How to safely deal with Internet trolls and cyberbullies

Online harassment is a problem that is becoming far too common. The recent case involving Sydney woman, Olivia Melville, who was threatened with rape and subject to vile abuse because a handful of men took issue with her Tinder profile is a reminder of just how serious a concern this really is.

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According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center, “Forty percent of adult internet users have personally experienced some variety of online harassment.”

What constitutes harassment?

Online harassment is when our digital space is invaded by threatening, unwanted messages, defamation and offensive language. According to the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, it also includes tracking your Internet use and checking your email, or when your private information, photographs, videos and data are shared or exposed.

So, how do you deal with the challenges of online harassment?

Report the abuse to authorities

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, you need to report the abusive behaviour so that the authorities can get involved. You should also know how to block people from contacting you online and report communications from your harasser to the website where the abuse is occurring.

Most widely used social networking sites have a strict anti-bullying policy and a help centre to address abuse. You can find links for the appropriate pages below:

  • Twitter offers a step-by-step guide for dealing with harassment.
  • Facebook has a helpful guide outlining its policy.
  • Instagram has a help centre with policy information.
  • YouTube has a reporting and enforcement centre to help prevent privacy violations and abusive users.
  • Google also has an anti-harassment policy.
  • Pinterest offers users a guideline on online harassment and a cyberbullying policy.

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It’s also important to always know the privacy settings for the social networking sites that you use and how to set them up in a way that you are comfortable with.

What steps can you take to help prevent online harassment?

The Australian Human Rights Commission also has useful tips on how to prevent online harassment. Below are some important notes:

  • Do not share your private information with people you do not know and be wary of sharing any visual content, like pictures and videos.
  • Do not respond to messages when you are upset (in fact, it’s best not to respond at all) as this can just elevate the situation and encourage the harasser. Instead, report the abuse to either your local police department or the site where the abuse has occurred.
  • Log out of your social network and stop messaging if you feel you are being harassed.
  • Save evidence of all the hurtful or threatening messages that are being sent to you — this way you can build a case against the abuser.

Remember that any behaviour that makes you feel scared, hurt or embarrassed is never okay.

Become informed

According to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN), “Under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) it is an offence to use the Internet, social media or a telephone to menace, harass or cause offence.”

The Australian Government’s Office of Children’s eSafety Commissioner provides some useful information for children who experience cyberbullying, including how they can report it.

You can also visit the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) for more information.

If you are being harassed, please consult your local police website or station for more information.


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