Public figures seem to naturally attract obsessive behavior on the internet. Whether it’s Selena Gomez canceling an event due to a threat communicated on Facebook* or a hacker breaking into a Kardashian family member’s iCloud account**, the consequences of a celebrity ignoring a cyberstalker have become too high. Although a victim’s first instinct may be to approach the authorities to investigate their case, they are often turned away due to issues ranging from jurisdictional concerns to lack of availability or a lack of an actual crime with which to charge or investigate. As such, the entertainment industry is frequently forced to rely upon consulting firms and private investigators to trace a seemingly anonymous online figure back to a real world identity (a process known as “identity resolution”). The good news is that although the outcomes of digital investigations are unpredictable, a significant number can be solved.
Similar to how detectives rely upon DNA and fingerprints to identify a suspect in a crime, cybersecurity experts use an arsenal of open source intelligence collection techniques to unmask incognito bad actors online. Subscription-based tools can dig deep into the heart of the internet, collecting microscopic amounts of data that can reveal hidden connections. Link analysis involving social media activity can expose clues about the stalker’s relationships and whereabouts. Searches using information mined from various databases can help analysts piece together an identity without knowing all the facts. All data points are compiled until analysis of internet and public records tie an online user to an actual person at a physical address. A similar trail of electronic evidence recently allowed investigators to uncover the identity of a shadowy Instagram user making repeated threats to a well-known athlete.
As many entertainers know too well, by the time one stalker has been neutralized, another may have already taken their place. In order to shield against the potential dangers of tomorrow, threat monitoring can allow bodyguards, managers, and agents to receive timely reporting on potential risks facing their client. Dark web searches can reveal sites where phone numbers and e-mail addresses of entertainers and professional athletes are for sale.*** Subscription-based systems can help review enormous amounts of social media data in real-time to identify possible bad actors and track their movements. Taylor Swift’s camp has even gone so far as to purportedly create a database of her known stalkers, and use facial recognition technology**** to detect their presence at concerts.
In a CBS 48 Hours interview on stalking*****, NCIS actress Pauley Perrette remarked, “The first victimization is being stalked and terrorized and harassed. The second victimization is that the system does not work for stalking victims.” Although it can feel lonely in a moment of crisis, public figures should keep in mind the immense arsenal of tools available to identify and monitor their cyberstalkers. Some can be arrested, others can be silenced, but none should be ignored.
*Mullings-Johnson, Savannah. “Selena Gomez performance pulled after singer received ‘Facebook threat’.” Metro, February 20, 2018, https://metro.co.uk/2018/02/20/selena-gomez-performance-pulled-after-singer-received-facebook-threat-7326716/. Accessed September 18, 2019.
**Becker, Caitlyn. “Kris Jenner and Kourtney Kardashian’s alleged cyberstalker released from prison … days after a man obsessed with Kendall Jenner apprehended.” Daily Mail, April 1, 2019, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-6874191/Kris-Jenner-Kourtney-Kardashiansalleged-cyber-stalker-released-prison.html, Accessed September 18,2019.
***Smith, M. “Doxagram site selling celebrity info from Instagram hack lives on in dark web.” CSO, September 5, 2017, https://www.csoonline.com/article/3222645/doxagram-site-selling-celebrity-infofrom-instagram-hack-lives-on-in-dark-web.html. Accessed September 18, 2019.
****Kale, Sirin. “Taylor Swift Used Facial Recognition Technology to Screen Concert for Stalkers.” Vice, December 13, 2018, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qvqnz5/taylor-swift-stalker-surveillance-facial-recognition.
Accessed September 18, 2019.
*****Moriarty, Erin. “Stalked.” CBS News 48 Hours, February 25, 2017,
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/stalked-48-hours-investigates-pauley-perrette-fights-to-change-stalking-laws/. Accessed September 18, 2019.