Cyberbullying is getting a lot more press than ever before. There are celebrities now who have been reduced to bewildered cringing after becoming the target of cadres of keyboard jockeys sending them reams of hateful abuse via Twitter especially (and other celebrities who delight in directing their fans to cyberbully anyone who criticises them), which means the media pays more attention than when cyberbullying was “just” happening to schoolkids or “naive” internet users. Often there’s no obvious reason why the cadres of bullies descend on one person rather than another, although presenting as a woman online appears to increase the chances of it happening rather significantly.
How the Internet Enables Bullies
The internet as a uniquely pervasive communication and broadcast medium gives abusive bullies a virtual megaphone to yell at you through, and unlike “meatspace”, their harassing behaviours are not restricted by laws requiring them to stand outside your property line or obey local noise regulations or abide by restraining orders. They can figuratively yell at you from your computer all day, yell at you through your smartphone all day, flood your in-tray with hate-mail every day, flood your lunch-table with hate-mail every day, yell at you on the buses or trains you ride every day. The most wearying thing about these hate campaigns is that they can very effectively dominate the space around the work you are trying to do and the people with whom you really want to associate: they aim to surround you with hateful abuse.
The whole point of these campaigns is to make targets feel that they are powerless; that the bullies are in control.
This absolutely does not have to be true. I founded this blog in 2006, and FF101 has been widely denounced as feminazi propaganda ever since (and for the last few years, since it’s become the fashionable disparagement, as misandrist to the core). The FAQs are regularly mocked on other blogs, and yes, I do get email. But since I made it very clear years ago that I know how to deflect hate-spam to a holding-pen for viewing only when I choose to do so, the attacks dropped right down, even though coordinated cyberbullying campaigns have since increased in frequency and relentlessness generally.
The Internet may provide the virtual megaphones for the cyberbullies, but it also provides anybody who wants them with megaphone-mufflers: there are virtual equivalents of answering machines, mail-sorters, personal assistants, roving security guards, butlers, valets, maids, bottlewashers and most importantly, garbage trucks. You can use these to set up layered buffers against the intrusions of cyberbullies, to keep your corner of cyberspace well organised/dusted/polished so that you know exactly where to find everything you need, where to store everything you might just possibly need sometime in the future, and where to dispose of everything you don’t want stinking up the joint. The security-bots will block anything you tell them to block, the sorter-bots will follow your rules for keeping your inbox uncluttered, the garbage-bots are available 24/7 to haul the wastes-of-space away, and there’s apps for many other methods of keeping the crud at a distance.
The Internet even gives you a virtual Cone of Silence, so long as you’re better at pressing the buttons than Maxwell Smart ever was. Imagine a fully portable Cone of Silence redesigned by a grown-up Lisa Simpson on one of her best days and regularly fine-tuned by Daria at her most cynical. We get to flip the switches inside the Cone of Silence so that we can block things out entirely or monitor things selectively, according to our schedules and our inclinations. There are easy buttons to push for programming bots to examine incoming mail remotely and redirect the stuff that dings a warning bell into our “Read Later” file.
The whole point of these tools is that they allow us to control what we see and when we see it.
n.b. the techniques I list below are all examples that I have seen various people use – I don’t use all of them myself, because I only use what I have found that I need. Different readers will find different recommendations most pertinent for their own interactions online, so please don’t feel that only implementing absolutely everything listed below will shut out the megaphones. I’m sure that I’ve missed some useful tips and tricks as well, so if you have something to add, please do so in the comments.
It’s long been considered useful advice to separate your personal email from your work email, so that (a) work doesn’t intrude on your personal time (b) your personal life doesn’t intrude on your working day, and (c) you present a more professional image. I recommend also creating separate email accounts for one’s blogging and/or social media accounts, so that (a) it’s easier to filter blog/social-media stuff into ‘Read Later’ folders, and (b) you present a less newbie-like image. Cyberbullies love targeting internet naifs – if they see that you already separate your email accounts they’ll expect you to have also organised filters/folders/labels/tags etc for your email, and realise that your inbox is thus less likely to be overwhelmed.
e.g. you might end up with something like the following (bear with me, it’s really not as daunting as it might first appear):
- blogname.contact@webmail_service.com or pseudonym.contact@webmail_service.com
- [seekrit_name]@[URL].com (can be important for your own blog user addy to be different from both your contact addy and your default blog addy, especially if you have gravatars for comments, so that people cannot easily impersonate you in the comments section of your own blog).
- if you have your own website domain, you might choose to create as many accounts there as are convenient for the different online activities you pursue – eg firstname.lastname@, nickname@, pseudonym@, blog-contact@, etsy-sales@ etc
That list above may, as I noted earlier, look rather daunting, but it’s super-easy to manage once you have the different accounts configured. You won’t have to necessarily manage lots of different account log-ins every day – by all means consolidate your inbox by forwarding mail from the other accounts to your primary account – just use the different accounts to aid more effective filtering and project a technically adept persona as you direct people on how to contact you and respond to communications from your different accounts. You can also now conveniently recruit others to help you handle your blog/twitter/facebook/etc accounts if you need to without needing to also give them access to your personal/work emails.
- An Email Fanatic’s Guide to Organizing Your Inbox – setting up folders/labels and filters/tags to de-clutter your inbox and control what you see when
- How I minimise the online abuse I receive – a rant I wrote a while back which ends with some general tips & tricks
- Why I Don’t Read Hate Mail – you can just ignore it. Show that you are refusing to be silenced by just keeping on with what you are doing already.
- Beyond Email – Top 10 Simple Things Every Computer User Should Know How to Do – how many of these do you already do, or at least know how to do?
Configuring Blogs and Social Media Accounts
It’s most unwise to use your primary personal or work email account for blogging, twitter, facebook, tumblr etc. It makes it too easy for cyberstalkers (the creepiest subset of cyberbullies) to insinuate their tentacles into your life offline. It also makes it too easy for current and potential employers to track what you’re saying on the internet, which is often a really bad idea. Maybe you don’t want all your relatives tracking down your online opinionating, either. If your online spaces currently use your primary email account, edit your settings so that they use your separate online-networking email accounts instead.
In particular, it’s not enough to just have a dedicated contact email address advertised in your sidebar or on your contact form. If your blog has your primary email address configured as the blog’s default email address where the blog itself sends you notifications, then that’s the address that various plugins and add-ons will also use when they send notifications to subscribers on the blog’s behalf, thus revealing your primary email address to anybody who clicks a Subscribe By Email or Send Me Updates button. This reveals a Lack Of Sufficient Clue to the cyberbullies, and tends to encourage them if you manage to draw their attention, and again opens you up to inadvertently letting employers or family learn stuff about you that you might not want them to see.
Personally not a great fan of FB, although I do use it for networking professionally – I tend to do very little there otherwise except keep up with family photos. However, some people do a lot more there. If that’s you, then show off your social media nous by separating your personal FB profile from your other online endeavours. If you have a blog or you use Twitter for activism/commentary rather than just mucking around, then create an FB “brand”-page and connect it with your blog and twitter so that all your updates appear there rather than on your personal profile. Even if you’re not hiding what you do from family or employers, it just looks more adept/professional to keep them separate.
Recommended: have a dedicated networking account and keep your personal life out of it. If your social circle is full of personal tweeters, create a second account to follow them with, and use twitter-client software like Tweetdeck or Seesmic to manage multiple accounts.
- General Resource: The Mashable Twitter Guidebook
Now, how to get rid of the clutter from your tweet-stream? Don’t want to play along with the latest trending hashtags? Don’t want to see spoilers for your favourite TV series’ latest episode that you haven’t seen yet? Don’t want to see tweets from a particular person right now but maybe later?
- Here’s How to Filter Anything from Twitter’s Web Interface (only for Mozilla Firefox web browser)
- How to Filter out Noise from your Twitter Timeline (only for Google Chrome web browser)
- Filter Tweets In Twitter Web Interface (Desktop clients, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, IE)
- There are also various apps for smartphones and tablets which have muting/filtering features as standard options – too many for me to evaluate, so I’d appreciate some reader feedback in comments on the most useful.
Finally, for the toxic tweeters you really never want to hear from at all? Block them without a moment’s remorse. We all conserve our time and energy and minimise our stress levels by avoiding people we find annoying, or refusing to read certain MSM trollumnists whom we hold in contempt – there is absolutely no obligation for you to read tweets sent to you by people who are abusively antagonistic, it’s as pointless as pig-wrestling. Should you ever decide to track down what they’re saying about you for the purposes of documentation etc, it’s very simply done: log out of your Twitter accounts (or temporarily disable your mutes) and do an open search on the users/hashtags that are relevant, take your screenshots and file them away. Then log back in to take advantage of your blocking/filters/mutes again and get on with the useful/fun/substantive interactions that are the whole point.
There will be a sequel to this post where I deal with principles and methods of managing the haters who leave comments on your own blog. Spoiler: I believe in banhammering hard and often. Others differ on the utility of my particularly hardline stance on moderation, but surely we can all agree that it’s absurd that some people think they have the right to coerce you into not just reading their bile but also publishing it so that it also ruins the day for your readers? Pffft, says I.