Basic Protocol on How to Respond to Online Harassment


Chances are, you’re here because you’re either being harassed online or you are worried you might be in the future. It is very unfortunate that you have to endure any form of abuse online. You don’t deserve it and it is never your fault.

We know that dealing with online harassment is stressful and overwhelming but we want you to know that you are not alone and that HeartMob is here for you. Even though there is no “right” or perfect response to harassment, we have designed this guide with tips that could be useful for your specific situation. Hopefully, you'll find something on this list that will help you to go through the process of responding to abuse.

Please consider giving special attention to the recommendations presented here and reaching out to people you trust who can help you to complete some of these steps. Also, make sure to take some time to take care of yourself during this process. We highly recommend checking out our self-care guide, a list of useful advice to support you through this difficult time. 

Before you start, take a deep breath and remember that we're here with unequivocal support and really hope the adversity ends soon.

 Assess your immediate safety (Strongly recommended)

As a first step, you should consider securing your accounts and improving your digital privacy. Check out our Digital Safety Kit.  Secondly, while we understand that this is not the best choice for everyone, if the harassment involves hate groups, threats of death or bodily harm, and/or public postings of your location or contact information, you should consider contacting law enforcement right away. Keep in mind, the law and the Police aren’t always as helpful as we’d like them to be and in some cases, contacting them can increase the level of trauma, especially for vulnerable communities and minorities such as people of color, LGBTQ folks, or immigrants. Much of law enforcement is still unsure what online harassment is so it could be useful to be prepared to explain concepts such as doxing and trolling and check local laws on online harassment depending on your location. We understand that this is difficult but we are here to support you.  If you are not sure what kind of abuse you are experiencing, go to our Understand Online Harassment section to see definitions.  Also, check out our Legal Guide to understand more what your rights are. We've got your back!


 Document (Strongly recommended)

Even though the immediate desire might be to delete the communication and try to forget about it, record-keeping is crucial. This documentation is part of the evidence that you may want to provide to the police, the social media platform, or the internet provider when reporting the harassment. If you don’t document and the abusive behavior is removed from the platform where it was published, you are leaving no record. So,  it is highly recommendable to take screenshots or photos of every instance of harassment, including photos, videos, messages, comments, or threats. Even if you choose not to report the harassment now, keeping records can be a good idea in case you change your mind later on, especially if the harassment escalates. We recommend organizing that evidence in folders and include details like dates and platforms where the data was published. 

Check out this guide on how to document made by PEN America. Remember that you can ask our community of bystanders to help you document and take screenshots of the harassment. Register here.

 Report (Recommended)

Once you have documented the abusive behavior, you can report it to the platform where it happened. Check out our Social Media Safety Guides to learn how to report the harassing messages or comments directly to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and Zoom. Remember that platforms have different systems to report but usually, after receiving a report, moderators evaluate each case to determine if it violates their policies. Unfortunately, reporting doesn't guarantee that the content will be removed or that you’ll be validated in your experience. However, we have created these guides because we want to give you useful information on how social media companies are responding to abuse and what options you have when reporting. Also, keep in mind that more reports make it more likely that the content will be removed. Consider asking our community of bystanders to help you to report abuse. Register here




 Decide how to respond to harassment (Recommended)

At this point, you have done what you need to. Now, you can explore other options to respond to the harassers. Ultimately, you are in control of this and you get to decide what might work best for you. What works for one person won’t work for another and what worked against one harasser might not work against another. Pick the tactic that feels best for you and remember that HeartMob is here to support you.


1. Ignore them.


We know that this is easier said than done. Sometimes it seems like the best thing that you can do is fight back and respond to every message or comment telling the trolls that they’re wrong or trying to clarify a point that you made. While studies show that responding to harassers can help reduce trauma, we understand that this can be exhausting and it’s okay for you to say “it’s not worth it”. You don’t have to engage if you don’t want to or if it’s becoming overwhelming. It’s perfectly okay to step away and ignore the abuse. 


2. Block them:


You can consider other options to protect yourself including removing people from your profile or ‘blocking’ them to prevent them from starting chats and messages with you, adding you as a friend, and posting content on your profiles.  If you’re being harassed on social media, take a look at our Social Media Safety Guides for how to block people on each social media platform. Here is also some information about group blocking such as Block Together on Twitter. If you own a blog or website and someone posts harassing comments continuously, you can block them using an ‘IP address block’. Blog providers like WordPress offer installable widgets. Keep in mind, though, that if you block harassers, you won’t be able to see if the abuse escalates 


3. Mute or silence them:


When you want to track the harassment in the future but don’t want to see the content in your regular feed, you could consider other alternatives such as muting or silencing. Feel free to ask a friend to track the harassment if you think it is necessary.


4. Expose them:


If you feel comfortable doing so, you can reclaim your social media by turning the lens onto the harassers instead of having them focus on you. Take a screenshot of your harassment and repost it with the narrative that you want to be told. An example of a situation in which it will be useful to expose your harassers is when you are experiencing impersonation or defamation (Check out our Understanding Harassment Guide). In those cases, it could be a good idea to notify and alert your contacts on social media to prevent potential scams or misunderstandings. 


5. Engage them:


If you feel like you need to have your voice heard, you can also confront or respond to the trolls. Remember, though, that there might be risks if you decide to take this path: you could feed the trolls, amplify or increase the harassment or give the abusers attention they don’t deserve. Keep in mind that the point isn’t to fight fire with fire but instead to fight fire with water. If someone says something mean, don’t just say something mean back, this will only lead to a cycle of meanness. Instead, try and explain why you wrote what you did, why it matters to you, why you think it should matter to others. Feel free to bring outside research into an argument or use humor or empathy. But never provoke or argue. In some cases, engaging the harasser can be empowering for the person experiencing harassment.


There’s no correct answer to the question of whether or not you should engage with online harassers. This is a very personal choice, and only you will know how you wish to respond and what will make you feel safest.  And remember, a the end of the day, it is the responsibility of harassers not to harass you, and it is not your responsibility to have the perfect response. 

You are doing great so far. If you need to, take a sip of water and breath. We are almost done. 


 Seek support (Strongly recommended)

Getting harassed online can be scary but you shouldn’t have to go through it alone. Keep the people in your life informed of the harassment and if it escalates. You’ll feel more supported and you’ll have people to call if you want backup when reporting or taking measures on social media. Below are other ideas of how you can engage your allies to help you to deal with the abuse you are experiencing:


  • Delegate: ask a friend to moderate your accounts. If you are being bombarded by trolls, ask a friend to moderate abusive comments. You can also ask them to help you to document and track abusive content or even handle your accounts while you take a break from social media. 

    (PS. Thanks for being brave and requesting help. We are so proud of you.)

  • Engage your cybercommunities: and ask them to support you. Help can take different forms:

    -You can ask them to help you to report abuse on social media since more reports make it more likely that a social media platform or website will take abusive behavior down. (Remember that our community of bystanders at Heartmob can also help you in this process. Sign up here and get help now
    -Your community can help you to share or amplify positive comments on social media or on a post that has been used to harass you. 
    -You could ask them to support a hashtag or a counterspeech strategy. (Check out this guide by PEN America to learn more about counterspeech responses)


This campaign led by Isis Anchalee, an engineer who faced backlash and harassment after appearing in her company’s recruitment campaign, is an example of how counterspeech strategies can be a great resource.

Thank you for going through this guide with us. We hope you have found it helpful in some way. At this point, we know you might be wondering what is next after completing some of these steps. We recommend checking out our Self Care Guide and consider some tips to take care of yourself during this process. A quick reminder: you are going to be ok and you are not alone!