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Cyberstalking Project Proposal

Cyberstalking Project Proposal

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Published by Renee Powers
A project proposal for COMM 502: Seminar in Media Studies
A project proposal for COMM 502: Seminar in Media Studies

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Published by: Renee Powers on Oct 24, 2012
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12/04/2012

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Renee Powers/Problem #2/p1 Introduction Since the beginning of Facebook, my friends and I have wasted time “Facebook stalking

.” Though this term is used in jest, cyberstalking is no laughing matter. Social networking sites like Facebook highlight the commodification of relationships that rely on mass participation. The value of these relationships is cheapened and can be exploited. Mass participation contributes to the threat of privacy violations through interpersonal surveillance. Malicious interpersonal surveillance via social networking sites is known as cyberstalking. This project will take a critical look at the relationship between social media technology and violence against women. In an era where participation in social networking sites is nearly compulsory and social technology is mobile, privacy, security, and safety are of utmost importance.

Literature Interpersonal surveillance in the digital age “…is characterized as surreptitious strategies individuals use over communication technologies to gain awareness of another user’s offline and/or online behaviors” (Tokunaga, 2011, p. 706). Social networking sites, like Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook in particular, facilitate a mild form of casual stalking. In fact, some users believe Facebook was created with this intention (Trottier, 2012) and anticipate some degree of monitoring (Marwick, 2012; Trottier, 2012). Other users’ sharing behaviors normalize social sharing activities and individuals are likely to conform (Brandtzaeg et al., 2010). But, serious Facebook stalking mirrors real world stalking in a number of ways. Termed online obsessive relational intrusion, serious Facebook stalking can involve unwanted gifts or messages, anonymous monitoring, and

Renee Powers/Problem #2/p2 following a user to virtual spaces (e.g. Facebook groups) or real-life locations (Chaulk & Jones, 2011). This issue is exacerbated by the ubiquity of social media use. The power differential is important to note, as interpersonal surveillance involves a nontransparent hierarchical display of power. The observer’s goal is closeness whereas the goal of the observed is autonomy (Tokunaga, 2011). This power dynamic inherent to surveillance is exacerbated anonymity online, “…which allow[s] individuals to lurk in an environment that reduces the threat of being discovered” (p. 705). As perpetrators of domestic violence rely on taking advantage of an imbalance of power (Walker, 2009), we can assume serious interpersonal surveillance is a form of cyberstalking. Cyberstalking as a form of domestic or intimate partner violence cannot be ignored in the digital age. Perpetrators easily have access to a number of cyberstalking technology: smart phones, monitoring software, social networking sites, online databases, et cetera. Because of the internet’s intrinsic lack of boundaries, cyberstalking is difficult to detect, and cyberstalking as a crime is often overlooked (King-Ries, 2011). It is clear more research needs to be done in this area to shed light on the issue. To counteract cyberstalking, some institutions suggest women avoid using social media and to reconsider their smartphone purchase, contributing to a larger culture of violence. I propose that we critique such a suggestion to consider the smartphone’s relationship to the power structure of society--that is, to how stalkers use such technology. Women should not be forced to choose between mobile technology and the potential to be stalked. Instead, institutions and scholars ought to focus on those in power who wrongfully use this technology to stalk. Such consideration of the power structures and how mass media can be exploited to control those without power is reminiscent of

Renee Powers/Problem #2/p3 the Frankfurt school of critical theory.

Method The issue of cyberstalking requires a critical approach to understanding the relationship among social media, surveillance, and violence. Inspired by Frankfurt scholar Theodor Adorno (1945), I will argue that social media users are conditioned by the structure of a social-media-saturated society that keeps its users from criticizing social realities. In this case, that reality is the threat and ease of cyberstalking. Much like Adorno’s discussion of popular music, social media use encourages pseudoindividualism; the consumer thinks he or she has choices but ultimate must conform to the ways that other users share personal information. In order to update Adorno’s theories, I will incorporate the theory of neoliberalism. For example, when a social media user lapses on their privacy settings on social networking sites, instead of critiquing the cultural conditions that facilitate the sharing of private information, the digital culture assumes the individual should take responsibility. In other words, a user only has him- or herself to blame for any malicious activity that comes from the lapse. In a social-mediasaturated society, providing information to networking sites has become nearly compulsory, and so the blame is wrongly attributed. This suggestion complies with the dominant societal power structure in that it places blame on the victim of cyberstalking. In this sense, smartphone use is a tool of the dominant power structure. My project will explore the tensions and relationships among power, technology, and violence against women in order to find a solution to ensure women’s safety in a society that seeks to both encourage us to participate in information-sharing and to disempower us.

Renee Powers/Problem #2/p4

Significance Cyberstalking is a serious crime that is often overlooked. In a digital age, it is unreasonable to suggest women avoid using social networking sites to prevent such a crime. In fact, this recommendation is akin to suggesting women in short skirts were asking to be raped. A United States Department of Justice study reported 14% of individuals age 18 and older have been victims of stalking, 25% of those victims reported some form of cyberstalking, and 75% of stalking victims knew the perpetrator (Catalano, 2012). If the average number of Facebook friends is 229 (Hampton et al., 2011), the likelihood of interpersonal surveillance and cyberstalking is quite high. And with the Violence Against Women Act still in need of reauthorization by the United States Congress, women should be worried about the protections against cyberstalking provided by the law. A critical theory approach to the problem explores the structural conditions that allow these crimes to continue.

References Notable scholars: danah boyd Mark Andrejevic David Lyon Journals: Surveillance and Society Critical Studies in Media Communication Computers in Human Behavior

Renee Powers/Problem #2/p5 Works cited: Adorno, T. (1945). Brandtzaeg, P.B., Luders, M., & Skjetne, J.H. (2010). Too many Facebook “friends”? Content sharing and sociability versus the need for privacy in social network sites. Journal of Human-Computer Interaction (26), 1006-1030. Catalano, S. (2012). Stalking victims in the United States – Revised. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. Chaulk, K., & Jones, T. (2011). Online obsessive relational intrusion: Further concerns about Facebook. Journal of Family Violence (26), 245-254. Hampton, K., Goulet, L. S., Rainie, L., & Purcell, K. (June 16, 2011). Social networking sites and our lives. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved October 21, 2012 from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Technology-and-socialnetworks.aspx. King-Ries, A. (2011). Teens, technology, and cyberstalking: The domestic violence wave of the future? Texas Journal of Women and the Law (20), 131-164. Lyon, D. (2001). Surveillance society: Monitoring in everyday life. Buckingham: Open University Press. Marwick, A. E. (2012). The public domain: Social surveillance in everyday life. Surveillance and Society (9), 378-393. Tokunaga, R. S. (2011). Social networking site or social surveillance site? Understanding the use of interpersonal electronic surveillance in romantic relationships. Computers in Human Behavior (27), 705-713. Trottier, D. (2012). Interpersonal surveillance on social media. Canadian Journal of Communication (37), 319-332.

Renee Powers/Problem #2/p6 Walker, L.E.A. (2009). The battered woman syndrome (3rd ed). New York: Springer Publishing Company.

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