When you’re attacked on social media, your first instinct may be to block the account. It’s only natural to think you should be able to prevent someone from cyberbullying, contacting you, seeing your information, or even writing about you, but blocking an account does not guarantee you any respite from online abuse.
After my story was shared with the public, many people — who probably only read the headlines — questioned my handling of the situation with one simple question, “Why didn’t she just block her?”
Of course, I blocked her.
Most social media channels, online forums, apps, and blog platforms only require unique user names or email addresses to create an account, so anyone can have an unlimited amount of accounts.
I could never have imagined the amount of social media and email accounts my harasser would use to bother me and others. The vast majority of her accounts had distinct profile names, photos, bios or descriptions, and personalities.
Shortly after my ordeal began, I received private messages from two accounts claiming to be the harasser’s friends– warning me of her extremely violent nature – while other accounts wrote defamatory remarks about me. This was just the beginning. My Facebook list of blocked accounts grew, but I was not safe from further harassment. Her arsenal of accounts posted defamatory remarks about me in various places, and new accounts sent me additional messages.
If this wasn’t traumatic enough, she impersonated me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blog platforms. On Facebook, she not only created impersonation accounts to damage my personal and professional reputation, she sent friend requests to family members, friends, and professional connections. The content was devastating.
At times, the attacks and private messages were coming at me around the clock. I was exhausted and humiliated. She taunted me by promising to continue to post, especially if I had damaging content removed. I felt helpless.
Unfortunately, I’m not alone. Four out of 10 U.S. adults have been the victims of cyber-harassment, according to Pew Research Center’s Online Harassment 2017 Report, and nearly one in five were subjected to particularly severe forms of online abuse.
Not surprisingly, the report also shares that “users increasingly see the internet as a place that facilitates anonymity . . . 89% of Americans say the ability to post anonymously online enables people to be cruel to or harass one another.”
Nearly half of the people being harassed online unfriend or block the accounts carrying out the harassment. In some cases, blocking an account may be all one needs to stop a cyberbully but, in others, it is not. In the report, some respondents indicated they blocked accounts, and offenders created new ones to harass them. Other respondents indicated blocking an abusive account solved the problem.
While blocking an account may not be the solution for many cyber-harassment cases, it still sends an important message to the harasser. Blocking an account communicates that you do not want to interact with it, receive communications from it, or allow it to view your information. It demonstrates your position and efforts to end the abuse.
If you find yourself the victim of cyberbullying or online harassment, take action and find support:
- Don’t retaliate or engage.
- If possible, send the person a brief message indicating you do not want to be contacted by him or her.
- Contact a mutual acquaintance to reach out to the person to inform him or her that if contact or posting continues, you will reach out to authorities.
- Block the account(s).
- Report abusive content.
- If the messages or posts include threats of violence, contact law enforcement. Don’t take chances.
- Document all incidents.
- Set up Google Alerts to inform you if content about you is posted online.
- Consider informing your employer(s), especially if the attacks include threats of violence.
- Be careful with whom you connect and engage online.
- Consider blocking, unfriending, or disconnecting from mutual acquaintances who may provide information about you to the harasser, even unintentionally.
- Keep private information private.
- Find support to help prepare you to work with law enforcement or navigate the judicial process, if necessary.
Today, there are many groups helping victims of digital attacks, according to Sue Scheff, author and family internet safety expert. In her recent article, “Finding Online Support for Cyberbullying and Shaming,” she shares resources to help victims overcome cyberbullying and harassment.
My case was extreme. According to the judge who presided over the case, the Honorable Justice G. Gage, it represented “without question the epitome of cyberbullying and the most egregious form of posting that I have had the misfortune to review . . .”
My harasser eventually pleaded guilty to criminal harassment and was sentenced to six months in prison. Her two-year probation order includes a prohibition to possess or use any computer or any other device that has Internet access.
Blocking didn’t save me from being the victim of cruel adult cyber-harassment for a long period of time. Like many other victims, I learned it wasn’t enough, but it was an important step in the overall process to stop it.
If you or your child is struggling with online abuse, there are resources and tips on combating and surviving cyberbullying and harassment.