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In recent years, online trolls have become one of the biggest problems faced by social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. As much as they work to create a safe space for their users (and especially users under the age of 18), the reality is that any person with a digital media presence is at risk of encountering one of these online trolls.
Sadly, these online trolls have become more aggressive and bold over the past 12 months. In a base case scenario, they might leave behind some nasty comments on a photo you just posted on Instagram or hit the “thumbs down” on a YouTube video clip you just uploaded. But things can escalate very quickly from there – some trolls threaten to “doxx” people with embarrassing private information or documents from their past, or threaten to release compromising photos unless some form of extortion or blackmail is paid. So what steps can you take to protect yourself from these nasty online trolls?
Report abuse directly to the social media platforms
According to social media platforms such as Instagram, one of the first steps that you should take is to report any abuse directly to the social media platform itself. If there is a pattern of abuse, or if the abuse is so egregious, the social media platform might decide to protect you by banning the user or helping you “block” the user from seeing your social media profile. An example here might be a spurned lover who is stalking a former boyfriend/girlfriend via social media and leaving behind harassing comments.
Contact law enforcement
If the level of abuse rises to the level of criminal activity, you have the option of reporting the online trolling directly to law enforcement. Obviously, you can’t report something like a nasty comment to the police, but if a follower is making death threats against you, then you most certainly can. The same is true if someone is trying to extort money from in order to prevent certain photos or videos from being distributed online. Going back to the example of the spurned lover, this might be a jealous ex threatening to release nude photos of you on social media unless a certain ransom is paid.
Call a crisis hotline
If you’d prefer to remain anonymous when reporting abuse, there are plenty of other options as well. According to Instagram, these options are particularly relevant for users under the age of 18. One of the top options is simply calling a 1-800 crisis hotline to speak confidentially with a trained counselor. This might be the case, for example, if people at your school are “body shaming” you on social media, and you are starting to have thoughts about suicide.
Of course, the best advice is to never share something online you wouldn’t want other people seeing. Consider anything that you post online as part of the permanent Internet archive. Even if you delete this content later (such as a tweet from years ago that someone today might consider sexist, racist or homophobic), there is the very real risk that someone has archived the original content somewhere in some form (such as a captured screenshot). The good news, however, is that online trolling now has the attention of the big social media platforms, and they are taking concrete steps to protect their users.