- Social media harassment poses a serious threat, not just to young adults but also to brands and business owners.
- Online harassment shouldn't be taken lightly and should be dealt with in a delicate yet assertive manner.
- If necessary, social media users should report instances of online harassment to the proper authorities.
- This article is for someone currently experiencing social media harassment and is looking for actionable, effective ways to handle the situation.
Online confrontation can be stressful and difficult to manage. It may even impact your safety. If you or your business are the target of social media harassment, this article can help you take the next steps so you can put this chapter behind you.
What defines social media harassment?
Social media harassment refers to several antagonistic behaviors practiced by social media users. Another common term is cyberbullying; however, social media harassment affects more people than preteens on Instagram or any social media channel. In addition, it can happen to adults and businesses and have serious consequences if it's not handled properly.
The issue with harassment on social media is that it creates a disconnect between the subject and the harasser. People are far less likely to insult someone in person but feel emboldened when they have a screen to distance themselves from their target.
Businesses are particularly vulnerable to forms of social media harassment because companies must be on certain platforms to interact with customers and partners. For example, customers may take to social media if they had a negative customer experience or their expectations fell short of what they thought they would get with your company.
However, unlike an individual, it poses issues for a brand to disappear from Facebook if an irate user launches an attack on a company. Removing oneself from social media may lead to a loss of business because most businesses use social media to promote products and services. Therefore, business owners must learn the proper tactics for handling social media harassment.
Did you know? Roughly 44% of U.S. adults report experiencing online harassment, from offensive name-calling to physical threats.
What is an example of social media harassment?
Cyberbullying and online harassment aren't just the domain of high school kids and spurned ex-lovers. It can happen to your company, too. And although social media is an integral part of many companies' content marketing strategies, plenty of business owners hesitate because of concerns about what could go wrong.
Clarissa Windham-Bradstock, chief operating officer of AnyLabTestNow, discovered first-hand just how bad it could get, she told attendees of FranCamp2012, held May 4 in Atlanta.
A hostile former franchisee and vendor whose services AnyLabTestNow had stopped using began cyberstalking and cyber harassing Windham-Bradstock in an apparent attempt to make her and the company look bad. The man began by posting negative comments about her and AnyLabTestNow on an open internet forum.
Next, friends and colleagues received friend requests from a Facebook profile bearing the same picture as Windham-Bradstock's, but with a slightly different name. The fake profile included her home address and children's names, as well as pictures of her children.
Did you know? Windham-Bradstock experienced "doxing," which is the discovery and publication of personal details online for the world to see. While doxing itself is not illegal, it may fall under stalking and harassment laws, depending on where you live and the degree of harassment.
Windham-Bradstock said she thought she could distinguish her actual profile from the profile created by the perpetrator by changing her profile picture. But he kept updating the fake profile with the new picture.
The perpetrator then used the fake profile to say bad things about her, AnyLabTestNow and some of its franchisees, said Windham-Bradstock. He also implied she had inappropriate relationships with other company executives. Later, he put up another fake Facebook profile under a different name.
People asked Windham-Bradstock why she didn't just take down her own Facebook profile and get offline entirely. If she deleted her profile, said Windham-Bradstock, it would have left the harasser as the only image of herself online, which would have let him win and left her looking bad to the world.
What steps should you take if you're the target of social media harassment?
Windham-Bradstock advised taking the following steps if you become the target of social media harassment.
- Save screenshots of everything to use as evidence.
- Notify social media outlets via the channel that they suggest that someone is using your name inappropriately.
- Use social media channels to connect with decision-makers.
Additional tips on how to deal with social media harassment
Online harassment is a particularly difficult form of bullying to manage because you're not dealing with the perpetrator directly. Therefore, it must be handled in a more nuanced way than an in-person confrontation.
Here are a few tips to help your business avoid the pitfalls of social media.
Don't engage in harassment
It's a natural human instinct to defend oneself when being attacked. But in the realm of the internet, firing back at an abuser is like adding oxygen to a wildfire. By engaging with their insults or threats, you are giving them exactly what they want. Therefore, whenever possible, it's best to stay silent and not risk escalating a situation.
Neutralize the situation with positivity
If you're being harassed to the point where silence is not an option, try engaging with the aggressor positively. For example, rather than getting defensive, offer something constructive.
If they say something like "Your brand is awful," reply with 'I'm sorry you had a negative experience, let us know how we can improve in the future.'"
Expressing empathy may defuse the situation because it's more difficult to attack someone trying to put their best foot forward.
Share how you feel
It may be easy to say that it's "just Facebook" or "it's only a troll," but that doesn't negate any emotional impact social media harassment has on you. Know that it's perfectly okay to feel frustrated, isolated or anxious about the harassment you're facing. Online life is very much real life as well. So, if you're feeling stressed, talk to a friend or a professional to help work through your feelings.
Double-check your passwords
Your private information may be published online if you're being harassed on social media. This can include information like passwords, both the passwords to your social media accounts and your passwords. First, check the health of your online accounts: If you haven't changed your password in a long time or have very easy to guess credentials, now is the time to make up a password that's impossible to guess. You may also want to consider turning on two-factor authentication, which requires you to verify your identity via phone before you can gain access to your account.
Report the situation
If all else fails and the harassment gets to be too much, don't hesitate to block the account and file a report through the proper channels. Every social media platform has a procedure for reporting users who violate the company's code of conduct.
It may take a few days for the company to do its due diligence. However, if the situation is quickly escalating, contact support -- they may offer a helpful solution in many cases.
If anyone online threatens your property or safety, you may want to report it to the police in addition to the social media platform. Although they may not be able to take action on the report, this creates a paper trail, so you have formal documentation in the event that the social media harassment escalates.
File a report with the police district where your business and home are located and include all documentation of the cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. If you have evidence of the perpetrator's identity, file a restraining order because you don't know when that person might take the harassment offline.