Here are some basic principles and possibilities for effectively intervening in online abuse, if you ultimately decide to intervene in a public manner:
- Report the offending content and user to the platform on which it appears. This is a simple first step to take the moment you spot online harassment. While a platform might not necessarily take helpful action, it’s worth a shot. Follow these guidelines for reporting online abuse.
- Make a clear statement condemning online harassment on the same platform where it appears. Directly identify the online harassment, clearly state why it is wrong, and perhaps even offer a rallying cry enlisting others to also condemn the abuse. If you’re worried about provoking the harasser, be sure to condemn the specific behavior, and avoid naming or labeling the user directly. More information is available in this Field Manual’s Guidelines for Safely Confronting Your Online Harasser.
- Rally a support community to speak out simultaneously. The idea behind this strategy is to counter hateful speech and corrosive ideas with better, more productive speech—and lots of it. When you witness online hate targeted at specific individuals or groups, send a message to your support community alerting them to the location of the hate speech (e.g., the platform on which it appears) and your proposal for an effective, swift response—a specific hashtag or message aimed at the abuser or abuse, for example. For more information about issuing counterspeech attacks, please see the Fight Back/Write Back and Deploying Your Support Communities sections of this Field Manual.
- Publish a statement of solidarity. If you’re part of a group or organization affiliated with the target of the abuse—or with a group or organization that condemns hate generally—put out an official statement that explicitly states why you condemn this particular form of online harassment. The Tor Project offers a good example of a solidarity statement you can put out on behalf of a target of online harassment.
- Consider involving the media. This can be a tricky option because journalism about online abuse sometimes ends up escalating the harassment aimed at the target named in the story. Journalists interested in covering online abuse should be willing to offer anonymity and/or omit to identify details at the behest of the target. Used properly, storytelling can be a powerful way to enhance public awareness around issues of online harassment and even serve to pressure tech institutions into taking the issue more seriously.
Privately supporting a victim often gives bystanders an opportunity to express their concern and willingness to provide support, without putting the target in a public situation. The following are suggestions for offering direct support to a target of online harassment:
- Offer to monitor the target’s social media and/or email accounts so they can shield themselves from the abuse for a period of time.
- Offer to help the target document the online harassment.
- Provide the target with emotional support. Talk less, listen more.
- Provide the target with resources — including this Field Manual! The Cyberbullying Research Center’s resources for adult victims also contain informative and applicable suggestions.
- Don’t tell the target how to feel or how they should be reacting. Before deciding to play devil’s advocate, consider who in this situation is actually the “devil.” (Answer: the online harasser.)
- If a target has posted a specific call for help, assist them by spreading the message to your own social media networks.
If, on the surface, you’re an unlikely ally of the person being attacked, your voice maybe even more powerful than the rest! For example, if a woman is the target of online misogyny and you’re a man; or if you’re caucasian and bearing witness to online racism; or if you’re a cis-gendered woman witnessing the targeted abuse of a gender non-conforming writer, then your voice has power. This experiment offers more insight into why the voices of unlikely allies matter.
- Intervene Swiftly.
Once you’ve assessed your own safety and determined a plan of action, intervening in someone else’s online harassment should happen quickly, in order to ensure that the harassment is addressed in real-time. A real-time response not only demonstrates solidarity, but it also signals to an online abuser that there are direct consequences for their actions.
- Take care of yourself, too!
Witnessing abusive online behaviors, threats of violence, hate speech, and graphic images can take its toll on even the staunchest of allies. Don’t be ashamed if you experience feelings of fatigue and become overwhelmed—you need to take care of yourself if you’re going to be a good online ally to others. Visit the Wellness and Community section of this Field Manual for more information about how to take care of yourself in the face of online harassment.