Educational leaders’ wellbeing: “Putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others”

5 principles that support the wellbeing of educational leaders. By Lucy Lindley

The wellbeing of those in education has become a popular topic over the past few years. You only need to look at recent headlines to understand why – for example, it is reported that 1 in 20 teachers have mental health problems that have lasted more than a year (Nuffield Foundation, 2020), and more than half of all education professionals have considered leaving the sector over the past 2 years due to pressures on their health and wellbeing (Education Support Partnership, 2019).

In response to this, recent government initiatives have placed greater emphasis on the wellbeing of education professionals. For example, staff wellbeing is now appraised as part of Ofsted’s inspection framework, and the Department for Education (DfE) has launched a new expert advisory group. This builds upon previous guidance published by the DfE, which recommends developing a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. Although educational leaders have been recognised to play a key role in this, they are rarely asked about their own wellbeing. To address this gap, I invited educational leaders to take part in a research interview.

So, what did I learn from asking educational leaders to talk about their own experiences of wellbeing?

1. Make time for self-reflection

Despite its popularity, there is no universally agreed definition of wellbeing. Instead, people make sense of what wellbeing means to them by reflecting on their own experiences and understanding of the concept.

In this study, the educational leaders were prompted to explore the topic of wellbeing with a researcher. Outside a research setting, one common method for encouraging self-reflection is writing in a journal, but this is by no means the only way. What is important is taking the time to introspectively ask yourself some key questions, such as:

  • How do I feel today?
  • Do I consider my current level of wellbeing to be low or high?
  • What aspects of the self (e.g. thoughts, feelings, behaviours) have contributed to this?
  • What external factors (e.g. the environment, interactions with others) have played a role?

You can answer these questions by writing; by talking to a partner, colleague or professional coach; or by thinking while sitting, walking or even running. The practice of self-reflection is said to help you learn and develop a better understanding of yourself. In this instance, it could help identify what wellbeing means to you, as well as the ways in which you can support it (see Dr Lucy Kelly’s work on ‘reclaiming teacher wellbeing through reflective diary-writing’). Notably, this current study demonstrated that it is not necessary to have experienced both low and high levels of wellbeing to hold beliefs about what that may look or feel like.

2. Be flexible

What wellbeing means and feels like for one person may be very different to another person’s experience. It is therefore important that flexibility is exercised when it comes to promoting your own or other people’s levels of wellbeing:

  • Individuals should avoid striving for a specific manifestation of wellbeing and instead, work out what works best for them.
  • Educational leaders need to implement wellbeing initiatives that offer individuals the flexibility to participate in a way that supports them.
  • Educational policies need to be positioned in a way that gives educational leaders the autonomy and flexibility to implement processes that work both for themselves and those they lead.

This flexibility emphasises the multi-faceted nature of wellbeing. One common model of wellbeing – Seligman’s ‘PERMA’ model – suggests that wellbeing comprises of five different dimensions (Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment). A flexible approach will allow individuals to choose to focus on the dimensions of wellbeing that are most important to them, whether that is building a support network or working towards a goal of their choice.

3. Strive for balance

Although people experience wellbeing in different ways, high levels of wellbeing are often described as feeling balanced. Crucially, this balance does not simply refer to a reduced workload. Instead, ‘balance’ may mean:

  • Balancing time between work and non-work (a phrase suggested by one participant, who refuted that it was a work-life balance as work is part of her life too).
  • Taking part in leisure activities outside of work, such as swimming or choir.
  • Celebrating that educational leaders are also people with full lives outside the school gates.
  • Choosing to spend time in school during the holidays to help promote a sense of control.
  • Working from home one day a term to take space to focus.
  • Having the time to experience the ‘nice’ parts of the job, such as spending time with pupils.
  • Feeling the demands of their job role is balanced with their ability to do it.

Ultimately, a balanced life allows people to distribute their attention, energy, time and resources as they desire. To help sustain this balance and higher levels of wellbeing, it is recommended that individuals find ways to aid themselves in achieving balance in their everyday life.

4. Take action

In this study, the educational leaders perceived wellbeing as their own responsibility and something they should actively promote. Although the approaches varied, each leader demonstrated that they were adopting strategies in line with the New Economics Foundation’s ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’, summarised below.

  • Connect…The educational leaders were connecting to those around them through the use of Twitter, group activities, and role modelling positivity and other behaviours that help promote their wellbeing.
  • Be active… Examples of physical activities included cycling, running and swimming.
  • Take notice… This action was expressed as being mindful. For example, one participant described pausing to take notice of the beautiful scenery he passes through on his commute. He noted that this awareness extends to those around him, as he notices and comments on colleagues’ small changes (such as a haircut or new shirt).   
  • Keep learning… The educational leaders were continuing to learn through various forms of CPD, both formal (e.g. conferences) and informal (e.g. reflecting on their practice with colleagues). One participant noted that you keep learning throughout life and offers the example of learning to become a better runner.
  • Give… This action was depicted as volunteering time and support, for example, coaching other leaders through challenging circumstances and volunteering for a local hockey club.

On Twitter, the#teacher5adaycampaign encourages educators to utilise these five actions to promote their own wellbeing.  Using the hashtag, educators share examples from their own lives, which helps raise awareness of the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ and the ways in which educator wellbeing can be supported.

To promote higher levels of wellbeing, it is recommended that individuals ask themselves what they have control over, and which of the five actions they want to explore to support their wellbeing.

5. Lead by example

The educational leaders were leading by example in relation to promoting and maintaining higher levels of wellbeing. It should be noted that leading by example (or ‘idealised influence’) is one of Bass’ four key transformational leadership behaviours, a type of leadership commonly associated with high follower wellbeing (see Bowers (2019) for a review). 

This leadership behaviour can be demonstrated in various ways, including:

  • Modelling behaviours that support wellbeing, such as maintaining balance and engaging in leisure activities. This is grounded in Bandura’s social learning theory, which posits that individuals learn from observing those around them.
  • Making use of the ‘emotional contagion’, which is the phenomenon where observing one person’s emotions and related behaviours can lead to exhibiting a congruent emotional state. In this study, educational leaders strived to be positive and calm around those they lead (often described as their work persona or ‘mask’).
  • Communicating that wellbeing is a priority from the top-down. In this study, one educational leader used the oxygen mask analogy (‘put your oxygen mask on first’) to encourage his staff to support their own wellbeing, before helping others.

The educational leaders who participated in this study noted that leading by example helped support their own wellbeing too.

Conclusion

In summary, it is essential that educational leaders are encouraged to ‘put their own oxygen mask on first’. After all, a leader who promotes their own wellbeing can have a positive influence both on themselves and those they lead. In the field of education, this can reflect increased teacher motivation, commitment and job satisfaction, which in turn, is associated with improved pupil outcomes. As such, investing in the wellbeing of educational leaders can have a significant impact on a multitude of levels: from the individual, to the classroom and school system as a whole.

Technical note

This blog is based on research carried out by Lucy Lindley for the Master’s in Research qualification at the University of Portsmouth. Five semi-structured interviews were carried out with educational leaders who expressed that they had personally experienced high levels of wellbeing. Their narratives were analysed in-line with the theoretical underpinnings of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), a qualitative methodology that encourages close engagement with each participant’s lived experience.

Too Black or not Black Enough.

The story below is written by Hollie Green ©, and was created after a series of talks with a Youth Group in Surrey and people in the local community who, like Hollie, are multi-racial. Hollie talked to a number of people, from teenagers to people aged from 20 – 40+, and found that across many generations, hair pulling, name calling, physical beatings were all common for multi-racial children and yound people attending school in England.

This is a story of Olivier, a multiracial teenage girl aged 15, living in a agricultural county, in a small town in the UK.  Olivier was raised by her Caucasian family, who lived in poverty. They did not acknowledge Olivier’s background and ethnicity, instead Olivier was raised in a white British environment, with no acknowledgement of her black heritage. Olivier did not know how to look after her hair and any product Olivier desired for her hair was too expensive. Olivier begged her family for her hair to be braided to which her older half brother would respond “You are such a chav! Only chavy people have their hair  braided and listen to R&B”

An average day for Olivier was straightening her luscious large loose curls every morning. She despised them. All her life Olivier wanted to ‘look like everyone else’. Olivier once attended school with her natural hair… “Don’t you think that’s a bit of an extreme hair style Olivier!?”, her tutor raised his voice above the hustle and bustle of what was a Thursday morning start in school. “This is my natural hair”, Olivier responded looking dead into the bulbous middle-aged man’s wrinkled eyes. Everyone was staring at her, he made sure of that. The day before this Olivier was teased for her ‘dead hair’ in class where she had straightened it every day. Olivier could never win. Olivier was never accepted.

There was one other multi-racial person in Olivier’s class. This was one of the first people Olivier had ever met that resembled anything of her brown skin, full lips and curly hair, except his braided or cut short. His name was Jason. What Olivier didn’t know is that Jason too had been a victim of white washing. For Olivier to even turn up to school with natural hair was an embarrassment. The teacher had placed Jason and Olivier together. Olivier felt a sense of excitement. An opportunity to meet someone like her. Maybe she could eventually find out where to get her hair braided. Jason had no interest of telling her who did his hair. “It was a family-friend, you’d have to know her. She only does black people hair any way” Olivier ‘ was not black enough’. Jason asked to be moved to sit else where. Olivier felt humiliated and belittled. For the rest of the term Jason and his Caucasian friends would throw rubbers in her hair and other stationery to get it stuck. It was a game, she was but an object for their entertainment.

Olivier left school that week. What self-esteem Olivier had left, no longer existed. Humiliated daily and outcast from all parts of society. On that last day of school Olivier walked out of the school gates and was approached by a young man…

Would it be different for Olivier’s if her family reached out to her black family?

What if Jason gave contact details to Olivier of his cousin?

What do you think happened as a result of Olivier leaving school? Did she obtain her GCSEs?

Is Jason as confused as Oliver about where he belongs in the community?

What could’ve happened differently?

How many opportunities were there to help Olivier?

How could you have helped Olivier?

Dealing with cyber stalking: How to lock down your digital privacy

Online stalking (cyber stalking) is carried out in the digital world using a variety of methods. We discuss this problem in detail and reveal how you can improve your online privacy. By Aimee O’Driscoll

How to lockdown your digital privacy

Online stalking, also known as cyberstalking or online harassment, is a problem that has largely arisen as part of the internet era. Just like offline stalking, it can have a devastating impact on victims. Several trends contribute to the ease in which cyberstalking may be carried out. These include accessibility to vast amounts of personal information (for example, through social media) and the variety of ways in which we can communicate (through various platforms and apps).

While the psychological profiles of online stalkers tend to quite closely match those of offline stalkers, there are a couple of differences. Cyberstalkers are more likely to be ex-partners of their victims and are less likely to approach their victims. However, most cyber stalkers do use some offline tactics.

Cyberstalking can cause severe emotional (and sometimes physical) distress to victims. What’s more, it can be difficult to prove, especially if the perpetrator is good at covering their tracks. In this post, we reveal more about online stalking, including some real examples, and discuss the laws around cyberstalking. We also provide lots of tips to help you protect yourself against cyberstalkers and explain what to do if you become a victim of this crime.

What is cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking or online stalking is a broad term for using online technology to victimize others. Cyberstalkers may use a variety of methods such as social media, email, and instant messaging to harass, bully, or threaten victims.

Typically, cyberstalking involves communication between the stalker and the victim, but in some cases, there may be no attempt at contact. For example, a cybercriminal might set up a fake social media account in someone’s name for the purpose of embarrassing the victim.

To illustrate online stalking as it happens in the real world, let’s take a look at some examples of cyberstalking, including many cases which have already been prosecuted:

Unwanted services

In Utah, Loren Okamura was accused of tormenting Walt Gilmore and his adult daughter online for over a year. He sent threatening messages to the daughter and posted her address online. He also sent over 500 people to their home for unwanted services that included tow trucks, food delivery, and prostitutes. Okamura was indicted in October 2019 on charges including cyberstalking and interstate threats, as well as transporting people for prostitution.

Rejection revenge

On December 5, 2019 in Nebraska, 20-year old Alec Eiland received a two-year federal prison sentence for cyberstalking. Eiland used social media to threaten, harass, and stalk two women who had rejected him romantically. Among other things, he demanded nude photos and threatened rape and other acts of violence. He posted one woman’s contact information online alongside an invitation for solicitations for sex.

Fake kidnapping

Jessica Nordquist, a cyberstalker who went as far as faking her own kidnapping, was jailed by a London court in December 2018 for four and half years. The US national carried out an extensive cyberstalking campaign against her ex-boyfriend. She sent him a barrage of texts and emails and created more than a dozen Instagram accounts for the sole purpose of harassing him.

The case headline.

As part of the campaign, she even sent him messages and images supporting fake claims she had been kidnapped and assaulted. The charges laid against her included stalking involving serious alarm or distress, malicious communications, and perverting the course of justice.

Parkland victims’ relatives

As if the relatives of the Parkland school shooting victims hadn’t been through more than enough, many were cyberstalked by Brandon Fleury, aged 22, from California. He admitted to sending threatening messages to family members of some of those killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018. He created multiple fake Instagram accounts used to taunt victims’ relatives at the end of 2018 and in early 2019. In March 2020, Fleury received a sentence of five years in prison.

Law school rejection

Cyberstalking incidents often involve rejected would-be suitors or former partners. However, a case in Delaware involved an attorney being victimized by a rejected interviewee. Ho Ka Terence Yung launched an attack on the victim, who was an alumni interviewer at a law school that rejected Yung. The victim and his family were subjected to harassment for 18 months.

Among other things, Yung attributed racist, violent, and sadistic posts to the victim, and accused him of sexual assault and child molestation. He even had prostitutes and men interested in casual sex go to the victim’s home. Yung was sentenced to a prison term of 46 months in February 2019.

Hacked home cameras

Recently, a spate of cyberstalking attacks involved home surveillance systems. In these cases, cybercriminals torment victims using the very things that are supposed to keep people safe. One terrifying example involved a man hacking the Ring camera of a Mississippi family and beginning a conversation with an eight-year-old girl.

Ring camera headline.

As you can see from the above examples, anyone can be a victim of cyberstalking, and for any reason (or no reason at all). Victims could be chosen at random, or someone might use cyberstalking in retaliation after a disagreement, breakup, or rejection. Businesses can become targets of cyberstalking by competitors or people disagreeing with their practices.

Online stalkers can be very good at covering their tracks, using fake social media profiles and apps that help them evade monitoring. Indeed, many cyberstalkers prolong their attacks because they believe they are invisible online. While there are many tools to help them remain anonymous, law enforcement can often find ways to catch up with them.

Laws against cyberstalking

Cyberstalking is a relatively new crime and it continues to evolve alongside ever-advancing technology. So how does cyberstalking fit within the legal system? The answer to that depends on which country you’re in.

US

In the US, cyberstalking is considered a criminal offense. However, it’s not explicitly covered under federal law. Instead, laws focused on harassment, slander, and stalking, along with the Violence Against Women Act, can be used in cyberstalking cases. But since these laws weren’t written with cyberstalking in mind, they don’t provide the scope that is necessary for some cases. In some situations, the laws are open to interpretation, which means the victim may not be adequately protected.

At the state level, more than a dozen states have enacted anti-cyberstalking laws. California was the first state to do so in 1999 when it introduced a new electronic stalking law under Penal Code 646.9 PC. Other states to have banned harassment or stalking via electronic devices include New York, New Hampshire, Illinois, Hawaii, Connecticut, Arizona, Alabama, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Florida, Alaska, Texas, and Missouri.

Canada

In Canada, the Department of Justice outlines cyberstalking under its criminal harassment law. Section 1.6 of the handbook begins by saying:

Criminal harassment can be conducted through a computer system, including the Internet. The elements of the offence remain the same, it is just that technological tools are used to commit the offence.

It goes on to provide examples of acts that may constitute cyberstalking, including sending harassing messages, gathering information about the victim (including using spyware), engaging in “cyber-smearing” (attempts to destroy the victim’s reputation), tracking a victim using GPS technology, and sending malware to the victim’s computer, among others.

The maximum term for a criminal harassment offense is 10 years, but it’s noted that it may be prosecuted alongside other applicable offenses such as voyeurism, defamation, extortion, intimidation, and identity fraud.

UK

The UK’s original Protection from Harassment Act 1997 covered harassment but didn’t explicitly discuss stalking. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 amended the former and introduced a new section (2A. Offence of stalking).

While this doesn’t specifically talk about cyberstalking, it does offer examples of acts associated with stalking that could easily apply to online stalking. These include contacting a person by any means, monitoring someone’s use of the internet or electronic communication, and publishing content that may relate to a person or purport to originate from someone else.

Australia

In Australia, the Stalking Amendment Act (1999) covers cyberstalking. It doesn’t mention online stalking or cyberstalking directly, but it does call out contacting someone through the use of any technology. When it meets other specific criteria, this can constitute a form of stalking.

There has been debate about some cyberstalking laws as there are cases in which there is a fine line between cyberstalking and free speech. However, these cases are more often those that concern public figures such as politicians.

How to stop cyber stalking

As you can see from the experience of others or perhaps your own, online stalking is a serious matter. Thankfully, there are lots of things you can do to help mitigate online stalking before or after it has begun. Of course, this is not to say that anyone invites this sort of activity. Rather, these tips will help lock down your digital privacy, limiting the ability of a malicious party to discover information about you and access your online accounts.

1. Don’t post personal information online

In the age of social media, it can be very tempting to share information about yourself, even if you feel uncomfortable doing so. Sharing quickly becomes oversharing and social media has made it trivially simple for criminals (including stalkers) to track and torment their victims.

Posting information about your home and family, your place of work, or where you like to hang out can be dangerous. Sharing your personal email address or phone number online is also a bad idea.

Note that even if you have stopped sharing personal information, it’s possible that old snippets could still be publicly available, for example, in forgotten accounts or profiles. If you’re unsure, it’s worth doing an online search for your name (and any other names you have gone by) to see what information is out there.

While a simple Google search can show you any obvious information that’s out there, a stalker may be delving deeper. OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence) refers to intelligence consisting of information collected from publicly available sources, including social media sites, public records, and chat forums.

The OSINT framework.
A section of a suggested framework for OSINT.

It can be used for constructive purposes such as improving your digital privacy or helping locate missing persons, but it can also be used maliciously.

With a little know-how, you can follow the OSINT framework to see what information is available about you online and then take the necessary steps to remove that information.

2. Tell your friends if you’re being stalked

It’s common for cyber stalkers to reach out to friends and family members of their victims, for example, to find out personal information or their whereabouts. They may even pose as their victim, for example, to ascertain information about their relationship with someone, or to spread hate messages on their behalf.

As such, if you think you’re being stalked, it’s better if your friends know to look out for anything out of the ordinary so it can be shut down before damage is caused.

3. Remove yourself from people search websites

One of the first things you can do to remove your personal information online is to reach out to people search directories and have them delete your information. Did you know that sites like BeenVerified, Intelius, and Spokeo scrape information from social media sites to create online directories? These are mainly intended for use by marketers, but could easily be used by online stalkers.

The Intelius homepage.

To remove your profile for these sites, most of them require that you fill out an opt-out form. Others make it more difficult and require that you subscribe to the service or mail a request along with copies of identification. With more than a dozen such sites out there, this can be a tedious task. If you’d rather have someone else do it, you can pay a service such as DeleteMe to opt-out of around 20 databases on your behalf.

4. Don’t post information about your location

Along the same lines, posting or revealing information about your location is not a good idea. Online harassment can quickly progress to offline stalking. If you’re doing things like “checking in” to a location on Facebook or allowing location sharing on various apps, you could be putting yourself in physical danger.

Geotagging photos is also an issue and is something that many users are unaware of. Cellphone cameras often have built-in location tracking so when you post a photo to social media, the location in which the image was taken may also be disclosed. You should be able to switch off this feature in your device settings. For example, iOS users can go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera and select Never.

Also let your friends know not to share information about your location, for example, by tagging photos you’re in or posting that they’re out and about somewhere with you.

5. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know

If you have a Facebook profile, you’re no doubt familiar with receiving friend requests from others. You can change your privacy settings such that you choose what each person sees, but it’s far simpler if you limit your friend list to people who you’re happy sharing all of your posts with.

Plenty of people create fake profiles on Facebook for various reasons, but it’s often for the purpose of harassment. Facebook has some level of vetting, but it’s far from effective. It’s quite simple for someone to create a profile for the sole purpose of stalking you.

Facebook instructions for how to block people.

If you are having issues with someone, block them right away. On other platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, you can block specific profiles from following or messaging you.

6. Use strong passwords

This piece of advice is doled out time and again, but it remains an important one. Some online stalkers will attempt to hack into their victim’s accounts. They’ll then use them for various means, for example, posting lewd content or hate speech that appears to come from the victim.

If you use the same password across accounts, it only takes one data breach to enable criminals to hack into multiple social profiles, email platforms, and other accounts.

In addition, if someone has your email password and that email is linked to other accounts, it can be used to change the password for those accounts. This is because most password reset options work by sending you a reset link to your email.

Many cases of cyberstalking involve a former or existing spouse or partner, someone who may be privy to account credentials. If there’s any chance that an ex-partner may harass you online, it’s a good idea to change your credentials as soon as possible and use different passwords for each account.

The LastPass homepage.

If you’re having trouble remembering passwords, a password manager such as LastPass or Dashlane can help.

7. Activate two-factor authentication (or two-step verification)

While these are two slightly different processes, the terms 2FA and 2SV are often used interchangeably. Enabling two-factor authentication means that two steps are required to access an account, or in some cases, make account changes. One step usually requires a password, and the second might involve an email or text confirmation, or a form of biometric identification such as a fingerprint or face scan.

These simply add an extra layer of protection to your accounts. However, as mentioned, if someone has access to your email account, or your phone for that matter, they may be able to bypass these safeguards.

8.Tighten up your social privacy settings

Social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter come with built-in privacy settings that you can adjust. For example, Facebook lets you decide who can see your profile, posts, friend lists, and friend requests.

Facebook privacy settings.

It should be noted that these settings are usually set to give you the least privacy by default. In addition, these features are liable to change from time to time. As such, it’s worth checking your privacy settings periodically to ensure nothing has changed and that you’re getting the highest level of privacy.

9. Learn to spot suspicious emails and texts

A cyberstalker could use certain tactics that involve sending malicious emails and texts that don’t immediately appear as such. For example, a spear phishing email could look like it’s coming from a reputable sender when it’s really just phishing for information such as login credentials to a social media account.

In other cases, malicious emails may include links or attachments that lead to malware being downloaded onto the victim’s computer. This is a common tactic for installing spyware onto a user’s device and may lead to things like webcam hacking and keystroke logging (for discovering passwords).

Be wary of emails that request you respond to with any personal information. Check that they are genuinely coming from the purported sender by examining the email address for authenticity. Avoid clicking links and attachments unless you’re certain you can trust the sender.

Going back to the issue of webcam hacking briefly, this is a real problem that impacts victims across the globe. While antivirus software should be able to spot malware that’s controlling your webcam, you may want to cover it with tape or ensure your laptop is closed when not in use.

10. Find and remove spy apps

As a follow-on to the last tip, you may be concerned that someone has installed a spy app on your device. For example, a partner or ex-partner with physical access to your device can install an app that can track your location or spy on your communications. Or you could have unknowingly downloaded spyware from a malicious email or text. We go into detail about how to detect and remove spyware in a dedicated post.

11. Use an antivirus software

If a stalker is trying to install malware on your device, one of your first lines of defense is good antivirus software. This will detect and block many malicious programs before they can find their way on to your device. It can also detect malware that’s already on your system, giving you the chance to remove it.

Bitdefender homepage.
Bitdefender is a popular antivirus software provider.

Note that you can install antivirus software on your mobile devices too. However, it’s worth noting that someone with access to your device could install a legitimate app for the purposes of spying on or tracking you, one that antivirus software doesn’t pick up. As such, it’s a good idea to regularly review your app installs and settings.

12. Use a VPN, especially when using public wifi

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a must when it comes to online security and privacy. It encrypts all of the internet traffic traveling to and from your device. This means that it will be unreadable to any snoopers who manage to intercept it. This is useful for a variety of reasons, including to prevent tracking by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or government.

It also prevents anyone on the same wifi network as you from accessing your information. For example, if you’re using unsecured public wifi, such as in a coffee shop, mall, or college campus there’s the risk that a hacker might be lurking on the same network, ready to steal your information.

ExpressVPN homepage.
ExpressVPN is a solid all-round VPN that can protect all your devices.

A VPN can also be useful on a shared home network where your information may otherwise be exposed to other users in the household. Since cyberstalking is common among ex-partners, it’s not too far-fetched to think that someone could sit outside your home, connect to your wifi network, and snoop on your activity. Aside from securing your router (more on that below), you can use a VPN to protect yourself in this scenario.

13. Log and report any cyberstalking activity

We’ll go into more detail about this below, but it’s important to log any activity that makes you uncomfortable, even if you don’t think it constitutes cyberstalking at that moment. These situations can quickly escalate, so it’s better if you have a full record of all activity when the time comes to report it.

Advanced tips for outsmarting online stalkers

The above tips are relatively straightforward to implement, requiring little investment and minimal tech-savvy. However, if you’d like to further secure your online identity, here are some more advanced tips you may want to consider the following:

  1. Use encrypted email
  2. Use the Tor browser
  3. Secure your router and IoT devices

Let’s look at these in more detail:

1. Use encrypted email

While many messaging services come with encryption, either by default or optional, most mainstream email service providers don’t have settings that let you encrypt messages. This means that emails are fully readable to anyone who intercepts them, including cyberstalkers.

Encrypting email isn’t all that simple for non-tech-savvy users, but we do provide a guide for email encryption if you’re interested.

The Hushmail homepage.

The other option is to switch to a special encrypted email service such as Hushmail or Tutanota, although you’ll have to pay for a decent version of these services.

2. Use the Tor browser

Another way to maintain your anonymity online is to use the Tor browser. This encrypts all of your internet traffic and passes it through multiple nodes (volunteer computers), making it very difficult for someone to track you online.

The Tor browser.

The major downside to the Tor browser is that encryption drastically slows down your internet connection so it’s impractical to use all the time. Plus, its use is commonly associated with illegal activity, which is another turnoff for some users.

See also: Best VPNs for Tor

3. Secure your router and IoT devices

If you’re sharing a network with anyone else, they might be able to intercept your traffic and view or modify it. Many people don’t bother to change their router password, leaving them vulnerable to snoopers. It’s important to take basic steps to protect your home router such as changing the password from the default and following firmware updates (you can usually set these to install automatically).

Other things you can do to secure your router (if you have the option and ability) is to set the highest level of encryption (WPA2), restrict outbound and inbound traffic, and turn off WPS. You can find out about these and more steps in our guide to securing your wireless router. Note that if you’re in doubt about whether or not anyone has access to your network, you should use a VPN, even while at home.

Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as home assistants and security systems can pose risks too. They may be sending or receiving information that can be used to determine information about your day-to-day life or whereabouts. What’s more, as mentioned earlier, in-home cameras can be hacked allowing criminals to spy on and even communicate with you and your family members.

One of the most important things you can do to protect these and any devices is to install updates. These usually contain security patches that fix known vulnerabilities. You should also change the default passwords and “wake words” (for home assistants) and avoid storing any personal information on these devices.

How to report cyberstalking

Cyberstalking and online harassment are recognized as forms of stalking under various laws across the globe. If you’re experiencing cyberstalking, you should contact your local law enforcement. To help them help you, it’s a good idea to provide them with as much information as possible.

As mentioned, if you ever feel uncomfortable in an online situation, be sure to keep records of all communications or situations that have made you feel uncomfortable. You can keep a log of events in a simple spreadsheet, but even more helpful is photographic proof of events. Take screenshots of any activity that the stalker has undertaken as part of their campaign. It’s best to start this as soon as possible, even if something seems relatively insignificant. This way, you’ll be able to show how the situation has escalated over time if that’s the case.

Since screenshots can be doctored, it’s worth taking a picture of a message on the device with another camera. If you’re keeping track of phone calls or text messages, delete the person’s name from your contacts so that the phone number is visible. This will help serve as proof of who is calling if needed. Also, remember to save or record any voice messages as these may automatically expire after a specific period of time.

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Your IP Address: 78.147.8.104

Your Location: Bristol, England, United Kingdom

Your Internet Provider: TalkTalk

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