Twenty ways to help someone who's being bullied online.....
....and rob internet dickweasels of their fun. A public post, because this is a public service. I put this together a while ago, but today felt like the right time to put it out there.
So. Online abuse is real, and it sucks, and facing it down has nothing to do with 'strength.' If someone you know is experiencing online harassment, it can be very hard to know what to do or say. Here's a working list of suggestions for how to behave and how not to behave, based on extensive personal experience - mine and other people's. Mainly it boils down to everyone being a bit bloody braver. I hope this helps.
1. Step up and reach out. It can be tempting to back away when the going gets trollish, especially if you don't quite know how to respond. Don't flake on your friend in their hour of need. If you're not sure how to start, remind them that you are there for them, and ask how you can help.
2. Make positive, supportive content to counteract the negative posts. Private messages of support are great, but what really makes a difference -practically and emotionally- is when a friend or ally is prepared to step up and take on the abusers in public.
3. If there's an abusive thread about a person, don't read it. If there's an abusive video, don't watch it. If private photos are being shared without consent, don't look at them. Don't give our harassers your pageviews unless you intend to do something about it. By doing so you participate indirectly in the harassment- and sometimes you're also directly funding it, as professional trolls make money from ad sales.
4. If you feel able and safe enough to challenge or fight back against abusers in person or online, do so- especially if you have more privilege or power than the person being targeted. If you know people who are engaging in abuse in any way, call them out on it. That might put you at risk of looking bad in front of the cool kids. If so, have a think about who your friends are.
4. Support and promote the work of individuals experiencing harassment. Be creative! Publicize or donate to their projects, offer them your time, give to a charity in their name.
5. Don't bring it up out of the blue if they don't seem like they want to talk about it. This is relevant, for instance, if you're just getting to know them and you've googled their name and seen some abusive content. It may be new and interesting for you, but for them it's a bullshit daily reality that they'd probably rather not be defined by.
6. If you're close enough to have a level of trust with them, and it's a real crisis, offer to take away their internet passwords for a while, limit their access to social media, block and report some of the worst of it, and keep them updated on anything that really needs their attention. This is one of the most helpful things a close friend can do, especially at times when engaging only makes it worse. It's also a draining and sometimes traumatic task, so don't offer if you don't think you can handle it.
7. Relatedly, be extremely conscious of their online security. Remember that they may be targeted by leakers and Doxxers. Try not to share any sensitive information, especially their address. If you live with them, or if you're a close family member who might be the target of Doxxing, speak to them, or any experts you know, about how to handle online security- without making them feel guilty.
8. Unless they've specifically asked you to do so, or you really feel it's an emergency. don't show them horrible things and ask 'if they've seen this'. Trust me: either they've seen it, or they don't want to.
9. Don't express shock or, worse, sick thrill at the dreadful things people are saying. We know. Our abuse is not your entertainment.
10. Think before you ask us to give our time and energy to your thesis/documentary on online harassment of women/trans people/ ethnic minorities. I get multiple requests every week to talk about the abuse I experience, and I have to turn most of them down. If you really have expertise or skills you want to contribute to fighting online harassment, it'd be much better for you to offer your time, money or ideas to one of the many projects already being run by people going through this stuff.
11. Don't make that documentary about how awful it is to be a woman on the Internet. Seriously, just don't. It's been made so many times. Don't make it. And if you must make it, don't ask us to sit in front of your camera and cry. We don't need more 'awareness'. We need change. If you really feel you can help make that change, do it sensitively- don't revictimise and dehumanize us.
12. Don't ask 'how do you cope?' or tell the person that you would fall apart if you went through the same. There's not a magic formula. Everyone copes differently, and you have no idea how you're going to manage until it happens to you. Sometimes we don't cope well at all, and that's okay.
13. Don't mansplain the motivations of our abusers to us. We've really thought about it a lot already.
Don't say: 'what did you do to provoke this?' That makes it seem like it's their fault. Work from the basis that it's not their fault.
14. If you're a close friend or family member of someone being harassed, you will be experiencing some hard feelings too. Try not to burden your loved one with extra emotional labor in the middle of a round of abuse, or make them feel guilty and ashamed for the knock-on effect on you. Wait until the immediate crisis has passed to discuss it with them, and seek support from others in the meantime.
15. Don't say: 'well, that's just how it is online'. The web is not an immutable, changeless fantasyland. It's built and populated by human beings. It can change, it should change, and we need it to change.
16. Definitely don't say 'it's only the Internet, it's not real life.' It sounds like it should be reassuring, but it's dismissive and inaccurate. For many of us, the Internet is where we work and socialize- stepping away would come with huge costs, and that's the point. The harassment is designed to shut us out of public space and professional life, especially if we are women, LGBTQ people and/or of color. Online harassment is real harassment, with real-world consequences.
17. Remind them that they are loved and safe. No need to lay it on too thick. Sometimes what helps most is to be reminded that you're a normal, worthwhile person- a person who may make mistakes, but does not deserve abuse.
18. Ask them what practical support they need. Better yet, offer to come round and do something fun and quiet, OR take them out somewhere without Internet. The cinema is good. Walks are good. Bonus if you have a cute animal to drag along. If you're far away and have the funds, send a gift, order them takeout or a treat. Use your imagination and be practical! One of the nicest things anyone ever did for me when I was going though a bad spare of trolling was clean my flat when she was staying there - so I came home to a nice space that felt safe and welcoming.
19. Remind them that their work has value, that they are more than the harassment they receive, that you are proud of them, and that you have their back.
20. Remember that every time you choose to stand up for your friends in public and step up for them in private, you've helped ruin some dickhead's day. Thanks, and solidarity.
[With thanks to Anita Sarkeesian, Molly Crabapple, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Meredith Yayanos and Mark Brown.]
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