Don't give yourself a hard time for feeling a certain way. It's a messed up position you've been put in and there's no 'right' way to feel. You're not failing if it bothers you, you're not failing if you're angry, you are not failing for not being 'tough enough'. A lot of emotions come with these situations, and you're totally allowed. Zoe Quinn
Experiencing online harassment can be overwhelming. You may feel scared, angry, embarrassed - to list just a few among a whole host of (totally valid) emotions. You could even be experiencing physical symptoms such as a pounding heart, nausea, or difficulty sleeping. You might simply feel numb.
In these situations, it's really important to take time out to take care of yourself. We've all heard the self-care buzzwords: eat healthy! Mediate! Take a relaxing bath! Whilst these activities can help some people to relax and re-center, they're not always accessible - or useful - for everyone, and they don't often magically undo a day's worth of stress or anxiety. Here, we've compiled an online harassment survival guide; a list of useful advice and resources that we hope will help to support you through this difficult time. Each of us has our own unique experiences, needs, and expectations but hopefully you'll find something on this list that will help you to take a breath, refuel, and start to feel better.
You are not to blame
First and foremost, it is important for you to understand that online harassment is never your fault. All of us have the right to live a life free from harassment or the threat of harassment. If you are experiencing online abuse, the fault always lies with the harasser.
Ask for help
If you feel up to it, talk to people who care about you - whether that be family, a friend, a therapist, or an advocate. If you're worried about how to explain online harassment to the less tech-savvy people in your life, have a look at the Crash Override Network's Guide to Talking to Family for some useful tips. Know that it's ok to feel vulnerable, and to want and need support from people who are important to you. Sometimes talking it through with someone who supports and believes you can make all the difference.
One great way of setting up a strong support network is to reach out to a friend and ask them to be your ‘self-care sponsor’. Talk to them about warning signs that you see when you’re not taking care of yourself, and ask them if they wouldn’t mind keeping an eye out and touching base when they see that you’re having a tough time. Ask if you can do the same for them - try to surround yourself with people who have each other’s backs!
Taking practical steps to report online harassment can help you to feel in control of the situation, and HeartMob is here to walk you through the process of documenting these instances. If the abuse took place over social media, you may wish to report it to the company in question. Most social media companies won’t accept screen shots as evidence of harassment (for more information on each website’s requirements for reporting, see our helpful ‘platform guides’), but if you wish to report to the police or FBI then screenshots will be required. Both Windows and Mac have a default screen capture system that you can use to collect any evidence that you may need. If the idea of screen capturing instances of online harassment seems triggering to you, ask a friend or loved one to assist. Social media sites that don’t accept screenshots tend to prefer hyperlinks to instances of online harassment-- but, keep in mind that hyperlinks can be taken down from sites so your best bet would be to collect both. You may also want to check out our legal 'know your rights' guide to online harassment which provides further information on the process of reporting internet abuse to the authorities.
There’s no correct answer to the question of whether or not you should engage with online harassers. At 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. That being said, studies have shown that 'fighting back' can reduce trauma in the long term. This is a very personal choice, and only you will know how you wish to respond and what will make you feel safest. If you do feel strongly about wanting to expose the harassment that you have been subjected to, retweeting, emailing to reporters and activists, and generally signal-boosting can be good options. Provided you feel comfortable taking your harassers on, this could be a good way to feel as though you are taking back control.
HeartMob also provides a safe space for you to speak out, report your harassment, and maintain control over your story. If you choose to make your story public, you’ll be able to choose from a whole host of options for how you want other HeartMobbers to support you, take action, or intervene. This could be a great way for you to talk publicly about your experiences within a community of bystanders who can have your back with safe and supportive messages.
Think longer term
Set aside five minutes to undertake an ‘energy audit’ to help you to think about the positive and negative influences in your life moving forwards. Think about all the things that give you energy, and that make you excited (whether it be online, in work, in the relationships you have with others). Then think about all the things that take energy away from you. Be honest with yourself about what is draining you - and try to think about whether there are any solutions to these negative or exhausting experiences. It might be that you can make changes to avoid the things that drain you or, if that’s not possible, boost your positive energy when you know you will encounter those things. Repeating positive affirmations such as ‘I am safe and sound. All is well,’ or ‘I trust myself’ when you’re feeling frazzled might boost your positive energy levels and help you to navigate a tricky or upsetting situation, for example. Take the time out to really meditate on how you’re feeling, and develop a strategy to deal with the things that sap your energy.