As I sat in the excellent Cyberbullying session at BlogHer, led by the indomitable Erin Kotecki Vest, I tweeted “People saying ‘you asked for it because you put yourself out there’ is wrong. If it’s not legal to say it to your face, why is online okay?”
Not five minutes later, I received this lovely tweet (language NSFW). Wow. Thanks for making my point, dude!
I’ve had my fair share of online bullying ranging from rape and death threats to your more generalized hatred and trolling. Luckily, nothing has escalated to the point of my needing to contact the authorities – thus far. Not so true for either Erin, who had her children threatened, or Autumn Sandeen, who also spoke on the panel.
But I speak with bloggers nearly daily about trolls, and what I like to call those trolls-on-steroids, the internet ”griefers” (a term co-opted from the gaming community). Griefers are the kind of people that read your blog and twitter stream avidly, only to file away details to taunt and mock you with at a later point. This is an excellent example (that’s a screen shot because I’m unwilling to provide a link) of a griefer in action.
One point that Erin made quite strongly while presenting on her panel was how underprepared the authorities are about cyberbullies. She spent a vast amount of time gathering data and presenting the information to her local sheriff’s department, but it still took months to gain the attention of the police and the FBI after her stalker began to threaten her daughter’s life. Attorney Andrea Weckerle had some great information about your legal rights as a blogger, and Autumn had some excellent back door tips to help you deal with cyber bullies (such as alerting a troll’s internet provider when they are violating terms of service).
Some discussion came up on twitter after the panel about what constitutes “real” cyberbullying. I suspect that much of that discussion is really about the confusion over the difference between cyberstalking and cyberbullying. The National Crime Prevention Council defines cyberbullying as “the process of using the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” Cyberstalking, on the other hand, is defined as “using the Internet, through chat rooms and e-mail, to find, identify, and arrange to meet a person whom one intends to criminally victimize.”
Using those definitions, trolls, griefers, owners of hate sites, and assholes that call me the “c” word on twitter all qualify as cyberbullies, regardless of the likelihood of them causing physical harm. However, if you feel you are at risk of physical harm, please contact the authorities. For excellent tips on how to get cooperation from the authorities, I suggest reading through the liveblog transcript of the bullying session at BlogHer.
Good luck, and remember, it is NOT okay for people to harass you just because you share your life online.