Having support communities to turn to offline is just as important as creating them online.
While your cyber communities may be useful for engaging in counterspeech and monitoring your social media feeds during online harassment, members of online communities can’t always be relied on to assist with more serious tasks related to your cyber safety and wellness.
Friends, family members, and even trusted coworkers can offer a different kind of solidarity and insight during episodes of online harassment, and they provide a welcome distraction from the trauma at hand. If there are friends or family members you trust implicitly, you might even consider asking them to manage your online accounts for a period of time while you take a break from the sound and the fury.
Unfortunately, some people in your life may not understand the severity of online harassment— either because they’re unfamiliar with internet platforms or because they consider the things that happen online not to be “real” life. Even people who mean well can end up unintentionally minimizing your experiences. If you feel up to it, try starting a conversation about online harassment with your loved ones. Take a moment to explain why the online world is significant to your real life as a writer/journalist, and describe why this harassment is taking such a big toll on you. For more tips for discussing online abuse with loved ones and colleagues, please see this Field Manual’s Guidelines for Talking to Friends and Loved Ones and Guidelines for Talking to Employers and Professional Contacts.
What follows are some tips for seeking solace and support from your offline community during episodes of online harassment.
- Find a few very close friends you can trust. If the harassment gets so bad that you need to take a break from your online life but are afraid to miss information relevant to your personal/professional life, enlist a friend to monitor your account for a period of time. Agree to a set of ground rules before you hand over the keys to your accounts. For example, you might want to discuss:
- How to document and save evidence of the abuse.
- When and how you want to hear about serious threats.
- Whether or not your friend should report the abuse on your behalf to the platforms on which it’s unfolding.
- Give out restricted access to your accounts. Ask your chosen confidant(s) to store your passwords and log-in information safely, preferably on a piece of paper that can be easily and physically disposed of. After an episode of harassment has concluded, you should ask your confidant(s) to delete this information. You should then change your passwords yourself so that your security can’t be compromised at a later date.
- Remember: Different loved ones have different roles to play. If you’re afraid of overwhelming any one person with all that’s going on, think about enlisting a few different members of your community to take on different acts of service. One friend can monitor your email while another monitors the online platforms where people are posting hateful messages. A third and fourth can alternate serving as the key listener you turn to when you need to vent about online harassment and how it’s impacting your daily life. (This Wall Street Journal article offers helpful insights for enlisting different kinds of emotional support from different friends.)
- Pledge your support in return. What you’re going through might one day happen to the very friends who right now have your back. Assure them that if and when they encounter online abuse, you will step in to play a supportive role, too, provided it’s not triggering or traumatic for you to do so. Hopefully it never comes to this, but pledging your support in return can generate a sense of solidarity and allyship that is too often missing during episodes of harassment.
- Spend time with loved ones doing offline activities you enjoy. A great deal of our lives now unfold online. Our favorite hobbies and conversations might even take place in an online forum. But there is no substitute for face time with favorite friends, family members, children, and pets. It might be hard to imagine playing Monopoly or going to dinner at your favorite restaurant when you’re in a state of heightened distress, but even choosing a simple activity to do with a trusted member of your community—such as watching a movie or taking a walk—can go a long way toward easing your anxiety.