I grabbed my phone to check my Twitter like I do multiple times a day every day. Only this time was different. There were hateful tweets directed at me from at least a dozen complete strangers. I couldn't understand what was happening the Tweets kept coming.

For some reason still unknown to me, a rather well-known influencer with a large following on Twitter decided to begin bullying me and encouraging people to retweet things about me that were slanderous and not true. It quickly became clear that this individual was on a public smear campaign against me.

Nasty tweets were coming in at all hours of the night. I'd be lying if the insults didn't sting a little bit. I lost sleep over the damage I thought it might be doing to my reputation. Finally, I was able to put an end to it by reaching out the person's HR department and asking them to intervene. I had screenshots of both the slanderous tweets and nasty insults that were sent via private messages.

The Internet has given us many wonderful things, from nonstop cat pictures and videos to a way to get toilet paper delivered right to our door. Technology makes our lives easier and more productive by cutting out the complication of old ways of communicating and buying things. The world is literally at our fingertips, and it has mostly been a wonderful thing. But with this ease in communication, a dark side to the Internet has emerged - cyberbullying and cyber harassment.

What is the difference between cyberbullying and cyber harassment?

The major difference between cyberbullying and cyber harassment is the age of the victims and the perpetrators. When both parties are minors, incidents are considered cyberbullying. When incidents occur between two adults or between a minor and an adult it is considered cyber harassment. Incidents can vary widely, and include things like:

  • Impersonating another person
  • Doxxing
  • Purposeful exclusion
  • Starting online arguments
  • Posting embarrassing photos or videos
  • Sexual harassment

Who is being targeted for online abuses?

There are certain groups of people who tend to be targeted more often than others for online harassment.

  • Girls are 2.6 times more likely to experience cyberbullying than boys
  • Women are 2 times more likely to experience online harassment than men
  • LGBTQ students are more likely than non LGBTQ students to experience cyberbullying
  • Racial minorities are more likely to experience online harassment than caucasians

Who is doing the bullying and harassing online?

When you are talking about cyberbullying between kids, the overwhelming majority is perpetrated by someone the victim knows. Kids are 7 times more likely to be bullied by a current or former friend or dating partner than a random kid. Things are completely different with adults, however. More than a third of people harassed online are harassed by a complete stranger, and almost a third of people are harassed by someone whose real identity is masked.

Relatively few adults are harassed online by people they know - it's almost always by strangers.

What are the effects of bullying and harassment online?

We hear all too often about children who take their own lives because of bullying or about women whose online harassment problems weren't taken seriously and led to murder. Online harassment and cyberbullying are serious problems with serious consequences, though those consequences are still more often for the victims than for the bullies. Fortunately, most cyberbullying and online harassment do not end this way, but it can still have long-term serious consequences for victims.

Kids who experience cyberbullying are more likely to also experience real-life bullying, skip school, use drugs, or receive poor grades. People who experience various forms of online harassment have trouble with relationships, experience high levels of stress, and even experience consequences in their professional lives.

How can we stop the bullying and harassment and help the victims?

Most kids who are cyberbullied don't tell their parents, and the older you get the less likely you are to tell someone you are being harassed online. It's very important, no matter your age, to tell someone if you are being cyberbullied, or harassed online so you can get help in dealing with it.

Some tips for dealing with harassers and bullies include:

  • Don't respond
  • Keep records
  • Block the bully
  • Report the bully
  • Do an online security checkup

Look for help and support if you are being bullied or harassed

It's really easy for things to get out of hand really fast these days. The Internet makes it so much easier to do so many things these days, but unfortunately, that means it is also easier to disseminate damaging information or images. If you find yourself being harassed or bullied online it's not going to go away on its own.

You will need help to deal with it. If you are a student, contact your school officials to report the bullying - chances are there are anti-bullying policies in place that can help put out the fires.

If you are an adult, there's a chance the police or social media platforms may be able to help put a stop to the harassment. But as with most things in the world, prevention is more powerful than resolution.

Leadership that promotes equality and camaraderie rather than pirate-style winner-takes-all business is less likely to produce harassers. And social media platforms that have clear anti-harassment and anti-bullying rules that are regularly enforced will leave bullies without a platform.

Learn more about preventing cyberbullying and online harassment from this infographic from Digital Guardian.

More Than Mean Tweets: Protecting Against Cyberbullying and Cyber Harassment Infographic

Infographic by Digital Guardian

Published on: Oct 5, 2017