Five hot tips for anyone experiencing online hate

Posted on December 1, 2017 by Lucy Thomas

Yesterday when my hairdresser asked what I do for a living, he unwittingly opened a door to her past. As I started to explain that I run an anti-bullying movement that empowers young people to stand up to bullying in and out of school, I saw a cloud sweep over his face. He blurted, “I was (cyber)bullied really badly when I was younger.” As his story unravelled, I could see the lasting impact of his experiences, that a seed of distrust had been planted when he was bullied online that continue to contaminate his offline relationships to this day.

Since my sister and I launched PROJECT ROCKIT in 2006, I have had many similar conversations with hairdressers, dentists, Uber drivers, and randoms at parties. The project itself has reached hundreds of thousands of young people in schools, but we are always hearing about the enduring effects of bullying into adulthood, as well as the persistence of bullying behaviour itself. Despite what popular media would have you believe, this is not a problem that only affects young people, rather it occurs across all ages and walks of life. Since bullying relies on a drive to attain power, it thrives in environments that have hierarchical social or leadership structures—schools, workplaces, political systems, and of course, social media.

As bullying spills into the digital world, we are tempted to rely on the sites and apps through which we connect to protect us. But (cyber)bullying is a social issue that we play out with technological props, so digital safeguards and reporting tools are often inadequate when used alone. Ultimately, although there are a wide range of ways to deal with online hate, I’m yet to come across a superior one-size-fits-all approach. With that in mind, I’ve put together five hot tips for getting through these brutal situations with strength and integrity.

1. Screenshot Evidence

By now it should be a universally accepted practice to screen grab or print out nasty stuff before you delete it. I reckon I screenshot at least 17 memes everyday, so this is second nature for me.

However, for anyone who has ever seen something horrible about yourself online, you’ll know that the obvious response is to want to make it disappear. Of course you can remove it, just make sure you get a copy first. While it’s true that “deleted” content does leave a digital trace, it can be really difficult to retrieve evidence when it’s no longer visible. Firstly, social media sites are compelled to uphold users’ privacy and freedom of speech, meaning that they will not intervene unless the communication blatantly violates their terms of use. Consider also the sheer volume of online interactions occurring every minute. It’s not like you can private message Mark Zuckerberg asking him to track down the evidence for you…

2. Find Allies

Appeal to friends or witnesses to show visible online support for you. This does not mean that they need to intervene or confront the person who is giving you a hard time. Instead, it could simply involve interrupting the stream of abuse with something off topic, or contributing comments or affirmations that frame you more positively. If your online adversary knows that you have strong support, they are less likely to continue hating on you. Besides, once one person stands up for you, others are likely to do the same.

3. Block And Report

Most platforms and apps have a function that enables you to block certain users from contacting you online. Basically, you’re cutting off their access to you, taking away their ability to be entertained by seeing you upset. You can then ask a friend to monitor whether other party continues to make nasty comments about you once you are invisible to them. Then anonymously report the offensive content to the site administrators and encourage your friends to do the same.

4. Resist The Urge To Retaliate

There is no sense in repaying hate with hate. Retaliation only further perpetuates the cycle of abuse. In addition, keep in mind that those who hate from behind a screen are not truly anonymous. Neither are you! You definitely don’t want to provide them with ammunition that they can use against you later. Plus, being hated on is nasty enough, let alone allowing it to contaminate you with their malice. If you remain steadfast in treating others online as you would offline, you will find it much easier to remain connected to who you really are, even in the face of extreme cruelty.

5. Take It Offline

Cyberbullying often has the effect of isolating a person to the point that it seems like the whole world is against them. That’s why the most helpful thing you can do if you’re being bullied online is to reconnect offline. Remember that the isolation you are experiencing is an illusion created by your technological prosthetic, which creates a literal and metaphorical screen between you and the world. As soon as you get some face time (real face-to-face time, not Apple FaceTime™), you will be able to hear the tone of concern in a friend’s voice or see the care in their eyes. You will probably also find that the weight has been lifted and you are no longer alone.

Originally published in SheRa Magazine, written by our cofounder and CEO Lucy Thomas.