In a Cyberbullying attack, the aggressor’s objective is to harm the credibility of the victim and damage their psychological well being, but the Cyberbully’s aim is also more than personal. They seek to damage the reputation and social standing of the victim in the community at large.
Cyberbullies are known to hide behind screens of anonymity on social media platforms. They can damage your reputation but you cannot fight back and expose them. They adopt fake names and may even launch fake websites to hurt others. Most cyber bullies target victims by sharing false or embarrassing content on social media platforms.
Individuals who hide behind anonymous online identities to humiliate other victims, feel empowered. It makes them feel in control, especially if they can provoke you to retaliate. However, your first line of defense is to avoid engaging in any conversation or activity that could make matters possibly worse. In other words, deprive the cyberbully of his first and most important desire by ignoring him. The most deadly reaction to the cyberbully is to be ignored and go unnoticed.
Block the person bullying you
The great thing about today’s technology is that electronics have configuration settings that allow you to block other users. By blocking the bully, they cannot reach out to you and send you negative messages directly.
Blocking someone is usually straightforward, and most social media platforms have made it relatively easy. If you need technical support, this is also usually provided by the social media platform you are using. A common problem, however, is that cyberbully attacks frequently target more than one platform. It may take time to go through each social media platform you use and manually block the cyberbully from each one. But it will also pay to be thorough and deny the cyberbully the access he needs to harass you.
Most cyber-attacks do not come out of the blue. Victims usually know the attacker personally. There is usually a deeply personal motive for cyberbully attacks. It is important to identify the source or narrow down the list of potential sources of the cyberbully attack. In some cases, you will need the help of computer forensic investigators.
However, this is also a case in which a counterattack is not the best defense. Because cyberbullies usually attack anonymously, if you lash out at someone you think is the bully, you may hit the wrong person by mistake. This will potentially exacerbate the reputational harm and expose you to bullying charges.
What if the bully is impersonating you or assassinates your character by targeting messages to others?
In some cases, cyberattacks can be elaborate.
A student recently came to me because an anonymous cyberbully gained access to his account and began sending outrageous emails to the student’s friends and professors. The emails were calculated to do as much reputational harm to the student as possible.
These kinds of cases escalate above and beyond bullying. It is illegal and you should immediately seek legal help. It is identity theft and also will almost certainly violate federal and state laws against wiretapping. An attorney can help guide you through unmasking the anonymous perpetrator and can involve forensic specialists if needed.
These cases can be very serious because if a hacker gains access to some of your media accounts, they may also gain access to bank accounts or other confidential and private information. Sometimes hackers are also looking for embarrassing information to either disclose or threaten you with. A particularly damaging example is “revenge porn.”
The first line of defense, however, is to regain control of your social media accounts. Change all passwords and lock the bully out.
A Cyberbully Is Messaging My Friends!
Cyberbullies often mount a related kind of attack when they anonymously contact your friends, professors, or other third parties.
They may accuse you of some sort of wrongdoing, claim that you have committed sexual harassment or racial harassment, or engage in some other sort of smear campaign against you. If a cyberbully is spreading lies about you, you may have a claim for libel, slander, and defamation.
If you discover this is happening to you, you won’t be able to “block” the bully. The anonymous perpetrator is attacking your character but not messaging you directly.
You can, however, get out ahead of such nasty campaigns of character assassination.
Contact friends, family, or professors who have not yet been contacted and tell them what is going on. Report it to the school. Gather evidence: are there documents or other evidence that shows you did not do what the cyberbully accuses you of doing?
Ask others to forward to you any messages they get from your anonymous assailant and save them in the event you need to show them to your school or to law enforcement.
In many cases, the cyberbully will stop when he realizes his campaign has no effect because you acted quickly to “stop the bleeding.”
Report the bully
Social media platforms and other online services have terms and regulations in place for preventing cyberbullying.
Check those policies if you want to learn more about what is considered unsuitable and what rights you have if you become a target of cyberbullying.
Another option for preventing the cyberbully from initiating contact is to visit the help section of the social media platform or online service provider. Most have sections or answers to frequently asked questions on cyberbullying. These will guide you in the right direction, for example, to change your privacy settings.
Most social media also have portals through which you can submit a complaint about cyberbullying. You can instantly disclose any violations to the administration of the site you are using if you are worried about your safety and infringement of the conditions.
Report to law enforcement
You are never alone in this battle, and there are people out there who want to help.
Contact law enforcement immediately if any of the following activities are combined with cyberbullying:
● Express threats of violence
● Sexual or explicit content, especially child pornography
● Publication of unauthorized photos, recordings, or video taken in a private place without consent
● Attacks based on characteristics such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression
● Hacking of your social media accounts or unauthorized access to your electronic files
Cyberbullying laws vary across different states in the U.S. If you’re unsure about the laws in your state, you can consult law enforcement or an attorney for more help to stop the cyberbullying.
Where a cyberattack is based on a characteristic such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, depending on the context, this could also create claims you can bring in court for discrimination.
In employment and in education, federal and state laws protect against harassment on the basis of characteristics such as race, religion, national origin, age, and sex. In some cases, even if the bully cannot be identified, your employer or your school is required to do something to stop the bullying.
Save the evidence
If you’re the target of a cyberbully attack, save all communication from the cyberbully. This will ensure that law enforcement, prosecutors, or your attorney can start the investigation to prove your case. Your first instinct may be to delete content that has been targeted at you as a personal attack. But, if you do, this potentially destroys evidence you will need later.
Examples of evidence can include any personal messages sent through email, text message, or posted on social media. If you cannot download messages or save them directly, take a screenshot. If you don’t know how to capture screenshots on your phone or computer, check your internet search engine for directions to help guide you. It is also helpful to capture screenshots of evidence such as comments, messages, photos, videos, or anything else that makes up the harassment.
In some cases, cyberbullies will create multiple personas. They post defamatory or harassing messages to social media, and then they follow up with separate accounts by posting comments. This can give the appearance of an internet mob attacking the victim when everything is coming from the same individual cyberbully.
Sometimes screenshots do not capture time and date. Therefore, don’t forget to write down the specific dates the incidents occurred on.
The harm caused by cyberbullying should not be underestimated. When we think of bullies, we think of kids getting beat up on the schoolyard playground. But there is a crucial difference. A cyberbully may not be able to give you a fat lip, but content posted to social media can potentially last forever. It may be discovered by a potential employer, a graduate school admissions officer, let alone your friends and family members or others in your community.
A cyberbullies target is the victim’s reputation. They also want to damage your mental and emotional wellbeing. Most cyberbullies threaten people by spreading false and offensive material online where they hope it will have a lasting, negative impact.
This is not only unfair. Depending on the content the cyberbully posts, it may also be illegal.
Before you take action against the bully, it is important to seek legal advice. Cyberbullies are motivated by getting a reaction from the victim. Therefore, the best option is to stop cyberbullying by not talking back to the cyberbully. Instead, talk with an attorney or (depending on the severity and nature of the content) a public safety officer as well as reporting it to the online service provider or social media platform.