This page is for therapists, psychologists, and other caring professionals whose clients are experiencing online harassment. In it you will find background information on the problem of online harassment, along with common myths and misconceptions. We hope it will be helpful for you as you work with clients dealing with this issue.
Online harassment is an increasingly common problem. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 53% of US. adults have experienced online harassment. Furthermore, 63% of LGBTQ+ adults, 35% of Muslim adults, and 30% of Hispanic adults have been harassed due to their identity. Because of its intersection with identity, online harassment may compound past trauma, imposter syndrome, or internalized oppression.
Online harassment can be experienced as psychological trauma. Some forms of online harassment may be familiar to you as they pre-date the internet: bullying, hateful comments, threats of violence, stalking, or sexual harassment. Other forms may be new to you.
Releasing private information to the public, typically with the intent of setting the client up to be stalked, physically intimidated, or targeted with violence.
Sending police to the client's home, which can lead to physical harm (in at least one case, death) or the destruction of property.
A term that is often minimized to mean poking fun at someone online or "just joking arround" but often produces real, harmful mental health impacts.
Hacking the client's account or creating an account to look like the client's in order to post content that will harm their reputation.
This is colloquially referred to as “revenge porn” which can unfortunatelyperpetuate the ideas that:
It’s common for anyone, including mental health professionals, to react to online harassment based on myths or preconceptions. Here are some common mistakes.
This is often not a viable option for folks either because of their work or because cutting out the internet would also mean cutting out major systems of support.
Any separation between technology and “the real world” has dissolved - particularly for younger people who have never known a world without ubiquitous social media. Interactions that happen on the internet have real impact; the internet is “real life” now
Law enforcement is only beginning to take issues of online harassment seriously, and even then only in the most clear-cut and well-documented cases. There are also inconsistent laws and application of those laws that make it hard to prosecute.
Police and other authoritative institutions can be traumatic for people to engage with - especially if they are of an identity that has been historically disbelieved, killed or brutalized by those institutions.
It’s common for targeted persons to feel afraid to leave their house and exhibit other behavioral changes consistent with trauma. If they used the internet as a place of support, they may also be grieving the loss of that support system.
It’s okay if you are not technically proficient. Refrain from shifting the focus to your own technological anxieties. If a term comes up that you are unfamiliar with, it’s okay to say “I’m not familiar with that” or to research it later.
Imposter syndrome can persist through any amount of success or achievement. The most effective antidote to imposter syndrome is hearing peers or role models disclose their own insecurities or feelings of being an imposter.
Labeling online harassment as “bullying” might feel invalidating to one person and empowering to another. Let the targeted person define their own experience.