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Cyberbullying: How to handle online trolls

By: Jackie Middleton

Getty Images Author: Jackie Middleton

Relationships

Cyberbullying: How to handle online trolls

By: Jackie Middleton

Don't let bullies spoil your online experience. Learn what to do if you or your child experiences social media bullying.

Being active on social media feeds like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram makes us feel connected, social and entertained. But the Internet is also home to cyberbullies who hide behind their computer screens, spewing harsh comments that they’d never share in real life. Cyberbullying affects all of us, but especially our youth. According to a 2015 survey conducted by Telus, 42 percent of Canadians aged 12 to 18 have experienced electronic bullying. Here are seven ways to handle social media bullies so that you and your family can enjoy the Internet, without the trolls.

Don’t respond
Joanne Cummings, child psychologist and knowledge mobilization director for PREVNet, a Canadian research organization that works to understand and prevent bullying, says that if the abuse consists of a single online comment, don’t respond. “If there’s little reaction to the behaviour, the person who is perpetuating it tends to stop,” she says. If you can ignore this onetime bout of abuse, the problem will be resolved quickly and easily.

Stand up to the bully—in private
When the harassment becomes a persistent pattern of insulting posts, a nonpublic reply via private message—as opposed to writing on someone’s Facebook wall or Instagram feed—is the best way to go. “If you humiliate the person in front of an audience, it heats things up,” says Cummings. “The bully will feel like they have to save face.”

She also recommends keeping your tone calm and nonaggressive. “We know from research that, when victims fight back with an aggressive response, it tends to make the bully’s behaviour more extreme.” Keep your private response brief: “This behaviour is unacceptable and I consider it cyberbullying. I have screenshots and if you do this again, I’m going to report you to the police.”

Keep a record
Take screenshots of offending posts and comments. They could come in handy if you decide to report the bully to the social media site or the police.

Block the person
Blocking or unfriending the bully will halt all contact, which might be the best solution. Parents should be warned, however, that their teens might refuse to take that step. “Youths feel that blocking puts them in an even more vulnerable position,” says Cummings. “If the person continues to [badmouth them], they won’t see it; it feels disempowering.”

File a report
If a person under 18 is being cyberbullied and private or sexual information is being exploited or made public, Cummings says the issue should be communicated to the social media site. “There are reporting mechanisms,” she says. “If the person under 18 makes the report themselves, it goes to the top of the pile [to be dealt with].”

For adults whose reputation or livelihood is negatively impacted by cyberbullying, speak to a lawyer; there are defamation and libel laws to protect you. And if you feel that your safety is threatened, call the police.

Get support
Cyberbullying is distressing and can make people feel alone and isolated. Kids can turn to a parent or teacher and adults can lean on friends or a partner. “It’s critical to reach out to trusted people,” says Cummings. “Share what you’re going through to get the support you need.”

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Revisit privacy settings
Regularly go over the privacy settings on your social media feeds; sites occasionally change their settings without notifying users. A quick check can prevent you from unknowingly sharing personal posts and photos. And never share your passwords with anyone, adds Cummings. It’s an unfortunate fact, but friendships, especially among teens, often change or dissolve. Keeping your passwords private will stop an ex-friend from taking over your social accounts.

Read more:
5 ways technology affects your health
How to navigate adult cliques
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Cyberbullying: How to handle online trolls

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