Guest Post by Sandra from The Right Side of Truth
The internet has opened the door to nearly unlimited opportunities to share information and knowledge around the world. Unfortunately, it has also created an entirely new arena for abuse and harassment online. While a person can sometimes get relief from real-world harassment, since it tends to be location-specific, with the proliferation of technology in our lives, online harassment can be a very difficult thing from which to distance yourself. Worse, the anonymity of the internet makes many bullies and abusers bolder in their threatening behaviors.
Problems with catcalling, harassment and cyberbullying have begun to gain more attention, which has led to the development of solutions to some of the problems and a variety of organizations created to advocate for victims of harassment.
Here are some real ways you can fight back against harassers to help make both the real world and cyberspace safer places for everyone.
According to a study conducted by the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, 47 percent of internet users have experienced online harassment or abuse. A study commissioned by the non-profit group Stop Street Harassment in 2014 found that 65 percent of women and 25 percent of men had experienced street harassment
Other scary statistics related to harassment:
- One in ten young women has received a threat related to revenge porn.
- An estimated 2.5 million cases of cyberstalking has occurred in the past three years, but the Department of Justice has only prosecuted ten cases in that time.
- Sixty percent of transgender people have admitted avoiding the use of public restrooms for fear of harassment or assault.
- Eighty-five percent of LGBT youth reported experiencing some form of bullying or harassment at school.
In response to online harassment, many internet users, women especially, feel they have to self-censor what they post online to protect themselves from the threatening behaviors of others. We should all be free to express ourselves online, especially on our own social channels, without feeling threatened by bullies and other online trolls.
Here are some ways you can protect yourself and combat online harassment.
Check the privacy settings on your social networks to ensure only the people you want to view your information are allowed to see it. The default settings aren’t always what you think they are, so make sure you read through the settings thoroughly. This guide gives a great overview of all the major social networks.
Virtual Private Network
You can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt all of your personal files and information. Whenever you access the internet using the VPN, you will be invisible to anyone trying to spy on your internet activity.
Set up a Google Alert with your name so you get you an alert if something is posted online about you. It’s much easier to get a defamatory or threatening message or post removed if you catch it quickly before it’s been shared.
Know Your Rights
Many of the largest tech companies have recognized that online harassment, cyberbullying and revenge porn are problems that aren’t going away on their own and have taken serious steps to help victims and punish perpetrators. If you’re having a problem specific to social media or another website, contact the site administrators for help. Many of these sites have a zero-tolerance policy for such behaviors.
Fighting real-world harassment can be trickier because the potential for an encounter to escalate to physical violence is much greater.
Hollaback is an organization dedicated to ending harassment of all kinds, both online and on the streets. Their mobile app has a map feature that allows you to document incidents of harassment, and in some cases even report them directly to your local government officials.
Meet Us On The Street
Meet Us On The Street is a grassroots organization dedicated to fighting street harassment one neighborhood at a time. You can start a program in your neighborhood and encourage people to be on the look for harassing behaviors in your area. It’s one opportunity to end harassment one street at a time.
Bullies don’t like to be challenged. If you feel you can do so safely, speak up and say something to the person making harassing comments. Ask for help, if other people are nearby. If you see someone else being harassed, offer assistance or find a person of authority who can intervene. We need to stop accepting street harassment as a “fact of life” and start letting harassers know that those behaviors will not be tolerated.
Neither online nor real-world harassment are problems that developed overnight, and they aren’t going to go away that quickly either. Speaking up and speaking out against threatening and harassing behaviors and establishing real consequences for these behaviors are the first steps to curbing these threats to all of us.
How are you combating harassment in your community?
About the Author: Sandra is a freelance writer and online privacy consultant. She is an expert on cyber threats, including cyberbullying and cyberstalking and is passionate about creating a world where everyone is free to express their ideas without fear.