The online community is a massive schoolyard ...with a population of about three billion

And when you put that many people in one place, you're going to see some abuse and confrontation. Thing is, the online environment involves different types of abuse and, because they're relatively new, the best approach isn't always obvious. The good news is, there's a lot of smart ways to go about tackling online abuse and harassment.

Forms of online abuse can include[#1]:

  • Image-based abuse or non-consensual sharing of intimate images - NB: This has often been referred to as 'revenge porn', but it's got nothing to do with porn. It usually means someone sharing images or video of someone without their permission. Sometimes, people will threaten to do this to someone as a frorm of blackmail.
  • Creepshots/upskirting - taking/sharing pictures of someone (e.g. in a change-room or on public transport) without permission.
  • Doxing - someone collecting and releasing personal information about another person online, such as their name and address, so others can victimise them in real life.
  • Cyber- or e-stalking - any kind of online stalking or harassment, including making false accusations or slander, identity theft, threats, solicitation for sex, or gathering private information.
  • Malicious impersonation - impersonating others online and posting comments or photos, trying to ruin their reputation (e.g. inserting their face into an image of a porn star or a victim of violence).
  • Rape videos and photographs - posting and sharing videos and photos of (real or simulated) rape scenes to intimidate and shock.
  • Trolling - While trolling is often seen as less serious than other forms of online abuse, posting inflammatory or off-topic messages can be highly stressful for the recipient. The most important thing to remember is 'don't feed the trolls'. Trolls feed off attention, so don't react or interact. If they can't be ignored any longer, you can ask them - just once - to stop, but if that doesn't work report them to the site administrator so they can deal with the troll.

Preventing online abuse

  • First up, be a decent 'online citizen' yourself. Obviously, you don't want to perpetrate any of the above forms of abuse, and you want top take positive action when you see it happen to others, whether it's offering suport to someone or saying something to the perpetrator. 
  • When abuse does happen to someone it is obviously never their fault, but yes everyone should remember to keep personal info secure - details like real name, addresses, place of work/school, etc, should NOT be mentioned in online conversations - even in a PM.
  • It's generally smarter to play it safe by deleting any sensitive messages you’ve sent or received, and ask anyone you've sent them to, to delete any photos of you.
  • If someone is going to share images of themself online, they need to be smart about it, like keeping their face, tatts, or any other identifiable marks out of the picture. Also, see our articles on sexting and nude selfies for tips on 'safe sexting'.

When things go wrong [#2]

  • When someone is copping abuse or being hassled online, i.e. any of the stuff above, advise them to save copies of whatever's been posted or done to them.
  • You can ask the perpetrator to stop. Alright, it's not always going to work, but sometimes just letting them know they're hurting someone and that they need to stop before more serious action is taken, will alert them to how wrong their actions are. But if you don't get a satisfactory response, don't continue communicating with them.
  • Talk to the person being bullied about getting trusted advice, whether it's a teacher, parent, site administrator or authorities.

For more info on online abuse and the law visit the eOffice of the eSafety Commissioner or the lawstuff website. If you are in immediate danger or just need to chat about stuff, go to our Get Help page for contact details on a range of services.

 

References
#1: Catherine Buni, C & Chemaly, S. (2014).The Unsafety Net: How Social Media Turned Against Women, The Atlantic.
#2: Carr-Gregg, M. (2014) Beyond Cyberbullying: An Essential Guide for parenting in the digital age. Melbourne: Penguin.