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Though it might feel counterintuitive (why would anyone want to save evidence of the worst day of their online life?) documenting online harassment—and saving that documentation to a cloud service system like Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive—is an important step to take should you end up reporting online harassment to law enforcement or pursuing legal action against an online abuser.

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. 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.

Pro Tip

When documenting instances of harassment, ensure that you’re saving all relevant evidence and not just the evidence that paints you in a favorable light. For example, if you contributed offensive dialogue or heated language to an online exchange that you’re planning to document, be sure to include those aspects of the exchange, too. Though you may regret having said certain things, a failure to document all aspects of your harassment could end up harming you if you ever end up in court. You don’t have to prove you’ve reacted perfectly at every step in order to pursue your harasser.

Screenshots

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:

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 (on page 5) 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: [129.131.1.3]) 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 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.