On Feb. 8 at 5:58 p.m., UW-Madison student “Alex Paverson” checked into Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. Three of Alex’s Facebook friends saw the post and immediately followed Alex there.
Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment, a student organization dedicated to ending domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault, created Paverson’s page, resembling a typical UW student’s account, to raise awareness about the relationship between stalking and technology on campus.
According to PAVE, the campaign was created to educate students on how easy it is to be located through online posts. They are not advocating for students to stop publishing information on social media sites but rather to show how stalking has changed with technological advancement.
In an age dominated by Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare, one in four victims reports being followed through some form of technology, according to the National Stalking Resource Center.
For one week UW-Madison students followed the Facebook page and were invited to find “Alex Paverson” checking in at places like Ian’s Pizza, the Student Activity Center and Redamte Coffeehouse.
For college students, running into friends on a campus happens daily. Since they have set schedules and live in relatively isolated environments, it can be hard to recognize stalking when it happens.
Carmen Hotvedt, a violence prevention specialist from University Health Services, said stalking is any repeated behavior that can cause a reasonable person to feel fear, and can range from unwanted phone calls to following someone.
“Is sending flowers stalking? No, not all the time. But it is when it sends a clear message over time,” Hotvedt said.
Life Sciences Communications Professor Dietram Scheufele broadly described stalking as following people in inappropriate ways.
It’s “not your traditional ‘hanging outside someone’s home’ or ‘following them around in a weird creepy way,’” Scheufele said.
Scheufele said certain behavior can be considered stalking even if it might seem socially acceptable.
“In the case of stalking, social norms are irrelevant,” Scheufele said. “If 20 people say you’re not being stalked, but you think you are, you are right.”
Scheufele said students should consider if they benefit by adding a person they just met to their social media pages.
“Do you really need the 1,001 friend?” he asked.
Hotvedt said stalking would still occur without technology, because the behaviors existed before.
“[It] is really just another effective tool for stalkers to better access where the victim is,” Hotvedt said.
Sharing a location will become a daily part of life and the methods will be perfected as technology further advances, Scheufele said.
“There are going to be many more applications, and they’re going to make our lives easier,” Scheufele said. “But that also means if this is going to be a big chunk of our lives, we better learn how to use it responsibly.”
Scheufele said it is important to be aware of what is actively shared online and what information is unintentionally revealed through global positioning systems on social media sites.
“Picture the friend you like the most, and the friend you like the least,” Scheufele said. “Somewhere, everyone in that group will see everything you post.”
The usage of the term “Facebook stalking” and other jokes that make light of the issue have made it harder to consider stalking a serious crime, Hotvedt said.
“We make so much fun of stalking in our culture that when it really happens we don’t see it,” Hotvedt said. “Victims don’t think they need help, or deserve help, or even think that it is stalking.”
Hotvedt said blame is often placed on the victim for sharing the information in the first place, but stalking is never the victim’s fault.
Scheufele said it’s never the problem of the victim, but rather the person who stalks is at fault.
“This is a free country and a free society,” Scheufele said. “Anybody can do whatever they damn well please but that doesn’t give anybody the right to commit a crime or to make their lives miserable.”
Half of stalkers faced with an intervention stop their behavior, according to Hotvedt.
“Asking for help and acknowledging that it’s happening is usually a good first step,” Hotvedt said.
Hotvedt recommended stalking victims seeking help to go to the Dean of Students, UW police, UHS or a friend.
“Any kind of getting help is okay,” Hotvedt said. “You don’t have to report if that doesn’t feel right for you, but many places on campus are well trained and well equipped to help.”