People have been bullying and harassing each other since they started walking upright, but those types of mistreatment have taken on new dimensions with the ubiquity of the internet and social media.
Bullies are now online, as cyberbullies. The Internet provides a lot of anonymity, emboldening people to lash out in anger or spew hatred; and social media gives them a platform to ridicule and embarrass their targets instantly.
What is cyberbullying? It is defined by the Cyberbullying Research Center as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.”
There’s a popular misconception that only the young are victims of cyberbullying. Around 25% of teens reported having been cyberbullied at least once in their lives, according to the CRC. Around 40% of adult Internet users said they have personally experienced some form of online harassment, according to the Pew Research Center.
Fortunately, as cyberbullying has become more pervasive, so too has awareness about prevention and legal responses — both civil and criminal. Most countries and US states now have criminal laws against cyberbullying, and attorneys are filing civil lawsuits alleging cyberbullying as forms of harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation.
If you are also being harassed online by someone, what should you do to stop it? How do you deal with a cyberbully? Here are five common sense legal tips from US Attorney Dan Warner for dealing with a cyberbully:
- Preserve the evidence: Capture screenshots and print out copies of status updates, emails, tweets, blog posts and any other forms of the digital harassment or bullying.
- Turn the other cheek: Do not retaliate, as tempted as you might be to do so. The abuser wants you to retaliate. He wants to provoke you. If you retaliate, you’re playing right into his hands, and you’re also potentially hurting your chances later to prove victimization.
- Contact authorities: If the victim is a child, inform school officials as soon as possible. Find out what your school’s responsibilities regarding responding to cyberbullying are under your state’s laws, and hold them accountable. If the victim is an adult and has been threatened with physical harm, call the police and file a report. This will establish evidence that will be critical later if things wind up in criminal or civil court
- Consult with an attorney: Anti-bullying laws in 23 states include specific references to cyberbullying, and three more states had proposed bills as of January 2016, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. An attorney will know your state’s laws and how the facts specific to your case can be handled in your state. In civil courts, a growing number of lawsuits are being filed over cyberbullying, in a rapidly evolving area of the law.
- Block the bully: If you’re continuing to receive abusive messages from the aggressor, block them on whatever social media platforms through which you have had contact. That way the person won’t be able to see you or contact you. You can also contact your cell phone carrier or phone company and block a certain number from calling you.