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Grow Your Business Social Media

How to Handle Social Media Harassment

image for fizkes / Getty Images fizkes / Getty Images
  • Social media harassment poses a serious threat, not just to young adults, but brands and business owners as well.
  • 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. 

According to the Online Harassment Field Manuel, social media harassment refers to several antagonistic behaviors practiced by users of social media. Another common term is cyberbullying; however, social media harassment affects more people than preteens on Instagram, or any social media channel. It can happen to adults and businesses as well 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 victims.

Businesses are particularly vulnerable to forms of social media harassment because it is necessary for companies to be on certain platforms to interact with customers and partners. Unlike an individual, however, it poses issues for a brand to disappear from Twitter if an irate user launches an attack on a company. Removing oneself from social media may lead to a loss of business. It is imperative for business owners in this day and age to learn the proper tactics for handling 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 despite the fact that social media is an integral part of many companies' 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.

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 would have left her looking bad to the world.

Windham-Bradstock advised taking the following steps if you become the victim 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.

  • File a report with the police district where your business and home is located and include all documentation of the cyber harassment or cyberstalking.

  • If you have any evidence of who the perpetrator is, file a restraining order, because you don't know when that person might take the harassment offline.

  • File a case with the FBI. They will refer you back to the local jurisdiction, said Windham-Bradstock, but it's still worth it to get it on the record.

Online harassment is a particularly difficult form of bullying to manage, because you're not dealing with the perpetrator directly, and 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.

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. Whenever possible, it's best to stay silent and not risk escalating a situation.

If you're being harassed to the point where silence is not an option, try engaging with the aggressor positively. 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 who is trying to put their best foot forward.

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. If the situation is quickly escalating, contact support; in many cases, they may offer a helpful solution. If the harassment is even more severe, report it to the police as well.

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.