For about a year now I’ve had the occasional run-ins with “light” internet abuse and cyberbullying. There are a lot of resources around youth (and sometimes even college students) who are being cyberbullied, but not a lot for adults.
I wanted to write a bit about my experiences. As I write this, I have had eight instances of being the recipient of abuse from threads on popular forum sites, emails, and blog posts. I’ve tried to be blithe by calling it cute things like “people being mean to me on the Internet,” but it’s cyberbullying. I’ve never been threatened, per se, but I do find the experiences traumatic and stressful.
Here’s my advice on how to deal with being the recipient (I hesitate to use the word “victim”) of cyberbullying. I spoke with a few people — people I know who have dealt with internet abuse and some professionals — and this is what I came up with.
Take care of yourself.
First and foremost, take care of yourself. Stop reading the comments or the blog post. Close your email or laptop. Remove yourself from the direct interaction with the bullying. I know this is hard, sometimes it’s really hard to look away, but it’s important to do, at least for a bit.
I like to get myself a mocha (if you like to use food/treats as a source of comfort — this may not be your style). I joke that this is me celebrating being successful enough to make people publicly upset with me.
I joke a lot about it. Some of it I find genuinely funny — someone on Slashdot said of me: Molly has trust issues, which is why she’s single. I think this is -hilarious-. Humor helps me deal with difficult situations, but that’s just me.
I also have a file of nice things people have said about me. I don’t feel the need to reference it, but I have it there just in case.
Reach out to your support network.
Tell your friends, family, or whomever. Even if you’re not interested in talking about your feelings — tell them that — just let other people know what you’re going through. In my experience, I enjoy a little solidarity.
Really. This is the hardest part. Part of me wants to talk with people who are obviously hurting and suffering a lot, part of me wants to correct factual errors, or even share with others the things I find funny. Engaging is about the worst thing you can do, according to everything I’ve heard.
Talk to a lawyer or reach out to local law enforcement.
This is for more extreme cases — especially when people are threatening you harm. This particular episode of Reply All, “The Snapchat Thief,” covers a bit about when talking to law enforcement might be the right thing to do.
This part is easier to figure out when you are in the same general area or country, or know the identities of those harassing you. Several people I know (myself included) have dealt with international harassment.
On not being a man.
A number of the men in my life are upset about this recent round of abuse — they’re generally more upset than the women. The men come off as shocked or surprised, angry and upset, and some of them are desperately searching for something to do.
The women and enbies in my life are a lot more blase about the whole thing. They respond with commiseration, but, like me, accept this as a part of life.
Women and enbies I have spoken with about this just assume that people are going to be trashing them on the web. When I decided to become more visible within free software, I understood that I was going to be abused by strangers on the internet (enbies, men, and women — all of which have said harmful things about me).
Abuse is an assumption, rather than a possibility.
I was discussing this with a friend and we considered the problem of trying to not be a target. Bullies will find targets. If you try to hold back and be unobjectionable, other people are being abused in your place. Abusers gonna abuse. If you’re strong (or self-sacrificing) you may decide to make yourself a target, or at least accept the risk of being a target, by being visible in your work.
A few final thoughts
Being bullied, in any form, is terrible. I was badly bullied when I was younger, and facing that again as an adult is equally traumatic.
I’m sorry if you’re going through this experience. Solidarity, empathy, and sympathy.