In this highly plugged-in world, an alienating parent can comb through social media sites and the internet to find information about the targeted parent that can later be skewed and used against him or her. In addition, an alienating parent, just by his or her silent, lurking presence, can cause anxiety in a targeted parent, whether or not information is used. When lurking and collecting information transforms into cyber-bullying or cyber-stalking, the threat level increases and targeted parents may feel like they’ve been victimized twice.
Imagine this scenario: A targeted parent has a Facebook account. If the targeted parent hasn’t put the appropriate privacy controls in place, the alienating parent can simply look at any and all information. Pictures, comments and friend lists are open to the alienator to look at, copy and save, and store for use against the target. Comments like, “I hate my ex” or “I wish he were dead,” when shown to a child or other interested party, can be re-interpreted not as frustrated outbursts, but viable threats. Friend lists that contain people with checkered pasts can reflect poorly on the targeted parent. Even if the targeted parent is generally calm, fits of frustration can lead to trouble down the line. Note to targeted parents: Clean up and restrict access to your Facebook account. If you’re FB friends with your kids, set up a separate account where you can communicate freely without involving your children. You can even block people, which makes you invisible to them on Facebook.
Now imagine this: A targeted parent, in revealing essays, writes about her or his experiences with parental alienation. There’s nothing particularly hateful in the blog posts or articles, the alienator isn’t identified in any way, and the targeted parent finds the support he or she seeks. Then somehow, whether it’s by asking the kids to spy or online sleuthing, the alienating parent finds out about the essays. The alienator can then lurk behind the scenes, checking the site at will, and even subscribing to updates. The alienating parent finds new ways to obsess about the target. And, of course, new insight into the target’s life. The targeted parent is put in a difficult position. With many web hosts, it’s possible for bloggers to both capture and assess incoming hits, leading targeted parents to discover that the ex is following them. That knowledge, though, can be unnerving.
Finally, think about this situation: What if the alienating parent decides to interact with the target online? With increasing frequency, targeted parents are reporting that their ex, or associates of their ex, are creating false personas and commenting on blog posts or articles. As you might imagine, these comments are often highly critical of the author: calling names, creating lies, and/or intending to instill a high level of fear in the targeted parent. The main purpose of the alienator’s action is to force the target into silence using threats and intimidation. An alienator who is also a narcissist cannot let a perceived put-down go by, nor can he or she allow it to continue. Depending on the content and frequency of the online interactions, the alienator’s behavior may become harassment.
If the targeted parent figures out that the alienator has found information online, regardless of what form it takes, what are his or her options? One is to stop writing and/or stop participating in social media sites that aren’t completely anonymous, essentially censoring and hiding oneself. Unfortunately, though, that takes away at least a couple avenues of support for the targeted parent. The other option is to continue writing and being “out there” but always wondering what the ex is doing with what they read. Is it going into a file? Is it being shown to the kids? Is it worth the fear to continue reaching out for help?
According to this article at About.com, “Cyberstalking is a very serious form of online harassment. At one level, cyberstalking is much like cyberbullying, as it involves the sending of repeated annoying and unwelcome messages. But cyberstalking goes far beyond cyberbullying in terms of motivations and tactics. Cyberstalking involves a disturbed obsession with the target, and a perverse desire to control that target in some way, even by attacking the target’s family members. Cyberstalkers do not wish to just torment someone for an adolescent power rush… stalkers want to force the target into some kind of submission, and are willing to involve other targets to achieve that disturbed result.”
For some, knowing the alienator is lurking feels like standing in front of a crowded room, speaking about the experiences of a victim of physical or psychological abuse, only to see the abuser in the crowd. It’s confusing and threatening. Lurking, as a precursor to or a manifestation of cyberstalking, can have serious consequences for both the alienator and the target.
Most, if not all, states have cyberbullying laws in place now. If you feel like you’ve been a victim of online harrassment from your alienating ex or anyone else, check your local state statutes and police department to determine whether your experience meets the threshold for taking further action. As a target, you already deal with your ex’s illegal behavior when they keep your kids from you. You don’t need to allow your ex to harrass you too.
So, targeted parents beware: You could be victimized twice. Once when you lose contact with your children, absolutely. But twice when information you put on the internet allows your alienating ex to examine and dissect your life for reasons only they understand, but that most likely don’t involve helping you rebuild a relationship with the kids they’ve taken away.