As online engagement continues to rise, social media stars are born overnight. Every day, new creators and influencers are abruptly thrust into the spotlight, sometimes facing unwanted attention from fans with nefarious intentions as well as the non-consensual distribution of personal information and digital content.
By Margaret McIntyre, Senior Associate | Due Diligence Practice
We’ve all heard stories – too many to count – of “normal” people who, through their online exposure, are harassed, doxed, stalked, or approached at home, on the street, and on vacation without warning. A Japanese pop star was followed to her house and sexually assaulted in October 2019 when a troubled fan pinpointed the victim’s location by zooming in on the scenery reflected in her eyes in recent photos. In February 2022, a stalker armed with a gun showed up at a 15-year-old Tik Tok influencer’s doorstep after she refused to send him explicit photos online. More recently, at a competition in January 2023, a mob of fans disrupted competitors’ routines by waving posters of the star NCAA gymnast and TikTok sensation Olivia Dunne and chanting “We want Livvy! Give us Livvy!”
OnlyFans creators, in particular, have frequently been the target of stalking, threats, and abuse both on- and offline but, as a result of stigmas surrounding their industry, often find their appeals for safety ignored or discounted. In March 2022, an online stalker broke into a 24-year-old OnlyFans model’s home, lived inside her attic, covertly copied her keys, and purchased a Bluetooth tracking device that he planned to attach to her car. A similar story unfolded in July, when a swim coach drove to an OnlyFans model’s hometown in Wisconsin; stalked her at her boyfriend’s baseball game; delivered notes through intermediary individuals stating he was “10 feet away,” and sent her photos taken outside her home. In December 2022, a 24-year-old model and OnlyFans creator in Los Angeles reported that she was followed “everywhere” by a determined stalker who broke into her mother’s home demanding to meet her, and later secretly filmed her inside her apartment before posting the footage online.
The right to privacy should not be limited to certain individuals, or dependent on one’s choice of profession or pastime. Multiple international and regional human rights instruments enshrine this right, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966, Article 1: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor or reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
Similarly, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, Article 12 explicitly states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
Too often, however, the complaints of influencers and online entertainers are met with skepticism or a lack of seriousness when presented to law enforcement, who point to the individuals’ sharing of information online without coercion as an understanding and acceptance of risk.
Each of us accepts some degree of risk when signing up for accounts online, but we don’t anticipate that the information we provide to specific followers or subscribers could be covertly mined and leaked on the dark web or permanently filed away to be used against us at a later date. Tools for scraping data from major social platforms—as well as related user-friendly tutorials—have never been more accessible, rendering certain privacy settings moot if just one follower decides to act in bad faith.
So, how can you protect the information that you choose to share online from malicious actors? What are the best practices for physical and online safety as an influencer or entertainer? In what ways might you already be vulnerable to the manipulation, exploitation, or harassment of stalkers and threat actors online?
Here at Prescient, we firmly believe that everyone has a right to privacy. Many of our Cyber offerings aim to limit the digital footprint of public-facing individuals, and we are often tasked with identifying anonymous actors who have threatened individuals with the public dissemination of sensitive personal information. Our team of cybersecurity analysts is trusted by high net-worth individuals, family offices, and corporations to conduct complex threat investigations, and build customized digital protection solutions. Every day, our cyber team monitors and responds to digital threats in real time, mitigating physical security risk as well as reputational and brand harm so that creators and management agencies can concentrate on achieving their business goals.
In addition to customized online monitoring and in-depth exposure reviews that proactively identify potential threats, we can provide peace of mind through on-site solutions and physical security.
If you would like to learn more about our services, including our Executive Digital Protection program, data removal solutions, and Threat Attribution case work, reach out to one of our experts today.