Trolls and Toxicity: Surviving Online Harassment

Online harassment, also known as cyberbullying, is more common than ever as people spend increasing amounts of time online everyday. According to a 2017 study by Pew Research Center, about four in ten Americans have personally experienced problems with online bullying, and 62 percent consider it to be a major issue.

Online harassment can have serious effects on a person’s mental health, regardless of how young or old they are. It’s important to understand what the problem involves and how to stop it.

Common types of online harassment

Online bullying can occur in many different ways. Below are the most common types:

  • Trolling: Negative or offensive comments made towards another with the intent to upset, embarrass, or defame someone.
  • Doxxing: Publishing someone’s personal and private information online, like a phone number or home address. Sometimes this occurs with the intent of promoting identity theft, and other times personal information is shared to encourage harassment of someone in a physical place as well as over the internet.
  • Message bombing: Sending an extreme number of texts, instant messages, emails, or chats with extremely hurtful comments or in an attempt to break someone’s phone.
  • Revenge porn: Publishing sexually explicit photos or videos of someone without their consent. 46 states plus the District of Columbia, and one US territory have laws against revenge porn.

Mental health effects of online harassment

It’s hard to escape the use of technology in today’s world, where we rely on the internet and social media apps for work, school, and personal use.

For anyone who has experienced online bullying, these otherwise ordinary activities can be a cause of anxiety and stress which, in turn, can lead to poor grades or poor work performance. If online harassment is serious enough, it can also lead to other serious issues like depression, suicidal thoughts, or even suicide attempts.

People with a history of trauma and depression are especially vulnerable to the negative psychological effects of online harassment. Adolescents who have been victims of cyberbullying in the past are also especially vulnerable to the negative effects of online harassment.

For minors who experience online bullying, negative psychological symptoms may include depression, isolation, anxiety, and dissociation. Unfortunately, victims of online harassment often find it difficult to get help.

What to do if you’re experiencing online harassment

Currently, many states have laws about cyberbullying. So it can be helpful to report online bullying, especially if the online harassment involves violent threats. If you’re experiencing online bullying, consider taking the steps below:

  • Contact the website or platform administrator where the harassment occurred. This can help get the harasser blocked so they’ll be unable to contact you. Hold onto any messages or emails you send or receive from the administrator.
  • Don’t engage in any way with the person who’s harassing you.
  • Report the person to the police. The officer you talk to may be able to give you guidance. Continue reporting any further online abuse.
  • Seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional. This can help reduce the stress of dealing with online harassment.

To help ease the stress of online harassment, make time for personal wellness and self-care. If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, try taking a walk, journaling how you’re feeling, joining an online harassment support group, or practicing other relaxing activities like yoga or meditation.

Your emotional health is very important, so you may find it helpful to contact a therapist or a therapy group like Therapy Group of DC, who can match you with a specialized therapist to best fit your needs and offer you support and understanding in a safe environment

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