We use the internet for pretty much everything these days, including connecting with friends, working, banking, entertainment, shopping, dating, and more. What’s more, the last 18 months have seen internet and social media use reach unprecedented peaks. For many, the internet has been their lifeline during the many lockdowns, helping to provide a form of social connection with their community, by exploring novel ways to engage with others in the virtual sphere (TikTok challenges anyone?).
But the increase of engagement with these online platforms, unfortunately, comes hand in hand with the increase of unpleasant experiences, including behaviours such as cyberbullying and online harassment.
A lot of online crimes are relatively new, and it can be really confusing and intimidating to know what to do if something goes wrong. Unfortunately, removing ourselves from the internet and the connected online world is not a realistic option. In this blog, we’ll explain some of the common things that can go wrong under the umbrella of online harassment, what you can do if something happens and how to keep yourself safe online.
Cyberbullying involves any type of bullying that occurs in the digital world - through social media networks or forums, or via emails or text messages. Cyberbullying can happen to anyone, however, female students are three times as likely to be bullied online or via text than male students. With technology being so freely available, it is an ongoing issue and one that can be a relentless source of distress and worry.
Cyberbullying can involve people you are familiar with or people completely anonymous to you. There are measures you can put in place to stop the harassment and make it as difficult as possible for perpetrators to continue to initiate any sort of hate campaign against you.
In some instances where you know the person, and if you feel safe enough to do so, you can make a request that they stop their behaviour. They might not be aware of how their behaviour is affecting you.
Report the abuse of the person to any platform they are using to target you.
Block them from contacting you. This is something you can do across social platforms, including email and phone.
Keep a record of all of the communications, and if it continues to cause you alarm and distress, look to turn to your local authorities for support.
Get ongoing support from friends, family, professionals, and TalkCampus. Being bullied can be very isolating and impact your self-esteem. Having a solid support network to help to remind you of all the value you bring to the world is instrumental in helping you to mitigate the effects that bullying can have.
Revenge Porn and 'Sextortion'
Sextortion and revenge porn are online crimes that involve threatening to release images or videos of a sexual or intimate nature. With sextortion, the motivation behind making threats is usually sexual gratification or monetary gain. Whereas, revenge porn typically involves the sharing of intimate and private images by an ex romantic partner, with the motivation being control or embarrassment of the victim.
These sexual crimes have unfortunately increased over the past 18 months, with lockdown forcing people to build relationships online and look for new ways to connect with each other. Unfortunately, this form of abuse towards young women is a lot more common than we would like to think, with research by domestic violence charity Refuge finding that one in seven young women has received threats that intimate photos will be shared without their consent. However, this is a crime that affects every gender identity.
Thankfully, in many countries, this harassment is now considered a criminal offence, but this doesn’t lessen the psychological impact on its victims. If you find yourself in this situation, here are the first steps to take.
Report it to authorities. Depending on where you are based in the world, there will be resources available to you. If you are in the US, the Cyber Cybil Rights Initiative website can provide you with some guidance. The UK has a revenge porn helpline you can contact. Canada has Project Shift and you can report any abuse on the Australian E-Safety website.
Keep all the evidence. Always take screenshots or print hard copies of the content where it’s been shared/posted (social media, website, email) or any communication threatening to share the content. Once you’ve reported the intimate content for violating community guidelines, social media sites can take it down pretty quickly. Make sure you’ve always got the proof.
Share with your friends and family. We know this one feels especially hard, you may feel embarrassed and like you would rather hideaway in a cave. But remember, this is absolutely not your fault and you definitely don’t deserve to carry the burden. Opening up to your close friends and family about what’s happened to you and explaining that you’ve been a victim of internet crime will help alleviate the humiliation and prepare them, should they see the content on the internet or social media unexpectedly. It’ll also help give them the heads up, so they can be there for you and respond sensitively.
Get ongoing support. Stay connected with your support network, or reach out to support groups or platforms like TalkCampus that can provide you with anonymous, safe, non-judgemental places to share. If you’re struggling with your mental health or find yourself internalising feelings of shame or accountability, consider speaking to a professional who specialises in sexual trauma.
“Catfish" is the term coined for someone who uses a fake identity online to target specific victims. Since the pandemic, the world of dating has entirely shifted to a digital landscape, and given the situation of having a bubble of the same people or mostly keeping to yourself, it has become harder to meet anyone new.
Catfishing can take on a number of dangerous forms. Firstly, Catfishing can be a tool used by predators, who may take on the persona of a younger person or a person of the opposite sex to lure victims into sharing personal information or images.
Perpetrators may also create a fake account with the intention of humiliating and embarrassing their target. They might use a fabricated identity to lure a person into a fake relationship. Later, they may use the information they gathered to embarrass and bully the target.
Before we jump into more of the signs around catfishing, we want to remind you that you need to be incredibly cautious when communicating online with someone you don’t know, and never organise to meet with them alone. In the age of online dating we know that this can feel challenging, but if it’s your first time meeting someone face to face, ensure to always do so in a public setting, and ask a friend to drop you off or hang around the area where you are meeting them in case you feel uncomfortable and need to make a quick exit.
Here are some things to consider when connecting with someone you don’t know online:
Do they avoid phone calls or Skype and FaceTime?
Do they have many followers or friends? If you match with someone on a dating website, check out their social media to see what kind of footprint they have and if they look authentic.
Do they have a lot of "friends" of the opposite sex? For instance, female catfish will have a large ratio of male friends online. Likewise, male catfish will have a lot of female friends.
Do they always make excuses as to why they can’t meet up?
Does their story add up? Maybe you have caught them in a lie or they avoid answering certain questions.
Are they using someone else’s photo? If you’re unsure whether a person is who they say they are, you can use Google to do a reverse image search based on the photos they’re using. If you find out the photos are linked to someone else’s profile, you’ve likely exposed this person’s lie.
Have they asked you for money? Never send money to someone you’ve never met, no matter how small the amount.
Do they make over-the-top declarations of love? Although attention like that can feel great, it isn’t normal behaviour and is usually used with a different intention.
If you have been a victim of a catfish, the feeling of being played in that way may initially disrupt your confidence, trust for others, and it can be de-motivating. But know that you aren’t alone! It’s okay to feel bad for yourself. It’s okay to feel anger at the person who duped you. Plenty of people have been duped and gone through exactly what you’re feeling. You may feel stupid for being tricked, but catfishers are manipulators purposely seeking to manipulate. They made a lot of effort to deceive you. The wrong is on them, not you. Forgive yourself, try and move on, let it go, and learn from what’s happened.
In the same way, you may be a victim if someone is using your images to catfish other people through fake profiles. If this is the case, report any pages to the platforms and ask friends and family to as well.
While educating ourselves about the dangers of connecting with others online is important, it’s also important to remind ourselves that the internet can be an amazing place. It’s changed the way we learn and research, the way we connect with others, and the way we express ourselves in positive, powerful ways. But it’s no secret that these improvements also present us with unique challenges. So what are some steps you can take to help you navigate the online world safely?
Limit the amount of information you share on social platforms. A lot of social media platforms encourage us to share a ton of personal information, potentially exposing it to strangers or acquaintances who we wouldn’t normally share with in real life. On TalkCampus however, we recommend you don’t share a huge amount of information, and instead keep a pseudo-anonymous profile for your own safety.
Tighten your privacy settings. The default options on a lot of social platforms are very relaxed, so be vigilant about adjusting your settings and checking in on them regularly.
Make use of the features of any platform you are using, such as reporting and blocking. By doing so, you are letting the platform know that someone is misusing the service or behaving badly, and you help to protect others in the process.
Do your homework. Reverse image search, check other platforms for information. It's best to do your research early on in a relationship, well before you become emotionally invested.
Be extremely cautious about sending intimate photos. We know that sending this content is now a common practice in the dating landscape, and we wish that everyone was trustworthy. Ensure that no identifying information is visible in the image or video and that you only send this content to people you know well and absolutely trust.
Report fraud or other criminal activity to the authorities.
Keep your friends and family in the loop. They can always provide an objective viewpoint and raise alarm bells to things that may not be obvious to you.