The latest shift in online abuse
Who hasn't had experience of someone yelling, disrespecting and even abusing them, offline? Now, increasingly, this kind of behaviour has moved online, as well. Doubtless because most of us spend hour upon hour online, every day. The last few years have seen a real shift in online abuse, from forums and non-identifiable accounts to people using their personal social media accounts.
According to CNN Money, Facebook alone gets over 1,000,000 user violation reports per day. There is no way they can deal with it themselves. It's up to the users, and our online communities to create an OK online environment. And, honestly, can anyone enjoy logging into Facebook, or other social media, if any of their friends get openly bullied?
In 2014, a Pew Institute study revealed that over 40% of adult internet users in the US have been called offensive names or have had someone intentionally embarrass them.
Small Presence Syndrome
Everywhere where people connect online some social media users are scared they will log in to their social media accounts only to be met by abuse. The problem is vast. So, too are the consequences.
What makes some people feel free to take the filters off and share whatever they think - no matter how damaging and hurtful it may be to their target?
Many of the abusers are suffering from Small Presence Syndrome (SPS). They want to feel powerful online. By abusing others, they overcompensate for their complexes.
People who are hungry to control others will bring this controlling behaviour with them online. It's a pattern in their personality. New technology gives SPS sufferers and bullies new platforms to express themselves. Social media is with us all the time, which means it can be harder than ever before to escape from bullying. Thanks to this abuse of social media, thousands are carrying their bully's voice around in their pockets and handbags.
Are social media 'friends', who you expect to know better, bringing hostile behaviours online, yelling abuse and disrespect at others in a way they would be unlikely to do in other circumstances - say, if they met at a party, at work, or through a mutual friend?
When a person is exposed to online harassment many people they know are keeping their heads down because they don't want to put themselves in the firing line.
The downside of social media
One major downside of social media is that some people post in a moment of anger. When this occurs, the tone of their comments and replies can be aggressive, even deeply offensive. Emotional reactions happen in a heartbeat, but you'd be well advised to think clearly before posting a knee-jerk response. Slow it down, step away and think deeper, about what to say. Maybe even ask yourself if it's necessary to say anything.
We all have personal responsibility for our actions on social media. Our online life is now an essential part of our real life; the two can no longer be separated out.
Threatening, ridiculing or shouting down another person is never right - whether it's done online or in the offline world. Everyone has the right to be who they are regardless of gender, age, sexuality or religion. We should be able to share thoughts, new ideas and start initiatives online. There should be no place for bullies, or SPS suffers online. It's only by acting together that we can create the web we want. Unfortunately, there is no way to educate a person suffering from SPS if they don't want to change.
What to do if you are being ridiculed, shamed or threatened online
- Talk to someone supportive about what's happened. You'll feel better after discussing the issue and it may help you work out a survival strategy. Save screenshots of the abusive comments.
- Report the person to the police, if you've received threats such as 'I'll kill you' or 'I'll rape you', you must treat threats like these seriously. Once again, save a screen grab of the comments.
- Be sure to use the 3-step response process. First, take the time to calm down. Second, decide whether or not to reply to an abusive or hurtful comment. Third, if appropriate, write a well-thought-out reply.
- Block the people harassing you from following you on social media. Remove the thread, where the harsh comments appear, from your social media network.
- Don't feel you have to reply. Totally ignoring the bully can work - that's why being silent is a common strategy.
- Ask what someone means by their disparaging or insulting comments. 'Can you please explain further what you mean by...?' 'Did I understand you correctly when you said...? Often the abuser is not too keen to explain further and will back down.
- If you're comfortable with irony, don't' be afraid to use it. It can be a smart survival strategy. Think what a stand-up comedian would say to a bully.
- Share your support; if you see a friend being ridiculed on social media. Jump in and make an ironic comment! This not only works very well but will help the person being abused to feel better.
- Acknowledge other people's comments by adding your comments in the thread. It may calm down the tone.
- Don't reply at all to bullying comments. That's what people with large social media following do. They let their fans do the work of correcting the bully for them.
- Don't argue with people who are not using their own real name and identity. That's a rule some active microbloggers using social media such as Twitter have.
- Only ever reply twice if you feel the conversation is going nowhere.
- Tell your online network in a post that you are not allowing any harassment on your wall or comment field, and if anyone breaks this rule, their comments will be removed, and you will block them from your network. Cyberbullies and SPS sufferers need to know that their bad behaviour isn't allowed nor tolerated on your social media.