In 2019, Illinois has updated their stalking and harassment laws to officially include digital and social media. In this article, we will explain Illinois cyberstalking laws and answer “what is stalking?” and “Does stalking include social media?” We will also explain what to do if you are being stalked online.
For more on stalking law in Illinois, see our article Illinois Stalking No Contact Orders Explained.
The legal definition of stalking is a new and developing one that varies often between states. Generally, it is defined as repeated and intentional following of another non-consenting individual or group with the intent of causing anxiety, fear or harm to that individual. Illinois has official stalking laws on the books, which includes felony-level convictions if found guilty. Illinois defines stalking in three ways:
Often, we imagine stalkers as strangers following someone at night. However, modern media technology has began to change how we define stalking. Within the new age of social media communication, a victim may be stalked by someone hundreds of miles away, all without actual, physical contact. In 2019, Illinois updated their stalking laws to specifically address online stalking and confirm it as definitive stalking, therefore covering victims of cyberstalking with the same legal protections of any other stalking victim.
Online stalking, or cyberstalking, is defined by Illinois law as repeated, unwanted social media contact. This includes direct messaging, comments, replies, and any other form of social media communication to the victim. This falls under similar definitions as above, meaning the perpetrator must knowingly engage in online behavior and contact that creates reasonable anxiety or fear in their victim or victims. As cyberstalking is now defined as a form of traditional stalking, the punishments are just as equal. Someone who is convicted of cyberstalking can face felony-level charges for their behavior, as they would with any other form of stalking.
These new protections modernize the definition of stalking and their goal is to provide further protections as relationships grow into the digital world.
Stalking is often thought of as a stranger following a victim in a dark night. However, victims of stalking are often stalked by someone they know or knew personally. This can include, for example, someone who receives repeated phone calls or online messages from an ex who is attempting to cause fear. The legal definition of stalking, as explained above, is much wider than some believe, and the threat of stalking can be very real.
If you believe you are the victim of stalking, online or otherwise, it is important to take care of your own safety above all else. If you believe you are in immediate danger, do not hesitate to call law enforcement. Stalking is a serious crime and can often be threatening and dangerous, so reaching out for help at the first signs can make a big difference. Telling family, friends, or loved ones about your concern is also an important step. You may want to reach out to someone you trust to inform them of your situation.
If you are being physically stalked, you may want to stay with a loved one rather than in a location that is familiar to the stalker. If you are being digitally stalked, every major social media platform has a harassment policy as well as means you can take to block unwanted accounts or privatize/hide your own. You may want to reach out to the customer service of your social media accounts if you are unaware of your options.
If you believe you are the victim of stalking, another step to take may be to document or track the instances of harassment or stalking that you experience. This can be especially helpful in cases of Cyberstalking. Many social media posts, messages, and accounts can quickly and easily be deleted, so screenshots or exported messages can be helpful when documenting your experience as a victim.
Legally, you have the right to pursue legal action against the person you believe to be stalking you. You may want to seek an order of protection or a no contact order, depending on the specifics of the situation. A criminal attorney would be able to better explain the legal options available to you in your specific situation as well as the local laws off your area. For more on order of protections, see our article Illinois Order of Protections Explained.
Most importantly, know that you are not alone. Stalking is all too common, affecting 7.5 million people annually. There are several resources available to protect you including the Stalking Resource Center. These groups offer support groups for victims, 24/7 hotlines for support, and attorneys who can help assure your legal rights are protected. As modern communication evolves, so does stalking law. Illinois' new changes regarding digital stalking is one step forward in creating more protections for stalking victims.