How to Deal with Online Harassment
Today’s world is changing rapidly, and one huge area of contention that previous generations did not have to deal with is the online world.
While the internet and constant use of devices offers a number of benefits to today’s students and adults, it also brings with it many risks and some downsides as well. Online harassment, also known as cyberbullying, has been increasing in recent years, and we can only expect it to increase further as the world becomes more tech-savvy and digitally focused. In 2016, over one-third of middle and high school students reported having been cyberbullied, and a 2017 study found that almost half of all Americans, both students and adults alike, have experienced online harassment themselves. Knowing how to protect yourself, what to do when you’re harassed online, and how to cope with prior harassment experiences will help keep you safe and secure in an online realm for years to come.
What Is Online Harassment?
Online harassment includes a variety of approaches by “cyberbullies” to undermine, threaten, humiliate, or generally harass another individual. Online harassment can take place through text messages, instant messages, social media accounts, emails, websites, and more. The intent may be to simply upset or humiliate another person, but it can also be taken to another level of identity theft, reputation damage, and revealing personal information for the intent of harm.
What Are the Effects of Online Harassment?
While harassment of any kind is unacceptable, when it takes place in an online arena, it can feel impossible to escape the fear, frustration, and stress that accompanies the harassment. A victim of online harassment is essentially never out of reach, as threats and bullying can come through their cell phones, emails, and personal social media accounts. At its most minor, online harassment can bring about feelings of stress, isolation, sadness, humiliation, and anxiety. At its worst, feelings of overwhelming depression, withdrawal from loved ones and once-cherished hobbies, increased substance use or abuse, and even suicidal thoughts or actions can stem from online harassment. For those who struggle to cope with their experiences on being harassed online, long-term psychological and social effects can be long-lasting and extremely serious.
How to Deal with Online Harassment
So what can you do—whether you’re a student, parent, or teacher—to get ahead of and deal with online harassment that affects you or those you love?
While the internet is notorious for holding onto information basically forever, when you want proof of the harassment, you don’t want to have to search high and low for it. Take screenshots, save conversations, and do whatever it takes to keep thorough records of the harassment that took place. Date conversations if they aren’t already dated, and keep them organized so that you have easy access to them if and when you need them.
While you should try to avoid engaging a cyberbully, speaking out against what’s happening is incredibly important. Bullies don’t like to be called out, and although you probably don’t want to get them more riled up, taking a stand to call attention to the problem can be hugely beneficial in dissolving it. Keep in mind, however, that bullies often harass others for their heated reactions, so be wise in the way you speak out and don’t encourage or egg on their unacceptable behavior. If you are worried about speaking out in a public way, at the very least you should talk to a trusted adult who can help you make a plan on how to handle online harassment.
Prevention is always the best option, but if you’ve already been harassed online, do whatever you can to protect yourself moving forward. Block the cyberbully if possible, and consider taking a break from social media, texting, and other internet activities. While this shouldn’t be a long-term solution—you can’t avoid the internet forever—it can help you to cool down and remove the opportunity for the other party to continue to harass you. You should also try to minimize the amount of personal information you make available online, as well as optimize privacy functions on all of your online accounts. Certain websites allow you to contact them regarding online harassment so they can look into the problem and possibly kick the person off the website for breaking the rules of that website. It’s also important to look out for others online who may be getting cyberbullies. Some people have no problem reporting problematic behavior while others may be a little more timid or apprehensive about doing so, but cyberbullies need to be held accountable and held responsible for their unacceptable behaviors. If you see online harassment taking place, help your fellow man out and report the issue.
Get Help Coping
If you’ve been a victim of online harassment and are struggling with the repercussions, trust that you are not alone. It is completely normal to have a hard time dealing with what you’ve experienced online, and it’s important to face it and process it properly. Because of the possible long-term challenges of online harassment, you need to allow yourself to work through your feelings and fears in a productive and effective way so that your experiences being cyberbullied won’t negatively affect you for years to come. Talk to a parent, a teacher, a school counselor, or another trusted adult if you need help coping with cyberbullying, and know that you are not alone and it is okay to have a hard time with what you’ve gone through.