harassment. But I think it is equally important to point out something to folks who engage in this behavior.
If you “hate-follow” ordinary people, you are a harasser. If you try to reach out to people whom you already know want nothing to do with you, you are a harasser. It’s not cool, it’s not witty, it doesn’t make you an interesting person or put you in a cool in-group. It means you are mentally ill and should go get professional help. Go talk to a psychiatrist and tell them about your online obsessions. It means you are highly likely to suffer professional and personal consequences that may not only hurt you, but people who are in the sad situation of depending on someone like you financially. This is not the behavior of a normal, sane person. When people tell you to fuck off, that’s all there is to it. You need to fuck off.