As more people turn to social media platforms to voice their opinion, meet new people, look for potential life partners, or even just to socialize, the chances of experiencing online harassment continues to grow.
While teens and adolescents are most commonly targeted for cyberbullying, just over 40% of people responding to a Pew Research 2017 study reported they had been bullied or harassed online, and about 66% reported being aware of or witnessing harassment or cyberbullying behavior while online.
Not all types of online harassment are illegal, which makes it a challenge to attempt to get assistance from authorities to end the abuse. Even when the behavior is illegal, it can be difficult to find out who is behind the behavior and where they are located.
To get a clear picture of the types of online harassment and what to do if you or someone you know is a target, here is a snapshot of seven common issues seen on any online social platform. They are divided into those that are illegal, which means you can seek assistance in stopping the behavior, and those that aren’t illegal yet, but are no less devastating to experience.
Illegal Online Behaviors
This is just like stalking and is considered illegal federally as well as in many state laws across the country. Cyberstalking involves literally tracking or following someone online and threatening, harassing, intimidating, or slandering someone. If you’re being stalked online, keep copies of all interactions, make sure you notify the person you want the behavior to stop, and notify the police. Block the person on any sites if possible. Do not attempt to get in touch with the individual or to meet with them; this could be extremely dangerous and put you at risk.
Doxing can be difficult to prove, but it involves providing private information about a person online with the intent to harass and intimidate the individual. This information could include private information like non-public phone numbers, a person’s address, financial information, or even their online usernames linked to their actual name and information. The problem with proving this is a crime is the information cannot be available publicly, and the intent of releasing the information is to threaten, harass, and intimidate. Make sure to report this behavior to the police and check to make sure your passwords are changed, and any public information about you is removed from websites.
Swatting involves using personal information about a person to call the police and report a crime or dangerous situation at the target’s home or business. This is most commonly noted with celebrities, but it is a crime. Using a VPN to shield your IP address and physical location online and report any concerns that this may happen to the police can help prevent the issue.
Posting Revenge Porn
After the breakup of a relationship, images, videos, or other media may be distributed by the unhappy partner as a way to get revenge on their ex. This is illegal, even if you willingly provided the material to the person for their private viewing while you were in the relationship. If you experience this, contact the administrator for the social media platform or site and have it taken down. Then contact the police and report the incident.
Impersonating Someone Online
Using someone else’s name or persona online is illegal. This impersonation is usually used to obtain information about you as you assume you’re talking to a trusted friend, business associate, or online acquaintance. If you’ve been the victim of someone impersonating you, report the incident to the platform administrator of the site you’re on, change your passwords, use two-factor authentication, and, if your reputation is being harmed, talk to an attorney.
Non-Criminal Online Harassment
Trolling isn’t illegal, but it is used on most social media platforms. It involves unwelcome, abusive, or controversial comments that create conflict and it can be done by one person or a group of people working together. If you’re a victim of trolling block the people using this behavior, report it to the site administrator, and don’t engage in arguing or commenting to them or about them online. Going private with your page or posts can also eliminate this issue.
Catfishing is well known, and it involves creating a character and interacting with others on a purely fictitious basis. It’s not illegal, but it may be possible to take legal action if the person attempted to obtain money or other things of value from you. Don’t assume everyone you meet online is telling the truth. Be very cautious of people that seem too perfect or that are just the person you always wanted to meet; they may just be playing a part.
Regardless of the legal status of the specific online harassment you are experiencing, talk to your law enforcement agency. They can provide information on what you can do and how to act if these types of harassing behaviors continue to occur.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. Her book, “The Marriage and Relationship Junkie: Kicking your Obsession” is on sale for 50% off from now until February 18, 2019.
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