Cyberstalkers are using Facebook to harass sorority members, with incidents reported at four different universities this academic year.
Florida State University, Auburn University, the University of Alabama, and Louisiana State University have confirmed reports of sorority members being harassed by cyberstalkers posing as potential Facebook friends.
Major Jim Russell, assistant police chief at Florida State, said sorority members on his campus have received a friend request from an individual claiming to be affiliated with a particular sorority. The new “friend” will then request a video interview with the sorority member and inquire about a particular member’s interests—ranging from members seeking initiation to even active members looking for a leadership position. However, the friend will claim the camera is broken and insist on conducting a one-way video chat.
From there the contact escalated into harassment, Mr. Russell said, with Florida State students reporting that, in certain cases, the “friend” has asked them to reveal undergarments or disrobe entirely. In at least one case, Mr. Russell said, a girl received a threat from the “friend,” saying that her “girls could handle her” if she refused to comply with orders.
“Who knows how a person’s mind works,” Mr. Russell said of possible reasons that the suspect may be focusing on sorority members. “However, the person may be preying on students who want to be accepted in a new social environment.”
Meanwhile, Deedie Dowdle, an Auburn University spokesperson, said the rising popularity of the social-networking service also might be a factor.
“With any new technology, especially a medium that’s as involved as Facebook, there’s a tendency for some to start using it in ways that were not originally intended,” Ms. Dowdle said. “Students create their own friends, and they can forget that it’s very big, and what they’re posting is public and very accessible.”
Officials at the three other universities did not go into additional detail about the nature of the cybercommunication on Facebook.
Sergeant Blake Tabor, public information for Louisiana State University’s police department, said he was unaware of the magnitude of the scam until students at other colleges came forward about their stories.
Now, he said, his department has been coordinating with other institutions and agencies to help catch the suspect.
The four institutions are informing members of their campuses about the incidents, and officials at three of the universities confirmed they have ongoing investigations. Additionally, all are coordinating internal efforts, ranging from university-wide e-mails to orientation sessions, to educate students on how to properly use the social network.
Mr. Russell, in particular, suggested that all students should make sure to adjust their privacy settings, and to deny friend requests from individuals they don’t know. He also warned that any information released on the Internet can stay there forever.
“Students now have to understand that the Internet cloaks the bad guys and that basic prevention concepts are key into preventing future incidents,” he said.