Online harassment has become all too common in the age of the internet. Pew’s 2017 study reported that 41% of Americans have personally experienced online harassment. The harassment methods varied from less severe name-calling to more severe behaviors such as stalking. Additionally, two-thirds of Americans have witnessed abusive or harassing behavior toward others online.
Among the victims of cyberbullying, adolescents and teens are a popular target. Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online and over half of young people don’t tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs.
Signs Your Child May Be Cyberbullied:
- Being emotional or upset during or after using the Internet or phone
- Staying secretive or protective of their digital life
- Withdrawing from family, friends or activities
- Avoiding group or school gatherings
- Noticeable slip in grades
- Changes in mood, behavior, sleep or appetite
- Stopping use of computer or cell phone
- Nervousness or jumpiness when receiving an instant message, text or email
- Avoiding discussions about Internet-related activities
What to Do If Your Child Is Being Harassed Online:
- Take your child seriously — Talk with and listen to what they have to say. Make them feel safe having this conversation with you.
- Block the bully — If possible block the bully on all social media accounts.
- Contact their school — Many schools have anti-bullying practices in place that will help your child deal with online harassment from a fellow student.
- Know the laws — Document the harassment and know your rights in case you need to build a case.
One issue that arises with online harassment or cyberbullying is that it’s often subjective. The definition of online harassment can vary between people and cases. Knowing the correct terms for the types of online harassment can help you prevent or respond properly to any harassment your child may experience. We break down each type and then sum them up in an infographic to give you a better understanding of what they are and how to respond.
Cyberstalking is the act of using the Internet to systematically and repeatedly harass, threaten or intimidate someone. This can be done through email, social media, chat rooms, instant messaging or other online mediums.
Is Cyberstalking a Crime?
Cyberstalking is a federal offense and many states have cyberstalking laws. Cyberstalking falls under anti-stalking, slander and harassment laws that are already in place and are punished similarly.
How to Report Cyberstalking
If you are a victim of cyberstalking there are a few actions you should take:
- Minors should tell a parent or a trusted adult.
- Collect evidence of conversations where you attempt to stop the harassment.
- Present documents to legal authorities.
- Change your email and passwords to keep your information secure.
- Block the cyberstalker on all social media.
- It is NOT suggested to meet your cyberstalker in person.
Impersonation is when a person uses the name or persona of someone without their consent with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten. Impersonation is common online in the form of fake social media accounts where users claim to be someone else.
Online impersonation has also become prevalent in the form of phishing. Phishing schemes involve hackers impersonating a person or business via email to obtain confidential information such as passwords. Phishing attempts increased by 65% in 2017, costing mid-size companies who had this type of security breach an average of $1.6 million.
Is Online Impersonation Illegal?
Online impersonation can be tried as an infringement to a person’s identity. In criminal law, someone can be prosecuted for impersonation if it seriously damaged the person’s reputation.
How to Prevent and Report Online Impersonation
- Maintain adequate identity theft protection on your devices.
- Report the imposter account to the social media moderator, editor or site manager.
- To prevent phishing schemes, use a secured network, delete any suspicious emails and only send sensitive information with encrypted emails.
- If it’s damaging your reputation, contact a lawyer to help you build a case.
Catfishing is an internet scam where someone creates a fictitious online identity for the purpose of starting a relationship. In the age of online dating, catfishing has become more common.
A well-known case of this is Manti Te’o, a football star from Notre Dame, who’s girlfriend supposedly died of leukemia mid-season which gained a lot of media attention. It was later determined that the girlfriend never existed, her identity had been faked.
Is Catfishing Illegal?
Catfishing itself is not illegal, but if it leads to a more serious issue such as a transfer of money, you may be able to build a case.
How to Recognize Catfishing
Some common signs that someone is catfishing:
- They are too good to be true (model, actor, glamorous profession).
- The profile is new, incomplete or inconsistent.
- They are in a rush to move the relationship along (in order to achieve their goal).
- They won’t meet up with you in person.
Doxxing is when someone’s personal information is published online as a call for others to harass them. This personal information may include their address, phone number, place of employment, email addresses, usernames, banking details or information about their family members.
An example of doxxing is the Gamergate incident of 2014. Video game developer, Zoe Quinn, was publicly accused of sleeping with a journalist to get a good review for a game she developed. Fans of a competing game attacked Zoe with daily Twitter threats and the release of her address.
Is Doxxing a Crime?
If the information is gathered in a legal manner, such as from publicly accessible social accounts, doxxing is considered legal. If the person broke the law to obtain the information, such as hacking into an email account, doxxing is illegal. Additionally, if you can prove that the intent was to threaten or harass, the action of doxxing can be considered illegal.
How to Prevent Doxing
To prevent doxing, take action to make sure your data and personal information is private.
- Google yourself to see what information is published.
- Make all internet profiles private.
- Proactively delete your data from data broker sites.
- Use a VPN to protect your location.
Swatting is an action taken as a result of online harassment and doxxing. If someone’s personal information such as address is released, a call can be made to law enforcement that details a fake dangerous scenario that is happening at the target’s location. In response, SWAT teams respond, showing up at the target’s house fully armed. This scenario is dangerous for the target and their family and is used as a scare tactic.
Although celebrities in the entertainment industry have been targeted, the most popular targets are gamers. Live-streaming video game platforms are prone to arguments that can escalate. Swatters are able to use an IP address to find the location of someone they disagree with on these sites.
Is Swatting Illegal?
Swatting is illegal. Repercussions can include the repayment of municipal funds, which range between the thousands to tens of thousands, and jail time if found guilty of conspiracy to provide false information or reckless endangerment.
How to Prevent and Report Swatting
- Purchase a VPN to shield your IP address
- Take legal action by filing a report with law enforcement
- If you believe this will be a future threat, inform your local authority to prepare them
Trolling is the act of someone making unsolicited comments in an online community that are random or controversial, in order to provoke emotion. These “trolls” are able to cause quarrels or upset people while hiding behind the safety of their screens.
There are many variations of trolling, some more damaging than others. In one version called “concerning trolling,” the troll acts as a fan or supporter and uses hostility in the form of constructive criticism. In another psychologically manipulative version called “gaslighting,” serial abusers present false information or create a false narrative to make you doubt your memory, perception, sanity or professional knowledge.
Dogpiling is also a common version of trolling in which a group of trolls work together, using many tactics, to overwhelm the target. This cyber mob uses questions, threats and insults to clog up the person’s social account and silence, discredit or humiliate them.
Is Trolling a Crime?
Trolling is not a crime, but in extreme cases, it can lead to other criminal offenses.
How to Handle and Prevent Trolling?
- Don’t respond or provoke them (that’s what they want!).
- Report the abuse to the social media platform.
- Block the person trolling.
- Document all instances of trolling from repeat offenders in case you decide to take legal action.
Nonconsensual pornography or “revenge porn” refers to the act of distributing private, sexually explicit images or videos without the person’s consent. This is often done as a form of revenge and can be extremely invasive and traumatic. Nonconsensual pornography can stem from sexting (texting someone a nude photo) if the photo is unwanted or spread to those it was not intended for.
Is Revenge Porn Illegal?
Nonconsensual pornography is illegal and against both civil and criminal law. 40 states and Washington D.C. all have specific revenge porn laws. If the individual is under 18, the perpetrator may also be charged with crimes relating to child pornography.
How to Prevent and Handle Revenge Porn:
- Don’t send nude or sensitive photos.
- If a photo is published, contact the platform administrator to get it removed.
- Take legal action.
Online harassment can happen to anyone, but taking preventative online security precautions will decrease the odds of it happening to you. Keep yourself safe from online predators by making sure your social accounts are on private, not releasing any sensitive or important information about yourself online and downloading a VPN to protect your location.
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