The following post is written by the team at HeartMob, a movement to end online harassment by providing real-time, immediate support. Their work, fueled by the anti-harassment organization Hollaback! also empowers bystanders to act when they see harassment and contribute to safer spaces online.
Online harassment is extremely prevalent - Pew Research Center released a study in 2017 that found roughly four-in-ten Americans have personally experienced online harassment, and 62% consider it a major problem.
Online harassment is more than about being mean: it’s about reinforcing unequal power structures. These power imbalances can be societal or interpersonal. Marginalized communities are shown to experience more online harassment than others do. Amnesty International's study found nearly a quarter (23%) of the women surveyed across these eight countries said they had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once, ranging from 16% in Italy to 33% in the US. 58% of survey participants across all countries who had experienced abuse or harassment said it had included racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia.
To be an effective bystander in the face of online harassment, we’ve developed the 5 D’s for you to utilize to stand up for you and your friends while keeping yourself safe. Consider your own situation, and the situation of your friend, and take into account the relative risk of each tactic.
Respond directly to the harasser.
Be clear, firm, and concise.
Fight fire with water to avoid escalation.
Talk directly with your friend about the harassment in the same space.
Generally not our first suggestion.
Take an indirect approach to de-escalate the situation and disrupt the current dynamics
Tell your friend that you appreciate their post
Leave a positive public comment
Start a competition to see who can find the cutest animal video
Offer to go with your friend to HR or the school administration or an academic advisor to explain why their work is suffering
If there are physical threats and the person feels safe going to law enforcement, offer to help them report
Mobilize support by way of a support team of friends
Help monitor the person’s account
Help them lock down their accounts and stuff online
Help de-dox (get their info off the internet)
Send them to HeartMob
Do something after the fact to let them know they’re not alone
Offer to check out sites where people were organizing harassment – “I’ll go on 4chan and see if they’re still talking about you”
Check with them after various intervals – there are long-term effects and others will often have forgotten about it
Most platforms accept reports from bystanders (YouTube only responds to defamation reports that come from the defamed person)
Take screenshots; record URLs for Twitter; record a timeline
NEVER post this online without your friend’s consent; ALWAYS ask your friend what they want to do with the documentation.
Experiencing online harassment can be overwhelming. You may feel scared, angry, embarrassed - to list just a few among a whole host of (totally valid) emotions. You could even be experiencing physical symptoms such as a pounding heart, nausea, or difficulty sleeping. You might simply feel numb. In these situations, it's really important to take time out to take care of yourself.
Check out our resources page for helpful guides ranging from Technical Safety to Self-Care. If you would like to learn more about how to protect your friends from online harassment while keeping yourself safe, follow us and stay tune for our upcoming webinar in April.
Here are our Heartmob Sites - Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
HeartMob – the online harassment program from Hollaback! – reduces trauma for individuals experiencing online harassment. If you’re being targeted for any kind of online abuse, you should know about the safe community we’ve created where you can report and maintain control of your stories. You can keep your report private to catalogue in case it escalates, share it with vetted volunteers (HeartMobbers) and request various forms of support, or mark it as public to show the world the extent of online harassment. No matter what you decide to do, remember that HeartMob has your back.