Though it might feel counterintuitive, documenting online harassment—saving emails, voicemails, screenshots, and hyperlinks—is critically important.
Documenting online abuse provides a record of what’s happened, tracks available information about the perpetrators, and alerts you and others to abuse patterns and escalations in harmful behavior. Documentation can help facilitate conversations with friends and family, and it is absolutely critical if you decide to escalate abuse with social media platforms, alert your employer, report abuse to law enforcement, or pursue legal action against an abuser. If you’re unsure whether or not to contact a lawyer or the police about your harassment, please read through the Law Enforcement section of this Field Manual.
Documentation can be time-consuming and draining, and it can trigger negative feelings related to your harassment. If you’re dealing with a particularly traumatic online exchange, you might want to enlist a trusted confidant to assist you with the documentation process. Luckily, smartphones and computers have made screen grabbing a two-click art, while simply logging an event (as discussed below) doesn’t have to take up too much of your time.
Most devices—including computers, smartphones, and tablets—have a default method for capturing images directly from your screen. The below hyperlinks offer step-by-step guides for capturing screenshots on our most commonly used devices:
- Computers with Mac operating systems
- Computers with Windows operating systems
- Computers with Chrome operating systems
- Computers using Linux operating systems
- iPhones and other Apple-operated devices
- Androids and other Google-operated devices
There are also downloadable screen-capturing apps:
Once captured, these images should be saved in an easy-to-access file. You can also print screenshots for hard-copy documentation, which is useful to have when filing a police report, an application for a restraining order, and/or a case with prospective legal counsel. If the files contain sensitive materials, such as nonconsensual, sexually-explicit images (such as “revenge porn”), you might feel more comfortable saving these files to external hard drives rather than a cloud service.
Logging Online Harassment
If your online harassment is repetitive, ongoing, and/or severe, be sure to create a log where you can record specific information related to your online harassment. Be sure to include:
- Date and time.
- Type of electronic communication (direct message, posted image, social media comment, etc.)
- Location (name of the website or app.)
- Nature of the online incident (a threat of sexual violence, a racially-motivated attack, etc.)
The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) offers a Sample Technology Abuse Log that you can use to record your abuse.
What to Document
- Emails. Emails contain important information which, in some cases, might help law enforcement identify a sender. When documenting a harassing or threatening email, be sure to save the header that contains the IP address. (IP information is generally found between square brackets, for example: [126.96.36.199]) This article offers step-by-step guides for locating IP addresses on Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, Outlook, and AOL. Be careful not to forward the original email to anyone, as you could permanently lose the originating IP address. Instead, copy and paste the content of the offending email when you wish to alert others to the harmful messaging it contains.
- Messages sent on social media platforms. Most platforms now offer streamlined processes for reporting abuse, but it’s still important to save screenshots—and hyperlinks where possible—so that you have a record of the harassment, especially in cases in which the offending content ends up being removed by the original user or platform.
- Texts and harassing phone calls. Sometimes online harassment can occur via other forms of communication, like a text message or a phone call. Be sure to take a screenshot of the text message as well as any contact information available for the sender, and don’t forget to log the date, time, and phone number of all threatening phone calls and texts.