By Madison Forster

What is online harassment?

According to Mauve Duggan (2017), “harassment is now a ‘feature’ of life online for many Americans. In its milder forms, it creates a layer of negativity that people must sift through as they navigate their daily routines online. At its most severe, it can compromise users’ privacy, force them to choose when and where to participate online, or even pose a threat to their physical safety.”

Online harassment can happen to any age group, but is most common in teens and young adults. The platforms that this usually occurs in are social media, chat rooms, and emails. Here are some types of online harassment, and some tips on what to do.

Types of online harassment:

Some less severe examples of what online harassment could be is name calling and purposeful embarrassment. The more severe examples are physical threats, repeated harassment, stalking and sexual harassment.

1. Cyberstalking

“Cyberstalking is when someone uses the internet to systematically and repeatedly harass, threaten or intimidate someone” (Digital Information World, 2019).

Many states have Cyberstalking laws in place, so it may be punishable. If you are a minor, you should always tell a trusted adult or parent. You should gather all of your evidence of conversations and report it to the authorities. Another thing you can do is to block the cyberstalker on all social media platforms.

2. Catfishing/ Online Impersonation

Catfishing and online impersonation are when someone creates a fake identity online to fool others to a specific person. This could be someone pretending to be a real person without their permission, and does this to embarrass, intimidate, defraud or harm them. This could also be someone creating a fictitious identity to fool someone into becoming friends or in a romantic relationship.

If there is an account of someone pretending to be you, report it right away. If anything that has damaged your reputation or caused anyone harm, it may be punishable by law. Gather all the evidence you can and report it to the authorities. Catfishing someone using a fake identity is not illegal, so it’s important to look for the signs to make good judgement. Some signs are if the person is “too good to be true”, tries to move the relationship very fast, does not want to meet up in person or avoids phone or video calls.

3. Doxxing

“Doxxing is when someone’s personal information is published online with the intention of others harassing them” (Digital Information World, 2019). If information is posted on a public platform, it is not necessarily a crime. If the person broke the law to get the information, then that may be a different case.

To prevent doxxing, make sure all of your social media accounts are private, try googling yourself to see what information is available, and try everything you can to remove any unwanted information.

4. Trolling

Trolling is someone making comments with the intention to provoke. They could be random comments that they know will upset a specific person or others. A common term for these people making the comments are called “trolls”.

Trolling is not a crime, unless the comments are threatening or fall under cyberstalking. The most important thing to do is DO NOT respond to the troll’s comments, because that is their goal: To get a reaction out of you. Block the person on all social media and you can report them to social media moderators.

Online harassment can be in different forms, and it may be hard to decipher what is more severe and what is less severe. If you are worried that your children may encounter this, talk with them about what it is and what they can do. Always encourage them to tell a parent or trusted adult if any online harassment happens to them, and give them some tips to prevent it.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some examples of online harassment?
  2. Do you think responding to someone’s rude comments would get them to stop?
  3. What are some things that could help prevent online harassment?
  4. What could you do if you see someone else is being harassed online?
  5. If you don’t know what to do, who could you ask for help?


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