What do you do when you're cyberstalked, taunted or abused online?

What do you do when you're cyberstalked, taunted or abused online?

Dear women of the Internet:

We need to have a talk. There's a reality of online life that some of us are suffering through by ourselves, a completely normal but painful experience that every woman I've ever met who goes online has had -- and that plenty of men have had too.

I'm talking about the lovely experience of encountering Internet trolls. And for me, it all boils down to this...

Sometimes people are mean in this virtual Web world. Really mean.

And it's my opinion that there's only one solution: Ignore them.

That's the most powerful thing you can do.

I'm saying shun them, like the Amish, as a friend recently recommended to me via email. This is our virtual world -- we created it. The most powerful thing we can do when we encounter a person who is abusive online is to refuse to acknowledge them. Deprived of the spotlight, their own hateful little lights will blink out.

Buh-bye!

Don't link them, don't talk about them, don't read them. As far as we're concerned, they don't exist. And amongst ourselves, I think it's time to bring the issue out of the closet, demystify it, circle our wagons and learn to roll our eyes about it together, even laugh at it. Who cares?

I can imagine some of your faces -- you're thinking that I don't understand. You're wrong. I already know how hard it is and I do understand. Believez-moi.

If you're lucky, you may not yet have learned that people exist who will use the Internet to come to our blogs or sites and belittle us, call our names and poke fun at us, our beliefs, our races, our religions, the fact that we are women or men or other, perhaps even our kids or our dogs or our sans-serif fonts, for crying out loud. In fact, if we have the nerve to be female, especially someone who is not white, we will attract more mean, hate-filled people than folks who are not female and white. Some of these people even (inexplicably) have enough time and interest in us to start their own blogs and sites to showcase their abuse of us.

Ridiculous, isn't it? You may wonder to yourself, how is it that there can be a war on in Iraq, children starving on the streets of every nation on this rock and the unfolding horror that is Darfur -- and some people have time to spend hours bullying other people online?

Here's how: It's not about us. It's about them. That's why ignoring trolls works.

Please read that last sentence again? Now print it, cut it out, chew it up and swallow it. This is my mantra: It's. Not. About. Me. That's why I refuse to play.

Here's a little perspective that helped me: As Timothy Campbell, who wrote this great article for AOL users in 2001, said: "Trolls crave attention, and they care not whether it is positive or negative. They see the Internet as a mirror into which they can gaze in narcissistic rapture. If you want a deeper analysis than that, perhaps a psychologist can shed some additional light on the matter."

In order to take our revenge, our best bet is "don't respond, don't interact and don't engage," recommends the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line:

"Many serial bullies are also serial attention-seekers. More than anything else they want attention. It doesn't matter what type of attention they get, positive or negative, as long as they can provoke someone into paying them attention. It's like a 2-year-old child throwing a tantrum to get attention from a parent. The best way to treat bullies is to refuse to respond and to refuse to engage them - which they really hate. In other words, do not reply to their postings, and on forums carry on posting without reference to their postings as if they didn't exist. In other words, treat nobodies as nobodies."

Gina Trapani of Lifehacker puts it yet another way:

"But when YOU are the target of an insulting post or sharply-worded email, quite frankly, it can really suck. Today I've got some strategies for dealing with Internet Meanies: those faceless virtual bullies who take pleasure in shooting other people down from the safety of their keyboards....It's easy to take out frustrations on someone online because they don't quite feel real. Talking smack puts people in a position of power, one they want to be in because they feel small and weak in other areas of their lives. The key words here are "small" and "weak." "

Today, fortunately, the law and corporate policies have evolved to the point where we can take action in certain circumstances. Specifically:

  • Currently there are 45 cyberstalking (and related) U.S. federal and state laws on the books, as well as laws in U.K. and India. Read about them here at Jayne Hitchcock's site, Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA): http://www.haltabuse.org/resources/laws/index.shtml
  • If you need information on child-related laws, WHOA suggests you visit Safetyed
  • Get their IP addresses from your logs and ban them from your blog. That's what Jenna Hatfield did. She writes:
    "what do you do when mocking, name-calling, insulting, ignoring and cussing don’t work? What do you do when you’ve got a persistent little bugger that annoys the bejeebus out of you, sucks up your bandwidth, steals photos and takes things out of context to their own personal spaces? I wasn’t sure this morning. I now know how!"

    Check out Jenna's post to ban IP addresses if you host your own site. Here's how to ban an IP address on: Typepad, WordPress (Update: see Sassy's comments below about taking care with this host), Movable Type and Blogger (I don't know for certain about this last link, but it's the best I could find)

    So - there you have it. That's my approach to online life.

    What do you think?

    Image credit: Family Living, Hatfield Style

    Lisa Stone
    BlogHer Co-founder
    Surfette

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