Online Abuse

Social media has made it very easy for us to communicate quickly and easily with family, friends and acquaintances, as well as sharing experiences and letting others know of our opinions and beliefs. These opinions and beliefs may be about world events or local affairs, politics or religion, interests, affiliations, organisations, products, people and a wide variety of other topics. Our conversations and comments can be closely targeted or widely broadcast to the point that depending on the subject, they can go viral.

Unfortunately, social media is also widely used by abusers, for exactly the reasons listed above. Many perpetrators ‘hide’ behind the fact that they may not be able to be readily identified, saying things that they wouldn’t consider saying face-to-face, which could be regarded as cowardly.

Online abuse takes several forms, and victims are not confined to public figures. They can do any job, be of any age, gender, sexual orientation or social or ethnic background, and live anywhere.


Cyberbullying can occur online only, or as part of more general bullying. Cyberbullies may be people who are known to you or anonymous. Like all bullies, they frequency try to persuade others to join in. You could be bullied for your religious or political beliefs, race or skin colour, body image, if you have a mental or physical disability or for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Cyberbullying generally comprises sending threatening or otherwise nasty messages or other communications to people via social media, gaming sites, text or email, posting embarrassing or humiliating video on hosting sites such as YouTube or Vimeo, or harassing through repeated texts, instant messages or chats. Increasingly, it is perpetrated by posting or forwarding images, video or private details obtained via sexting, without the victim’s permission. Some cyberbullies set up Facebook pages and other social media accounts purely to bully others.

The effects of cyberbullying range from annoyance and mild distress to – in the most extreme cases – self-harm and suicide. This can be a reality for vulnerable people, or indeed anybody made to feel vulnerable through cyberbullying or other personal circumstances.

What to do if you are affected by cyberbullying

  • Block cyberbullies’ social media, email and instant messaging accounts as appropriate.
  • Report cyberbullies to your internet service provider (ISP), mobile phone provider (if bullying is via texts or calls) or social media site/app.
  • Consider changing your phone number if the bullying is by text or phone call, and keep the new one private.
  • Protect all your passwords and password protect your phone.
  • Do not reply, this is playing into the hands of the bully.
  • Talk to a friend, family member or other trusted person about what is happening and how it makes you feel.
  • Keep upsetting emails, messages and posts as evidence if reporting the bullying.
  • Report serious bullying such as threats of physical harm or abuse, to the police.

Further information and advice

– Bullying UK (part of Family Lives):


Cyberstalking is persistent unwanted contact from another person – either someone you know or a stranger. We often read about celebrities becoming victims of obsessed cyberstalkers, anybody can be a target.

Cyberstalkers have many different motives, including those who feel wronged by their target, ex-partners, those with misplaced sexual motives, or those who just derive pleasure from scaring other, often random people. They can exploit your digital footprint by snooping on your social media channels/apps to find out your every movement, who you are in contact with and your plans. As cyberstalkers become more determined, they intrude on more aspects of your online presence, sometimes including hacking or taking over your social media accounts.

Cyberstalking may occur online only, or as part more general stalking or harassment activity.

How to avoid cyberstalking

  • Review what online information exists about you and keep it to a minimum.
  • Regularly change your email and passwords for key online accounts and keep them safe.
  • Review all your social media and search engine privacy and security settings.
  • Avoid public forums.
  • Ensure that your computer and mobile devices have up-to-date internet security software installed and turned on.
  • Ensure your wireless hub/router has security turned on.
  • Do not send or receive private information when using public Wi-Fi.
  • Limit the personal and financial information you share on or offline.

If you are a victim of cyberstalking

  • Gather and document as much evidence as you can.
  • Report the stalking to the police.
  • Most social networking sites have a ‘Report Abuse’ or similar button to enable you to report cyberstalking and other abuse.


Not dissimilar from cyberbullying, trolling means intentionally upsetting, shocking or winding up selected individuals, groups of people or a more general audience who are usually people not known to the troll. It generally causes offence as a result of expressing extreme views, or purely for its own sake. Racist, religious, homophobic, political or social abuse are commonplace forms of trolling, but you could also be victimised for something as basic as a sports team or band you support. It may also be directed against people – famous or otherwise – known for their philanthropy, charity, altruism and other good qualities … by trolls who disagree with their motives.

One of the most upsetting forms of trolling takes place when obscenities or insults are posted against deceased people, which they cannot defend. This can result in considerable trauma for surviving relatives and friends.

Trolling can be carried out by individuals, or groups of trolls with a common aim – to upset innocent victims.

What to do if you are affected by trolling

  • Block trolls’ social media accounts.
  • Report trolls to your internet service provider (ISP), mobile phone provider (if bullying is via texts or calls) or social media site/app.
  • Do not get wound up or show that you are, this is playing into the hands of the troll.
  • Talk to a friend, family member or other trusted person about what is happening and how it makes you feel.
  • Keep upsetting emails, messages and posts as evidence if reporting the trolling.
  • Report serious trolling to the police if it is defamatory or likely to incite hatred.


Creeping refers to persistently checking up on someone on social media by browsing their timeline, updates, conversations, photos/videos, profiles and friends. It can also include checking what people have written on other people’s timelines, or retweeted.

Creepers tend to hide from you the fact that they are creeping you by not inviting, commenting or responding on Facebook and other social media platforms, and not looking at your LinkedIn page (as this is notified to you by the site).

Unlike cyberstalking, creeping is not in itself harmful and does not constitute an offence, though it is considered ‘creepy’, hence the name.


Doxxing (sometimes spelled ‘doxing’) is a kind of of harrassment that takes place when someone gets hold of personal information about you – such as your real name, address, job, other personally identifiable data, health information or financial details – and posts it on the internet without your consent.




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