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The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use

An Interpersonal Approach

Scott E. Caplan

Since the advent of the Internet and increasingly mobile devices, we have witnessed dramatic changes in computer-mediated technologies and their roles in our lives. In the late 1990s, researchers began to identify problematic forms of Internet use, such as difficulty controlling the amount of time spent online. Today, people live in a perpetually digital and permanently connected world that presents many serious types of problematic Internet use besides deficient self-regulation. Thousands of studies have been published on interpersonal problems such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking, relationship conflicts about online behavior, and the increasingly problematic use of mobile devices during in-person interactions. The Changing Face of Problematic Internet Use: An Interpersonal Approach also examines future trends, including the recent development of being constantly connected to mobile devices and social networks. Research in these areas is fraught with controversy, inconsistencies, and findings that are difficult to compare and summarize. This book offers students and researchers an organized, theory-based, synthesis of research on these problems and explains how interpersonal theory and research help us better understand the problems that online behavior plays in our personal lives and social interactions.

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5. Cyberstalking, Unwanted Pursuit, and Relational Intrusion

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Chapter Five

Cyberstalking, Unwanted Pursuit, and Relational Intrusion

Stalking is an interpersonal phenomenon that entails pursuit, intrusion, and harassment. Westrup and Fremouw (1998) define stalking as “unwelcome, repetitive, and intrusive harassing and threatening behavior directed towards a specific individual” (p. 255). Tokunaga and Aune (2015) define cyberstalking as “repeated unwanted relational pursuit of an individual through communication technologies, such as computers, tablets, and smart phones” (p. 3; also see Reyns, 2012; Spitzberg & Hoobler, 2002).

Initial concerns about cyberstalking began to enter public and scholarly discourse in the mid-1990s. In 1994, the Baltimore Sun printed one of the first news stories on cyberstalking titled, “Criminals Lurk in Alleys of Cyberspace” (Rosenlind, 1994). Two of the earliest scholarly papers on cyberstalking appeared in 1995, addressing concerns about people using email to harass others (Barton, 1995; Ross, 1995). In 1999, Vice President Gore asked the U.S. Justice Department to provide guidance on how to address the emerging issue of cyberstalking. The subsequent Attorney General’s report examined the prevalence of cyberstalking, reviewed legislation and practices for dealing with cyberstalking, and ← 151 | 152 → made policy recommendations for handling cyberstalking in the future (Reno, 1999). The report noted, “The lack of comprehensive data on the nature and extent of cyberstalking makes it difficult to develop effective response strategies.” Further, the report’s general recommendations suggested, “Future surveys and research studies on stalking should, where possible, include specific information on cyberstalking” (n.p.).

In the decades since...

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