Online harassment or cyberbullying has become as American as apple pie in our online communities. But not everyone agrees where the lines of harassment are or what constitutes cyberbullying. This is why it’s imperative that you understand how to protect yourself and your information online.
According to Pew Research, 62% of Americans believe online harassment is a major problem, with 41% having experienced harassment themselves. And while 79% agree that the various social sites have a responsibility to step up, they are conflicted where the harassment/bullying line is in relation to our right to free speech. And it is this blurry area that reminds us how important it is to protect our online privacy.
In the video above, a simple disagreement between two friends becomes an online harassment issue with David eventually having his home address and phone number published on a public page and suddenly irate strangers now know how to find him. And this happens every day, I’ve seen it in my own feed. So how do you protect yourself? Lock down your social media! Twitter and Instagram make it easy by offering you to set your account as “private”. This means that your posts can not be seen unless you have confirmed the follower. This also means that you won’t show up in hashtag searches that you may use in your posts. Facebook is a little trickier, so let’s take a look at the options.
You will want to visit the “Settings” option and click on “Privacy”. Then review the access options for each of the options.
These are my current settings. I have set it so that only my friends can see my future posts; that my past posts are limited to friends regardless if I had shared them with the world; that only friends of friends can request to be my friend; I am the only one that can see my friends list (this limits friends of friends seeing my whole friends list); limiting friends to being able to look me up my phone or email; and finally I have blocked search engines from including my Facebook as a result.
Facebook also gives you control over who and what you are tagged in, yet another way to have more control over your privacy. Have that one friend that is constantly tagging you in photos where you look like you just finished running a marathon in 90°F heat? Turn on “review posts you’re tagged in…” and then you have to approve being tagged. Now, this does not stop your friend from posting the photo but at least your entire friends list doesn’t automatically get to see it! And Facebook also allows you to block people, pages, apps, people on Messenger, etc.
You may also want to turn off geo-tagging in any camera apps you use as well. Geo-tags are little bits of information that show where the photo was taken and when. So even if you never share where you live, your photos will give it away.
And finally, any site that offers to hide your personal information, take it!
So now that you’ve locked down your online presence, what can you do about cyberbullying? First and foremost, know who you are having a discussion with, aka don’t argue with strangers. Social media posts are not going to change someone’s core beliefs that you are friends with let alone a stranger. Although these arguments are pushed through your keyboard, try to remember the adage “You have two ears and one mouth so that you can listen twice as much as you speak.” In this case it’s two eyes and one keyboard, so that you can read more than you type.
So what do you do if someone starts to harass you online? BLOCK THEM AND REPORT THEM! Again, you are not going to change their opinion and continuing to engage will likely elevate their harassment, so GET OUT. Your page, your rules. And if the harassment includes direct threats do not hesitate to contact your local law enforcement, you can get restraining orders against phone/digital contact.
In the instance with the text discussion that was then screenshot and shared, think before you write. If you truly thought through what you committing to digital “paper”, you might hold back from being so judgemental or mean. Texting is really just a conversation with your fingers. Would you speak to this person in the same manner that you are going to text to them? If not, then back up and perhaps ask to save this discussion for a time when you can be face to face. Afterall, text messages are often misunderstood as you can not indicate tone.
Again, protecting your privacy will go a long way in helping to protect you from cyberbullying. But you also have to treat online life as part of your real life and behave with the same care and respect online as off.