In the olden days of 2012, ask.fm and anonymous questions on Tumblr were the main platform for online harassment. People could send hurtful messages without ever having to show their faces. I can remember receiving a series of personal, offensive messages on Tumblr. I was hurt, and didn’t know whether it was better to post the questions with a response or delete them. Posting them and having the support of my friends (along the lines of “That’s not true! Who would say that?”) felt better than leaving the comments to echo around in my own head. Others didn’t have the same support systems in place.
Women are disproportionately affected by online harassment. A global survey found that 46% of all online harassment is sexist in nature. A lot of abuse is anonymous, which makes it hard to stop.
In some cases, disengaging can be the healthiest response. The abuse is not your fault, and sometimes dealing with it feels like a further burden. If that’s the case, tell someone you trust, then block, report, and take a mental health break.
It’s frustrating that social media is an environment where people can anonymously abuse others without consequences. While you might not be able to catch the abuser, you can seek help for yourself and support the victims you know. Here are a few things that can help.
A friend, a family member, someone you know at work or school – it doesn’t matter who you tell, as long as you trust them to help you. They can help to take the burden off your shoulders and acknowledge your feelings, as well as providing practical help. Don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to? Try calling one of the numbers listed below. Trustworthy experts can help you deal with your feelings and put the harassment in perspective.
Blocking someone can be the most effective way to deal with abuse, especially when it comes from a single account. The block button is there for a reason, and can help you to get the abuser out of your life as quickly as possible.
Social media companies don’t have the best reputation when it comes to shutting down reported abuse, but accounts that demonstrate clearly abusive behaviour will often be shut down. Providing screenshots of specific messages can help boost your report and get the abuser off social media. If this is ineffective (which is unfortunately common), blocking is your best friend.
Support each other
If you witness abuse in your newsfeed, screenshot the abuse and ask the victim if they’re okay. But don’t send them the screenshot unless they ask you for it. Tell them about the steps they can take and acknowledge their feelings. Even short comments online can be disproportionately hurtful, especially when victims feel alone. Build a support network that doesn’t tolerate online abuse.
Keep the messages
Deleting a hurtful or message is a natural response, but keeping the evidence is important if you want to pursue a charge under the Harmful Digital Communications Act. Netsafe advises keeping all abusive messages
Authorities to contact
It doesn’t matter whether the harassment you’ve suffered is trivial or serious. Reporting it to an authority can help point to support for the victim, if the victim chooses, to start the justice process.
Netsafe 0508 NETSAFE
A great first stop, this organisation deals with all complaints relating to online abuse in New Zealand. Although they don’t have the powers to investigate (if the abuse comes from an anonymous source), they will refer you to the police where necessary. Netsafe’s purpose is to tell you about the different responses available and help you work through the harassment.
Lifeline 0800 LIFELINE or text HELP
If you feel alone in dealing with online harassment or just want a different person to talk to, Lifeline have trained volunteers on call 24/7 to work through your problems and understand your perspective.
Youthline 0800 37 66 33
Youthline will listen to any of your problems, 24 hours a day.
What’s Up 0800 WHATSUP
Another place to find a listening ear, What’s Up is available every afternoon from 12pm to 11pm. Their counsellors are available to talk about any kind of online harassment and help you share your problems.
Text or call 1737
Speak to trained counsellors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
For other advice, check out How I learnt to deal with online abuse.Support Villainesse