You Asked: How do I deal with online harassment? How do I help the targets of online harassment?

  1. By Ashe Dryden
  2. On July 08, 2014
  3. Tagged harassment

A German translation of this post is available on kleinerdrei.org


This post covers two similar questions.

I've recently found myself the target of an internet harassment campaign. Do you have any tips for dealing with this?

Dealing with online harassment is emotionally and physically taxing, which is exactly what harassers aim for. You can minimize their impact and protect yourself at the same time in a variety of ways.

As someone who faces this regularly, I opted to create a post to explain how I'd like people to react when they see this happen to me. In conjunction with a keyboard shortcut on my phone and computer (!trollresponse, which expands to that link), I can quickly inform people what I need from them and why, without having to explain it to each person individually during every incident. I also link to this from my contact page and in the footer of my site so it's easily accessible for people who would otherwise be contacting me about those things. 

Consider contacting important people in your life to notify them about what's happening to you. Frequently harassers will attempt to get to you by attacking people in your life (family, friends, employer, clients), so minimizing that risk is something to seriously consider. This isn't an option for everyone, as some people need to keep their online identity or work secret from those people in their lives, so do what is best for you. Notifying the people close to you keeps them from inadvertently revealing any information to harassers online or exposing you to additional risk. 

You may also want to discuss this with your therapist/other mental health professional or doctor as this adds an incredible amount of stress to your life. The Geek Feminism Wiki has a handy resource for therapists working with geek feminists who regularly see this abuse.

On social media in general, block liberally. Remove the opportunity for people to easily continue to harass you. My personal policy is if I feel my heart rate tick up a notch when I read something someone has sent to me, I immediately block them. We don't owe abusive people our time or attention.

On twitter considering using The Block Bot, which is a service that allows individuals to add people to a shared block list for generalized abuse. If someone says something aggressively sexist, cissexist, transphobic, or otherwise to someone on the network and they add the person to The Block Bot, the person will also be blocked for me. It's a sort of pre-emptive strike against harassers.

On facebook, be sure to regularly check your privacy settings. I have a calendar notification every 2 months that reminds me to take a half hour to make sure they haven't added new features that have chipped away at my privacy.

Consider having someone close to you screen your emails, @replies on twitter, or other messages online for harassing content. Ask them to keep everything private, but to log everything. They can block people, archive emails, and report people for abuse on your behalf (but be aware that on Twitter, reports of abuse can only come from the victim's account :/).

Any threats and harassment you receive should be documented. Know that tweets, facebook posts, etc can all be deleted by the user who sent them (or taken down if the user is suspended), so be sure to take screenshots, record links and text, and any names or aliases the person goes by. If the person escalates, being able to show a pattern of ongoing, excessive behavior may be important.

Take care of yourself. This stuff is hard to deal with even when you're at your best. Talk to people you trust about your concerns, what you need from them, and how they can help. Eat, exercise, and sleep as normally as you otherwise would. Take time for yourself to do things that relax you - read, play games, spend time outside, be with friends.


I know that you and other diversity advocates and activists face a lot of harassment online. When that happens, what can I do to help?

The way that each person would like you to react to their being harassed is different. Unfortunately, being the victim of harassment comes with more than just the obvious risks.  Respecting their wishes is the least you can do to not add to the pile of unwelcome contact they're currently receiving. If you don't agree with the way they are handling being harassed, remember that it's not your place and not helpful to tell them they're doing it wrong. Respect what they want and need.

Expose as little of another person's life as possible:

  • Ask before taking a picture of someone and if it's okay to post it publicly; tell them where you are posting it. Don't forget to ask if it's okay that you tag them.
  • Ask before checking someone in on Foursquare, Facebook, or similar geoloc services. Don't check in at people's homes.
  • Don't make private plans publicly. Ask the best way to arrange things with them - email? sms? DMs? phone call?
  • When inviting people to small events, provide a way to privately contact you so they can voice any concerns about other possible attendees, the venue, etc.
  • Ask each time before sharing private information: phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, online identity information, employer, medical information, gender/sexuality/other identity information, etc. When in doubt, offer to share the asker's contact information so the person can choose whether or not they want to share that information with them directly.
  • Never make promises on someone else's behalf.

Understand that people facing this kind of harassment may have a variety of emotional reactions - anger, depression, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, numbness. Don't negate their feelings. 

A victim of harassment may also need special consideration when planning social or professional events, so be sure to be aware and sensitive to them.

Resources

Protecting Yourself

More on Harassment

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