Cyberstalker Alert: How to Spot Online Fans Turned Fanatical

When Fans Become Fanatics

Most people who Google you are harmless. They are friends, casual acquaintances, potential business contacts, or people with innocent curiosity.  Same goes for people who look you up on LinkedIn or even Facebook.  Nothing to worry about.

Yet a small segment of your online friends, fans, and followers, have the potential to become fanatical. They exploit the fact that you are visible online because you want others to look.  Unfortunately, they are looking for all the wrong reasons.

Exploiting Virtual Visibility

If you are a vocal member of the virtual court of public opinion, you do not blog or post to read your own material.  Your goal is to gain exposure in terms of traffic to your site, and an increasing number of fans and followers.  Most social media users view success by the number of likes, thumbs up, retweets, and YouTube views. 

Yet there can be too much of a good thing.  Repeat visitors to your website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed might be interested in more than your opinions on the various topics of the day.  They might be interested in you.  And not in the way you would want.

If you know what to look for, you can spot the warning signs that curiosity has evolved into obsession, in order to detect unhealthy fascination sooner rather than later.

The Digital Ransack

If you returned home to find your bedroom looking like a grenade had exploded and your belongings strewn all over the room, you would call the police to report a burglary.  Would you experience the same perception of privacy invasion upon discovering that someone has ransacked your digital data?  True, unlike what you keep in your bedroom, you posted the information online for other people to see.  But who did you expect would be looking–and why?

A stranger who goes through all of your posted photos and videos, “liking” and even “loving” them as they go, without a legitimate professional networking interest, is disconcerting to say the least.  Particularly if the bold browser is using a creepy screen name.   Why? Because considering that many social networking sites allow anonymous browsing, proactively selecting an unsettling identity is disturbing.

Perhaps even more disturbing, however, is the scenario where your virtual admirer is using his real name and profile information.  In other words, he intends for you to know he is looking.

Why is this important?  Because you anticipate the next step: contact.

Stalkers Experience Entitled Reciprocity

Some online admirers, after spending hours going through your virtual drawers and closets learning all about you, feel like they know you.  Now, its time to meet you in person.  Their delusional anticipation of reciprocity might be evident in their boldly worded invitation—often bypassing the usual rules of netiquette and getting right to the point—asking when the two of you can get together.

If this type of audacious admirer reaches out only to be rejected, ignored, or blocked, their feelings for you may change from amorous to ominous.  This is often fueled by a feeling of entitlement, believing the time and effort they spent following you should be reciprocated. 

An article by Hoffman et al. entitled “Contemporary Research on Stalking, Threatening, and Attacking Public Figures” (2014) discuss the concept of entitled reciprocity in cases of celebrity stalking—where the stalker believes the object of his or her affection owes them the same amount of time and attention the stalker has expended following the celebrity.[i]

The rationale behind the phenomenon of entitled reciprocity would appear to apply to a broader category of targets than just celebrities.  Anyone can be the target of an online stalker who feels entitled to have his or her attention reciprocated, given the amount of effort he or she has put into learning about you. 

Cyber Safety and Virtual Site Hardening

If you choose to maintain a virtual presence, be aware that people are looking—including those you would rather not attract.  Not that you should stay offline, just be wise about the personal information you disclose.  Think before you tweet, pause before you post.

Thankfully, there are ways to proactively reduce the amount of your personal information available online, and ways to block unwanted fans and followers.  Although time consuming in some cases, consider such virtual site hardening time well spent given the reward of increased safety and online security. 

About the author:

Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor who has been handling stalking cases for many years.  She is the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House). 

She lectures around the world on sexual assault prevention, safe cyber security, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own. 

Find her at or @WendyPatrickPhD

Find a full listing of Dr. Patrick´s Psychology Today posts at

[i] Jens Hoffmann, J. Reid Meloy, and Lorraine Sheridan, ”Contemporary Research on Stalking, Threatening, and Attacking Public Figures,” in International Handbook of Threat Assessment, eds. J. Reid Meloy and Jens Hoffman, (2014: Oxford University Press), 160-177.


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