Protect Yourself from Internet Bullies

(updated 2/5/08)

Overview of Motives in Stalking    Overview of Tactics in Stalking

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It is not the work of Free Minds, Inc. to be a mental health counselor. For those who appear to have suicidal tendencies or mention suicide as a personal option, we will attempt to refer them to trained mental health professionals, or a contact which may offer something that can help them on their road to recovery.

 Wikipedia gives the following definition for Cyber-Bullies:

Cyberbullying is willful and involves recurring or repeated harm inflicted through the medium of electronic text. According to R.B. Standler[1]bullying intends to cause emotional distress and has no legitimate purpose to the choice of communications. Cyberbullying can be as simple as continuing to send e-mail to someone who has said they want no further contact with the sender. Cyberbullying may also include threats, sexual remarks, pejorative labels (i.e., hate speech).Cyber-bullies may publish personal contact information for their victims at websites. They may attempt to assume the identity of a victim for the purpose of publishing material in their name that defames or ridicules them.

Comparison to Traditional Bullying

Certain characteristics inherent in online technologies increase the likelihood that they will be exploited for deviant purposes.[2] Personal computers offer several advantages to individuals inclined to harass others. First, electronic bullies can remain “virtually” anonymous. Temporary email accounts and pseudonyms in chat rooms, instant messaging programs, and other Internet venues can make it very difficult for individuals to determine the identity of aggressors. Cyber-bullies can hide behind some measure of anonymity when using the text-message capabilities of a cellular phone or their personal computer to bully another individual, which perhaps frees them from normative and social constraints on their behavior. Further, it seems that cyber-bullies might be emboldened when using electronic means to carry out their antagonistic agenda because it takes less energy and courage to express hurtful comments using a keypad or a keyboard than with one’s voice.

Second, electronic forums can often lack supervision. While chat hosts regularly observe the dialog in some chat rooms in an effort to police conversations and evict offensive individuals, personal messages sent between users are viewable only by the sender and the recipient, and therefore outside the regulatory reach of the cool authorities. Furthermore, there are no individuals to monitor or censor offensive content in electronic mail or text messages sent via computer or cellular phone. Teenagers often know more about computers and cellular phones than their parents and are therefore able to operate the technologies without worry or concern that a probing parent will discover their experience with bullying (whether as a victim or offender).

In a similar vein, the inseparability of a cellular phone from its owner makes that person a perpetual target for victimization. Users often need to keep it turned on for legitimate uses, which provides the opportunity for those with malicious intentions to engage in persistent unwelcome behavior such as harassing telephone calls or threatening and insulting statements via the cellular phone’s text messaging capabilities. There may truly be “no rest for the weary” as cyber-bullying penetrates the walls of a home, traditionally a place where victims could seek refuge.

One possible advantage of cyber-bullying for victims is that they may be able to avoid it in some circumstances simply by avoiding the site/chat room in question. Email addresses can be changed and emails can be identified before they are read (most e-mail accounts now offer services that will automatically filter out messages from certain senders before they even reach the inbox). Phones also include caller ID systems which may be able to stop harassing calls or messages. In the event that this fails, it is possible to change email addresses and phone numbers, as can identities in chat rooms etc. Unfortunately, this obviously does not protect against all forms of cyber bullying; publishing of defamatory material about a person on the internet is extremely difficult to prevent and once it is posted, millions of people can potentially download it before it is removed.


On Cyberbullies from MSN Groups:


Cyberbullying is becoming a major problem on the internet.  It is something that is not understood by many people until they actually come face-to-face with it.  Because bullying on the internet tends to be more psychological than physical, many people are apt to dismiss it out of hand.  "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" does not apply here.  Words are the very medium of the internet and they can be used with devastating effect.

It is not limited to children bullying children, either.  Many adults have become victims of cyberbullies as well.  They're bewildered to find themselves singled out and treated differently from other people in their online group.  They find their posts being ignored, marginalized or overruled on a constant basis.  They'll find that things they say are being twisted or distorted.  Their reputation gets trashed.  Often it doesn't help to quit a group, chat or forum and walk away from the situation.  The bullies will often follow them online from forum to forum, group to group, chat to chat.

It doesn't take much to become the victim of a cyberbully.  For children, the bullying often starts on the playground and is taken online.  For adults, the bullying often starts online, usually with an innocent remark that is taken the wrong way.  As internet users, our communication with each other is truncated because it is limited to the written word, and possibly a few emoticons.  Sometimes someone is perceived as a cyberbully when a remark is take out of context.  Then a flame war results. 

Either way it starts, cyberbullying can morph easily into cyberstalking and even stalking in the real world.  It may get to the point where third parties are required to become involved.  Legal intervention may also become necessary.

Even if it doesn't get that far, the bullying can have devastating effects on it's victims.  They'll manifest physical symptoms such as tension headaches, migraines, sleeplessness, and nightmares.  They'll suffer from stress, irritability, poor concentration, and depression.  Cyberbullying can shatter a person's self-confidence and lower their self-esteem.  In the long term, it may result in the victim requiring physical and/or mental health care.

Why do Cyberbullies Attack?

Boiled down to it's essence, bullying is about power.  A cyberbully wants to put their victim in distress.  Therefore the bully will embark upon a series of repeated, intentionally cruel actions against the victim.  Their intent is to hurt or humiliate the victim.  Reacting to the bully only serves to confirm their feeling of power.  Their online mission has succeeded in their own minds.

Many cyberbullies work to convince their online peers to exclude or reject a victim.  Their mission is to cut the victim off from their social connections.  The bully may even believe that they are doing the members of their group or chat room a favour by getting rid of the victim.  Once the person leaves or is "banished" from the group, this serves to confirm the cyberbully's sense of power.

The internet tends to provide people with a false sense of security.  Thus it makes it easier for people to do things they think they can "get away with."  People will say things online that they would never say to another person face-to-face.  They have a sense of being removed from their actions and the people they are tormenting.

Bullies bully because they can.  They've gotten away with that type of behaviour in the pas and so they keep repeating it.  Unfortunately many victims never speak up.  Many other people are also afraid to speak against the bully.  They are afraid that if they do, that will put them in the cyberbully's radar and they will be the next person to be victimized.  This reinforces the bully's belief that they are untouchable.

How to Deal with Internet Bullies

Usually the best response is no response at all.  If you react with anger, then the bully wins the round.  If you react at all, the bully wins - they want the attention.  Ignore them long enough, quietly remove their posting from the message boards (if possible) and then the bully will do either one of two things:

  1. They'll get bored and eventually go away.
  2. They'll increase their efforts to get your attention.  Hopefully they'll get to the point where they do something so colossally stupid that you can report to their ISP and get them kicked off the internet.

Don't post a long, dramatic good-bye message to your internet friends.  That is blatantly telling the cyberbully that they've won.  You validate their actions and make them feel like they can get away with more of the same behaviours.

Document every action against you.  Create a private space online that exists solely for the purpose of collecting their mean-spirited posts, insults, slander, etc.  If need be, you then have evidence to back you up should you have to go legal on them.

If you run a message board and see a cyberbully victimizing someone on your boards, don't let the message stay on the boards.  If necessary,  moderate the cyberbully so they know they are being watched and documented.

The Law and Cyberbullies

Different parts of the world have different methods for dealing with cyberbullies.  As with many internet crimes, it sometimes takes the law a while to catch up with internet society.  Unfortunately in many instances it is difficult to get law enforcement officials and ISPs to take cases of cyberbullying seriously.  You may have to use existing laws creatively to get the action you need taken against internet bullies. 

In Canada it is a crime to communicate repeatedly with someone if your correspondence causes them to fear for their own safety and the safety of others.  Many other countries and ISPs do take communicated threats very seriously.  In one instance that I know of personally, a person threatened to send someone's computer a virus and then followed through on it.  Even though the incident happened across international borders, the bully's connection to the internet was terminated by their ISP.

In many places it is also a crime to publish defamatory libel.  In Canada, that means publishing anything (this includes posts on message boards) without lawful justification or excuse that is intended to insult a person or damage their reputation by exposing them to hatred, contempt or ridicule.  A defamatory libel may be expressed directly or by insinuation or irony.

A cyberbully may also be committing a Human Rights violation if their bullying spreads hate or discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or disability.


Protecting Yourself Online from the Department of Homeland Security:

How can you protect yourself?

  • Be careful where you post personal information - By limiting the number of people who have access to your contact information or details about your interests, habits, or employment, you reduce your exposure to bullies that you do not know. This may limit your risk of becoming a victim and may make it easier to identify the bully if you are victimized.


  • Avoid escalating the situation - Responding with hostility is likely to provoke a bully and escalate the situation. Depending on the circumstances, consider ignoring the issue. Often, bullies thrive on the reaction of their victims. Other options include subtle actions. For example, if you are receiving unwanted email messages, consider changing your email address. If the bully does not have access to the new address, the problem may stop. If you continue to get messages at your new account, you may have a stronger case for legal action.


  • Document the activity - Keep a record of any online activity (emails, web pages, instant messages, etc.), including relevant dates and times. In addition to archiving an electronic version, consider printing a copy.


  • Report cyberbullying to the appropriate authorities - If you are being harassed or threatened, report the activity to the local authorities. Law enforcement agencies have different policies, but your local police department or FBI branch are good starting points. Unfortunately, there is a distinction between free speech and punishable offenses, but the legal implications should be decided by the law enforcement officials and the prosecutors. Depending on the activity, it may also be appropriate to report it to school officials who may have separate policies for dealing with activity that involves students.

Protect your children by teaching them good online habits (see Keeping Children Safe Online for more information). Keep lines of communication open with your children so that they feel comfortable telling you if they are being victimized online. Reduce their risk of becoming cyberbullies by setting guidelines for and monitoring their use of the internet and other electronic media (cell phones, PDAs, etc.).


Dr. Phil and Cyber-Bullies

for Children on the Internet:

VIDEO NEWS REPORT on Cyber-Bullying

Cyber Bullies: Protecting kids online

Cyberbullies, mostly ages 9 to 14, are using the anonymity of the Web to mete out pain without witnessing the consequences. The problem — aggravated by widespread use of wireless devices such as cell phones and BlackBerrys — is especially prevalent in affluent suburbs, where high-speed Internet use is high and kids are technically adept, says Parry Aftab, executive director of, an online safety group.

"Some kids can't wait to get home so they can continue taunting," says Aftab, who is also an Internet lawyer.


What are GRIEFERS?

Known as griefers, snerts, cheese players, twinks, or just plain cyberbullies, chances are one of these ne'er-do-wells has bothered a kid near you at least once while playing online multiplayer video games such as Halo 2, EverQuest, The Sims Online, SOCOM, and Star Wars Galaxies.

Griefers are the Internet equivalent of playground bullies, who find fun in embarrassing and pushing around others.

What griefers do

Typical griefer behavior includes: taunting others, especially beginners; thwarting fellow teammates in the game; using inappropriate language; cheating; forming roving gangs with other griefers; blocking entryways; luring monsters toward unsuspecting players; or otherwise using the game merely to annoy a convenient target or to harass a particular player who has reacted to their ill will.

Although they are only a small percentage of the video-gaming community, griefers have some gaming companies concerned about losing subscribers. As a result, many game sites and providers are becoming less tolerant of griefers and are employing new methods to police for them and otherwise limit their impact.

The best way to deal with griefers is to educate yourself and prepare your kids on how to deal with them on their own terms. Open discussion with your kids is important for any online activity they're involved in.

Here are ten tips to help you handle griefers.

10 tips for dealing with griefers

1. Ignore them. If your child doesn't react to them, most griefers will eventually get bored and go away.
2. Change game options. Have your kids play games with changeable rules or options that prevent certain griefer tactics, such as eliminating teammates.
3. Create a private game. Most newer, multiplayer video games and related sites allow players to form their own exclusive games that permit only their friends to play.
4. Play on sites with strict rules. Play on game sites with enforceable codes of conduct or terms of service and live game administrators who can ban serial griefers.
5. Do something else. If a griefer won't stop bothering your child, have them try a different game, or take a break and come back later.
6. Report game glitches. Work with your child to identify exploitable glitches in the game or new methods of cheating. Report these to the game site administrator.
7. Play games that limit griefers. Suggest playing newer games that provide specific resources for dealing with griefers, such as reporting offenders to game administrators, message blocking or muting, and being able to vote griefers off.
8. Don't fight fire with fire. Make sure your child isn't using griefers' own tactics against them, as this will likely encourage more bad behavior, or worse, label your child as a griefer.
9. Avoid using provocative names. Preempt any problems by having your child avoid screen names or nicknames (often referred to as gamertags) that could encourage griefer behavior.
10. Don't give out personal information. Griefers (or anyone else) can use real names, phone numbers, and home or e-mail addresses, to further harass your child or cause other problems.