The suicides of teenagers Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd, among others, has demonstrated the devastation that cyber bullying can cause.
The Internet has also become fertile ground for life-ruining cyber stalkers, whose victims might not be driven to kill themselves but whose lives are disrupted and even ruined.
The case of Vancouver teacher Lee David Clayworth gives us some idea of how vulnerable people are to cyber stalking, and how ineffective the legal system seems to be in countering it.
The CBC News Go Public unit details how Clayworth, who was teaching in Malaysia, was hounded relentlessly by his former girlfriend. Not even a contempt-of-court ruling and the threat of a stint in a Malaysian jail stopped Lee Ching Yan from posting bogus accusations of unsavoury and even criminal behaviour about him on the web.
Clayworth's life has been a nightmare since he and Yan broke up, he told CBC News. He said Yan's false claims about him have made it hard to find work.
"I feel not only shut out of my own profession — but any job I apply for," Clayworth said. "This is a dark place. It’s a very, very dark place to be … and I am powerless."
According to CBC News, after he and Yan split, she broke into his apartment and stole his computer, among other things. She then used his email account to send messages to all his contacts using his name with accounts of him having sex with underage students.
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She also reportedly posted nude photos of Clayworth that were on his laptop and made accusations about him on several social media sites, CBC News said.
"I did a Google search of my name and I saw profiles listed saying … I am a psychopath, I am a child molester, a pedophile, I am involved with my students and so on — and then that just steamrolled," Clayworth told CBC News.
"I remember waking up in the morning and going online. Two hundred new postings would be there from throughout the night. And the things they said were the most hurtful."
Clayworth sued Yan in a Malaysian court. She was found guilty of defamation and ordered to pay $66,000 in damages. But within hours of the ruling, she was back online with more reported dirt, Clayworth said. The judge ordered Yan jailed for contempt of court but she left the country and is now possibly is in Australia, he said.
Clayworth returned to Canada in January after his contract ended in Malaysia but despite glowing references from the school where he taught, he has been unable to get another job.
"It will never stop … it will go on and on," said Clayworth. "It’s been almost 2½ years now."
Clayworth told CBC News attempts to remove the damaging content from web sites has been fruitless. A court order he obtained to have his name blocked on searches through Google, Yahoo! and Bing have been unenforceable.
"There are people out there who could help me out and I’ve been through the proper channels to be helped out. And people just ignore it," he said.
Google told CBC News said it's up to a complainant to deal directly with sites to have offending items removed.
"We do not remove content from our search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content and violations of our webmaster guidelines," Google spokeswoman Wendy Bairos said.
Even if Google complied with the court order and blocked Clayworth's name from being searched, the material itself would still be on the web, she added, "since Google’s search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web."
Clayworth's success in getting the content taken down from individual sites has been decidedly mixed. One site, liarsandcheaters.com, was shut down temporarily after he complained to its host provider, which spawned a nasty email from its manager, CBC News said.
"Do you really want to start a war with a website that sometimes gets over [20,000] visits a day?" wrote the manager, according to CBC News.
"You may send the court order. However, because of you, we are relocating to Germany so it must be from a German court. That was your choice. In the meantime … the post will remain permanently for the rest of your life."
Police and legal experts agree Clayworth has little recourse.
"The Internet and society has moved at such a fast pace, that government and law enforcement are unable to keep pace," Vancouver police Det. Mark Fenton told CBC News. "This is a huge mess … and it feels awful."
Besides failed relationships, celebrity obsession seems to be a common driver for cyberstalking.
Last month the Telegraph newspaper reported Sherlock Holmes star Benedict Cumberbatch had his every move in his own home tweeted in real time by a London neighbour. The neighbour has since apologized.