Victimology in Cyberspace


Justin and I have been focusing a lot on what I like to call “Facebook Faux Pas” – or, in general, unwise practices on social networking, social media, and microblogging sites.  A new site has been receiving a lot of attention lately –  Check it out at your convenience.  Basically, it runs a simple script on to identify and aggregate posts pushed through from one geosocial networking site ( where users have “checked in” or otherwise updated their current location through their mobile device’s GPS functionality.  Individuals, of course, post these updates to quickly and conveniently inform their friends as to where they are, or where they are going to be.  Obviously, though, revealing of one’s location (or one’s absence from home) may increase the risk of personal victimization or property theft – or both.

When giving talks to youth, I share plenty of real-world examples of how teenagers and young adults unwittingly allow a dossier of contact information to be collected about them through the connecting of their candid posts and messages online.  To note, we’ve actively researched this happening on social networking sites in papers here and here.  To be sure, our research has found that youth overall are becoming more discerning and protective with the contact information they share, but our studies have not included microblogging sites and the content of status updates.  If that is the case, those intent on bullying, abusing, or otherwise harming others have an increasing (or at least steady) amount of access to a meaningful number of potential victims based on those victims’ participation within cyberspace.  In criminology, we have a subfield termed “victimology” that focuses in on how individuals contribute to their own victimization through negligence, precipitation, or provocation.  It seems very applicable as a paradigmatic lens through which to view all of this.

It is remarkable to think how far we have come in such a short period of time as it relates to our level of comfort in sharing personal information online.  Ten years ago, individuals were concerned with sharing their primary email address for fear of spam (and usually had a secondary email address which they more often used across the Web).  Posting one’s first and last name back then was a rarity, as anonymity and pseudonymity were more commonly preferred and adopted.  Now, because of Facebook and similar sites, most of us seem tremendously comfortable using our full name in cyberspace – and posting so much more about who, what, when, why, and where we are.  Youth who have grown up with these technologies are even more inclined towards full disclosure, and so we have GOT to get them thinking about what they type, send, and post before their actions inadvertently invite harm.


  1. Keep up your work because the main way youth are going to learn what NOT to post, is through educators such as yourself.I didn't even know the term "microblogging" before today and if I don't know it, how can I teach my children? Children now have computer lab starting in kindergarten; these classes must start educating youth not only on HOW to run a computer but also on what NOT to put into the computer for everyone to see. These teachers have a young,captive and impressionable audience. Why aren't they teaching the kids from day one what to avoid doing as well as what to do? As all parents know, children need repeated direction and reinforcement,day after day. One class a year on these important issues just isn't going to cut it for kids. It has to be taught over and over, like math and reading, to be fully absorbed and understood.Why aren't schools on the bandwagon with this?

  2. I honestly didn't think about how posting a status update could open one up for any kind of victimization…simply because as for me, I am extremely selective about who sees my updates and who I accept as "friends." I do think, however, that youth are apt to accept friend requests more readily, if they go to the same school, etc., and that can pose a problem. Thank you for sharing this point of view!

  3. Great post. Keep up the good work. Needless to say, education is critical because the only one that can really protect our kids online is our kids. The choices that they make translates into the level of risk they are exposed to. That being said, parents need to be keenly aware of what their kids are posting online and who they are talking to. Parents have a responsibility to provide their kids with ongoing feedback to reinforce the lessons being taught. There is a saying I learned long ago in the workplace that applies equally well to the parent-child relationship… "People perfect what what we inspect." Engage. Educate. Supervise.

  4. @Middle School Counselor

    Please realize that nothing you post online is private, and though it's always prudent to be selective, it is simply an online illusion.

    Case in point: I'm in your 'cyber circle of friends'. You post something (anything…text, image), and can easily take a screenshot (with an myriad of free online apps) and now what you believe was private can be circulated to the rest of the cyberverse.

    As the Public Service Announcement videos repeatedly state, 'Think Before You Post'.

  5. The most effective way method of learning about being taken advantage of is to be exploited. I guess that isn't an appropriate thing to say on the site of a research center revolving around normal expressions of social dominance solely because it exists within a non-localized new space.

    same rules apply. your focus on 'victimology' as you call it is refreshing, however. we will always exploit our environments.

    'a character faced with a dilemma feels specific positive or negative emotions that it tries to rationalize by persuading itself and others that the game should be redefined in a way that eliminates the dilemma; for example, a character with an incredible threat makes it credible by becoming angry and finding reasons why it should prefer to carry out the threat; likewise, a character with an incredible promise feels positive emotion toward the other as it looks for reasons why it should prefer to carry its promise. Emotional tension leads to the climax, where characters re-define the moment of truth by finding rationalizations for changing positions, stated intentions, preferences, options or the set of characters. '

  6. Where there is good, bad will follow with issues like pedophiles, predators, identity theft, fictitious identities, and cyberbullying on social networks like Myspace and Facebook. For youths, this could be a way to get away from adult supervision and moral constraints of face-to-face appropriate behavior. As I have learned in many interviews I have been on, people love to talk about themselves. However, problems with youths and even adults putting up too much information on their social networks has lead to easier ways for them to be victimized. In one case I found in New Hampshire a series of burglaries have been linked to Facebook status messages. Three men were arrested after beginning found to have burglarized 18 homes using Facebook location updates to analyze when people would be away from home.

  7. For many, Facebook has become a necessary part of their everyday lives. Most teen facebookers are so attached to this new social media website, it’s the first thing they check when they wake up and the last thing they’re on before they go to sleep. They rely on it for entertainment, to help pass the time, to stay updated on the latest gossip, and to notify people about their daily activities. Many facebookers feel the need to update their status in an effort to keep their friends updated on how interesting their lives are. They fail to realize that by doing this, they are creating opportunities for potential robbers to make a move at the perfect time. In a similar story aired on CBS, a couple was planning a trip to a local concert. The wife updated her status, notifying her Facebook “friends” that for that particular night, the couple would be at a concert in a neighboring town at 8 pm. Though this seemed like a harmless status update to her, it’s what led to her house being burglarized. Aware that the couple was not present at the house, one of her Facebook “friends” saw this as the perfect opportunity to break in. People need to be more aware of who they have on Facebook and what they post. They need to pay more attention to their security settings to make sure only limited people can see their profile.

    Related article link: (link defunct)

  8. As arguably one of the most popular internet past times, social networking sites One concern that arises from the increase in teen technology usage is the misuse of social networking sites. Despite the benefits, the inherent risks associated with social networking sites are cause for parental and or adult supervision. Internet sexual predators and pedophiles pose the biggest concern as they use these sites to locate and communicate with their potential victims. Teens often misuse social networking sites by posting unsafe, revealing, and personal information or pictures. Often this information is presented in the form of sexual behavior, substance abuse, and violence. These actions can make teens vulnerable to identity theft, legal consequences, or even educational setbacks. Teens need to become educated about and aware of the dangers of posting such harmful information. Teens should be told that the internet is public and their information can be accessed by anyone.

  9. I love Facebook and is absolutely a facebook junkie. As much as I love facebook, I also hate facebook as well. Even when facebook was only for college students facebook posed many problems for many. The original use of facebook to my knowledge was to connect with classmates, college students and to network. Today's usage pose a great deal of problems for mostly everyone on facebook. Privacy is number one. You post where you are going, when you are going and sometimes people use these information to rob you or hold you accountable for missing work and can ultimately lead to one being fired from their job. I think one of the major misuse of facebook is cyberbullying. Fake pages are created to harass people and spread lies, break up relationships, and hurt egos. The original intent of facebook was great but now with facebook being so popular an accessible to everyone it has many negative effects.

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