Part 3: Steps to tackle online abuse
An important way of preventing online abuse is to ensure that you act in a responsible and respectful manner when using online social network sites (SNS).
How can I be a responsible user?
See below for things to consider when using SNS.
Think before you post
Consider if the content of your post is sensitive and/or offensive to others. It is important to think about how your actions on SNS might impact upon the wellbeing of others. If in doubt don’t post.
Forewarn of sensitive content
If you post content that might be upsetting to others, warn other users by including a *Trigger Warning* at the top of your post.
Respect differing perspectives expressed online
When reading the posts of other users, think carefully before making a judgment and posting a response. Consider what the consequences of your reaction might be; it is important to respect differences in opinion and post responsibly.
Include your pronouns
If you are confident in how you wish them to be used, including your pronouns on the bio-descriptors of your SNS account/s, and as part of your email signature/s, can help others to understand how you identify, and will also show solidarity with people who face discrimination because of their gender identity.
Report and challenge online abuse
It is important to follow the correct protocols and report incidents of online abuse witnessed on SNS. This will help to protect the person being victimised and reduce incidents of future abuse.
How can I protect myself from abusive users?
Most SNS offer several ways of excluding abusive users and content from your feed. Before taking action against an abusive user, it can be useful to make a private record, including taking screenshots, in case evidence is required in the future. The standard approaches are blocking, reporting, and muting users. Note the precise terminology can vary between social networking sites.
Blocking generally prevents a specific user from seeing content that you post and directly messaging you. While it can be useful to interact with and educate users coming from different perspectives, this should not be done at the cost of mental wellbeing or risk of personal harm. For this reason, we advise a willingness to block users who display hostility towards minority sexual and gender identity users at least when operating a personal social network account.
Reporting generally involves referring a specific piece of abusive content or a user posting abusive content to the management of a social networking site. The quality of official responses to reporting abuse can vary significantly. Some management processes limit or remove abusive user accounts promptly. In other instances, the response can be slow, uneven, and inconsistent. Nevertheless, reporting abusive conduct is useful as it alerts social network convenors to bad behaviour on their platform.
Some social networking sites allow you to reduce or eliminate exposure to unwanted content without notifying the user you have done so. This can be useful, for example, for peers or family members with whom you wish to remain connected or friends but do not find their online content inclusive or supportive. Facebook offers a variation on muting by allowing you to request to see less content of a certain kind on your feed, as well as to ‘snooze’ a user’s posting on your feed for 30 days.
The tools discussed above are reactive. They can help address abusive content but only after they have already been seen. Some social network sites, as well as third-party applications, also allow users to filter content automatically to exclude words and phrases and tagged content you do not wish to see.
For example, XKit is a browser extension for Tumblr that allows users to customise their feed much more than the standard Tumblr interface. Facebook and Twitter allow you to block content based on specific words and phrases.
Before posting any personal or potentially sensitive content, it is good to become familiar with the default privacy settings on the network. It may be safest to set default posting to an option such as ‘friends only’ rather than ‘public’. You can normally change settings for specific content to be more public and open when you think it is appropriate and safe.
It is best to avoid disclosing detailed personal information regarding your physical location or address publicly on social networking sites or to people you do not know well. When sharing photos or videos of events that might disclose your location, consider introducing a time-lag of a few hours or days between the actual event and posting the online content. Do not disclose publicly places where you can be found alone or your regular travel routes.
Some SNS allow and encourage users to ‘tag’ their friends in posts, photos and videos. It is best to restrict this option so that you must explicitly permit ‘tagging’ before it is visible to any other users. Even good friends can make mistakes and might accidentally disclose personal details or images that you do not wish others to see.
When managing a transition to a new identity, users can consider opening a new account with a new name unconnected with older accounts and inviting only trusted friends, family, and peers to connect to it. In some cases, this can be easier to manage than attempting to reconfigure an existing identity or controlling which aspects of an identity are visible to different groups.
Reporters of online abuse do not have to be directly victimised. Anyone who sees abusive behaviour on platforms is encouraged to report it to the convenors of the social networking sites. Abusive users who attract more complaints are more likely to be suspected or have their capacity to harm limited.
Some of the most effective methods for reducing online abuse involve positive support and reinforcement of good conduct. For example, all social media network users can support gender inclusivity by including their pronouns as part of their biographical details. This helps to reduce the extent that Trans users can be singled out by non-inclusive (potentially abusive) users. Users can ‘like’ (or ‘favourite’ or ‘love’) comments in response to personal affirmations of a sexual and gender identity, post supportive comments in response, and re-post and boost educational resources about sexual and gender minority experiences.
When opening an account on a social networking site, we advise learning about the community guidelines so that you understand what content and how to report inappropriate content.
SNS generally make money from selling your personal data to advertisers, including what you disclose about your sexual and gender identity. However, their published policies may hide or play down this relationship. To understand how the social networking site uses your personal data, it can worthwhile searching for an independent source (Wikipedia is often a good source at least for popular social networking sites) and see what concerns and criticisms of the site have been highlighted.
If you have been subject to online abuse but are not in immediate danger, then reporting the user and content to the social networking site might be an appropriate initial response. If the social network site’s official response is inadequate or you are in fear of being targeted, then you can contact the police in the United Kingdom by calling 101 to make a non-urgent report, or 999 for an emergency. You can also report a crime using an online form to your local police force. To check who your local police force is, you can input your town or postcode on the police.uk website.
In the United Kingdom, the key criminal offences that are likely to relate to abusive online behaviour are harassment and malicious communications. To count as harassment, the abuse must have involved more than one incident capable of causing harm or distress. A malicious communication can involve only one incident, but most involve content that is indecent, grossly offensive, obscene, threatening or menacing.
- Galop: details on recording and responding to hate incidents
- Rainn: details on how to use some of the tools discussed here on mainstream social networking sites
- Police (England and Wales): details on reporting a crime
- Police (Scotland): details on reporting a crime
- LGBT foundation: advice for reporting hate crimes and discrimination