Being a bystander online
How can you be an effective bystander online? Online abuse and cyber harassment can take place both in public, and in private. One of the most difficult things to detect as a lay person in cyber harassment is really who the offender is, and where they truly are located. And so, it becomes necessary to find as much support as is possible to keep yourself safe and supported online. While much work around harassment and abuse that takes place in private – such as through one-to-one messenger platforms or messengers within public social media platforms – requires the person facing it to speak up or speak out to make others aware it is happening, harassment and abuse that takes place in public view can be seen quite easily. To be a supportive bystander online, some simple tips here can come in handy.
Read up on the community guidelines, terms of engagement and rules of the platforms you are a member of – it is a good idea to refresh your memory from time to time, and to keep up with any platform changes and developments that may come to be with new rules in place.
Be vigilant and watchful for instances of abuse and harassment. You may choose to be a listener online by looking through your timelines or looking through any responses or content written to address anyone you know who may be vulnerable to abuse or harassment.
If you find someone being harassed online, one good way would be to engage with the person privately and ask if they are being harassed and if you can help them. Discuss ways you can engage, and also help them navigate and understand the rules of the platform so they know what their rights are. This way, you can also ensure that you defer to their choices and they remain in charge.
If you find a user being abusive and against the platform’s guidelines, you can report the person – most platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook – allow for anonymous reporting where no details of the person reporting is shared with the one who is being reported. Most platforms also respond to the reporter with an update on the status of their report.
Sometimes, you may want to engage with a person who may seem like they are harassing or abusing someone. In times like these, it may be a good idea to assess the person before you get into the scene because online abuse can be traumatic, and, it can also be a good idea for you to ensure that none of your personal information, accounts or other details are open to access or misuse. Always pick your battles and make sure not to put yourself in any danger.
If you know someone who has been harassed or abused, be empathetic and inclusive to their needs. Listen to them and understand them – online abuse and harassment can be as damaging and painful as any other form of abuse. You may encourage them to get professional help by seeing a therapist or counselor, or to seek recourse to the law.