What's The Best Way For Dealing With Online Harassment?
Online harassment, bullying, or stalking can happen for a variety of reasons, without any provocation from the victim. Common types or sources of online harassment incidents can include:
- Romantic partners who are going through either a separation or divorce
- Child custody matters
- Jealous ex-boyfriends, girlfriends, or spouses
- Harassment generated by those suffering from mental health issues or drug-addicted friends, family, acquaintances or estranged people
- Embarrassment by school-aged children (i.e., cyberbullying)
- Ex-business associates
- Random strangers who gain access to your profile
- Someone who has an infatuation or obsession with someone, whether they know them or not
- The sharing of a sexually explicit image or intimate image (revenge porn)
- The spreading of online hate
Any police officer who manages social media accounts for their police department knows the feeling of being bullied online. Many have suffered from online harassment from so-called "free speech warriors," hate group organizers targeting law enforcement agencies, and online trolls.
The Disclaimer No One Likes To Hear
I have to give this disclaimer I've learned after years of working in law enforcement and seeing case after case, plus dealing with the crime prevention and education component of online bullying. Generally speaking, if you are being harassed, there is usually something you did to cause it to begin; right or wrong, something you did set that person off.
By no means am I blaming you or saying you're at fault; nobody deserves harassment. I'm only helping you identify the cause so you can get to the bottom of it and see if there is something you can do to remove or limit it. And of course, there is no shortage of crazies and straight meanies (yes I said meanies) who harass, stalk and bully with no provocation.For example, if your ex-girlfriend leaves you foul messages on Facebook after you drop by her work with your new girlfriend, it might be a wise move not to show up anymore with your girlfriend. Now, the standard response I typically here in this scenario is;
- "She can't tell me or dictate what I can or can't do"
- "Why should I have to change what I'm doing," or
- "If she doesn't like it, then she can wait in the back or get a new job."
Okay, yes, some of those excuses are valid points in most cases. But the result we're trying to get to here is your peace online. If you take some small steps which alter your ex-girlfriend's online behavior, haven't you solved the issue?
What's sad is online bullying is a form of social media marketing, when you think about it. Take an anti-semitic white supremacist who is intent on spreading his or her hate. Through the power of social media, he or she is marketing their beliefs, which may turn into a hate crime.
Again, there are some people who "don't get it." No matter what you do, how you do it, what you say or think, their goal is to make your life on social media a living hell.
TIP #1: Respond Positively And Ask Them To Stop
Just like the saying goes, "kill 'em with kindness." Whether you want to do it or not, you need to kindly address the person and ask them to stop their conduct or messages. Don't put them on blast or "go for the jugular."
Example: Hi XXX. I understand we are going through a rough time right now and would love to discuss this in a private message, and not in public. We owe it to our friends and followers to respect their use of the platform without being exposed to or involved in our private matters. Please stop any negative posts involving me, and let's talk about this offline.
TIP #2: Report To The Individual Social Networks
The social media platforms have all taken a stance against aggressive or dangerous behavior by members of their online community. According to Facebook's Community Standards page, they are "committed to removing content that encourages real-world harm, including (but not limited to) physical, financial, and emotional injury."
Take a look at how each platform addresses this topic, to see if your harasser is violating the platform's rules or terms of service.
TIP #3: Collect Evidence
You should take screenshots and video of your abuser's online conduct. For example, on an iPhone, you can use the screen video recording feature, which you can learn about by clicking here.
You can also take a screenshot by holding the volume up and the side button at the same time. To take a screenshot on a Mac, press Command-Shift-3, and to take a screenshot on a Windows computer, press Alt+PrtSCN.
I prefer to use Techsmith's Snagit, as I can take both screenshots, and video recordings, right from my Mac.
TIP #4: Respond Twice, Then Go Silent
Give your harasser two chances to stop, by posting nice replies like we shared above. But that's it. Reply only two times, then go silent. PERIOD.
This response rule is often the tactic police officers take when negative comments are left on police department social media pages. You too should do this, as it creates the following:
It shows you're not igniting, perpetuating, or instigating the behavior. To anyone viewing the comments, they can see you're taking the high road and trying to end the uncomfortable commenting by the harasser. Even if the harasser has a valid point, he or she will start losing support and look worse than before.
After a while of not getting any reaction from you, and most likely no support from the online community, the harasser will stop as they become bored.
TIP #5: Go Techy
We're shocked at how many articles similar to this one do not include anything about safety technology, in the event your harasser takes it to the next level and tries to confront you in person. However, it is 2019, and there are some fantastic apps and devices out there that are perfect for situations such as these. Of course, there are thousands out there, but here's what has grabbed our attention:
This device clips on your clothing, backpack, purse or whatever. If you are in a situation you feel unsafe about or are being attacked, just press the button, and an alert will go to your designated contacts, along with your GPS location. Even better, your contacts can hear audio of what's going on.
Another wearable device, this one will send either a silent alert to your contacts or a 95+ decibel alarm while sharing your location.
This app offers a variety of features, from sending you a fake call to get you out of a threatening or uncomfortable situation, to sending alerts to your friends when you need help.
This camera can be mounted inside your vehicle and has two cameras; One inward and one outward. It continually records and unlike others, allows you or others to log in and see what's going on through their app. It's the only cell-enabled camera we're aware of on the market.
TIP #6: Seek Criminal Charges
We often see the question, "Can I file a police report for online harassment or threats?" In California and all other states as far as what we've found in our research, you can report online threats, online harassment, and cyberstalking type police reports.
If the harasser won't stop his or her conduct or is becoming more agitated or aggressive, then you should consider going to your local police agency and filing a police report.
The police will complete an investigation of the online harassment you are experiencing. Your harasser may not be arrested immediately depending on the severity of the harassment, location of the harasser, and the particular law violated. In some cases, the officers or detectives will want to work with you to obtain more evidence.
TIP #7: Obtain A Restraining Order
Obtaining a restraining order, at least in Southern California, quite frankly is an all-day process. However, do not shy away from getting a restraining order. You will be glad you have one should your harasser continue his or her actions.
TIP #8: Lock Down Your Accounts
You need to block the harasser from viewing or commenting on your account. Unfriend, unfollow, etc., so you can show you have done everything on your end to prevent the harasser from bothering you. Following this advice will also work tremendously in your favor when dealing with the police, attorneys, or the court, as it will show your intention of wanting the harassment to end. It will also prove the overt measures the harasser is taking if he continues to harass, or attempt to harass, you after locking down the accounts.
If you are a police officer being harassed through a department/agency profile, make sure to defer to your social media policy (hopefully you have one) and/or an attorney for direction on blocking, hiding, removing any post or person.
TIP #9: Practice Good Personal Security
A restraining order is merely a piece of paper, and will not physically protect you. You need to be continually monitoring your surroundings, and your patterns. You need to change what you usually do, how you usually do it, and when you usually do it.
Make sure to tell someone, whether it's a good friend or family member, where you're going and what you may be doing.
And remember to consider some of those tech gadgets and apps we mentioned above (and no, we don't get a kick-back for mentioning these products).
TIP #10: Consult With An Attorney
An attorney can help you with the restraining order, as well as dealing with the harasser, law enforcement, and any civil actions that may be available to you.
We've been asked before, "Is it possible to sue people for online harassment?" Since we're not lawyers and a lawsuit is a civil matter, we can only surmise from what we see in the world today; everyone can be sued for anything. Whether you want to sue or not, you should still get on the phone with a lawyer to discuss what has happened, if it's not stopping.
Ultimately, Your Actions Will Decide What Happens
Co-owner of LawEnforcement.Social, Mike Bires, has been the victim of online harassment himself, through both department and personal social media accounts, which led him having to obtain a restraining order against his bully. Fortunately, the harassment has stopped for him, but not others his bully is harassing.
The last, and probably the best piece of information we can leave here in this article, is another one of those "no one likes to hear."
You have to take an active part in stopping the harassment. In Mike's case, he immediately addressed it by notifying law enforcement, obtaining a restraining order, appearing at the court case, and in court, directly confronted and admonished his harasser that he was not going to be a victim.