Hey Trish, Someone on Google Hangouts said a bunch of mean things to me. I was so hurt. What do I do when someone actually says mean things online?
Hi there, and thank you so much for so bravely sharing this difficult, unacceptable experience with our community. First and foremost, I want to say how saddened and frustrated I am on your behalf; cyberbullying, whenever and however it happens, can be alienating, isolating, and damaging. I hope, following this experience, you’ve found ways to take care of yourself and remind yourself how important you are (and from all of us at Ask Trish, I want to say: you are important, and we love you!). I also want to thank you for your question, which rightly notes an important characteristic of what you experienced: the fact that the online harassment you went through was spoken, not written. Often, when we think of cyberbullying, we think of mean comments or trolls Tweeting rude comments at us. While that certainly represents a lot of cyberbullying, it doesn’t quite cover all of it: particularly with the rise of video games, video conferencing, and augmented reality/virtual reality, spoken cyberbullying has become an emerging issue. As this week’s TikTok points out, even when you’ve done as much as you can to protect yourself from written cyberbullying, especially nowadays, spoken cyberbullying can, unfortunately, make an appearance.
So, what to do? Are we doomed to live with spoken cyberbullying? The issue continues to evolve, especially as new technologies and virtual experiences – such as the metaverse – emerge (if you’re wondering what the metaverse is, I actually did an Ask Trish blog post on it! Check it out here). But even so, there are absolutely some tips and tricks you can leverage to tackle spoken cyberbullying, both before it happens and as it’s happening.
Let’s start with video-conferencing, where you can leverage platforms’ tools to keep cyberbullies out and stop spoken cyberbullying as it happens. Here, I’m going to speak generally, because settings/practices may vary across different platforms, but these tips are widely applicable. First, secure your meeting, so that only the folks that are supposed to be there end up there. Always ensure that your meeting has a “Waiting Room” – meaning that participants that join the meeting have to be admitted by you to be let in – as well as a password, in case the link is accidentally shared with folks that aren’t supposed to be there. Another great security practice is to avoid using the same video-conferencing link for all of your meetings. It’s tempting to want to do this, because no one wants to spend an extra 5 minutes creating a new link, but take it from me: spend the 5 minutes, and create a new link. If you use the same video-conferencing link for all of your meetings, every time you give that link to a new person, you make yourself and all of your communications more vulnerable.
What if, in spite of all of those precautions, you experience spoken cyberbullying? Maybe you meant to let the person in, but didn’t know they’d be so mean! Use the tools at your disposal to stop the spoken cyberbullying as quickly as you can. For instance, you can “Mute” the cyberbully, or even kick them out of the meeting. Don’t hesitate to take the actions you need to limit the damage – your wellness is at risk, so this is not the time to be polite. If it’s not your meeting, and you’re not able to use those tools, you should also consider just leaving the meeting. That may feel like “letting the cyberbully win,” but in fact, it’s taking away their platform to harm, which is a big win for you and anyone else on the call. Besides, the point is not “to win”; the point is to care for yourself.
The other medium I want to cover is video games. Again, I’m going to speak generally, but these tips should be widely applicable. First tip? Be smart about who you choose to game with. This tip is pretty self-explanatory, but I find it’s one lots of people forget. Think carefully about which gaming communities, forums, etc. you choose to join and participate in. Relatedly, be smart about the information you share with the folks you game with. Sharing personal information – for instance, your address or phone number – or connecting with gamers you don’t know on other platforms (e.g. social media) can give potential cyberbullies lots of material with which to then harass or doxx you. If they choose spoken harassment, it’s a lot harder to stop. Avoid putting yourself at risk by being rigorous about who knows what about you. Don’t hesitate to also leverage the privacy and security settings for your games. These vary quite a bit amongst different games, so I won’t go into detail here, but I will say that you can and should use these tools to set clear boundaries.
Again, what if the spoken cyberbullying happens anyway? Sometimes, it’s hard to plan for – for instance, you may not be performing well in a game, and someone may curse you or begin to harass you. My biggest tip is to simply stop playing. I know that that’s a tough message for a lot of avid gamers, but the truth is that nothing, not even a game you’re deeply passionate about, is more important than your health and safety. And honestly, how great do you think you’re going to play if you’re being harassed? Put yourself first, and get out of there. And don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed about leaving – again, it’s not letting the cyberbully “win,” it’s taking away their platform with which they can do harm.
Thank you so much to all of you – the incredible Ask Trish community – for engaging with this important topic; I’m grateful both to the person that shared this sad, unacceptable experience and to the people that have read along, wanting to learn more. For those of you reading along, as I said, spoken cyberbullying is a deeply important, up-and-coming issue – one that, potentially, may one day affect your friends and family. I hope you offer them these and other tips and resources, as well as your support and affirmation that they are loved, worthy, and so much more important than someone’s hatred.
If this post has you wondering about a similar – or very different – question about the Internet, don’t hesitate to send in your note, question, or thoughts here. Your topic may just be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post! I really love hearing from you all, no matter the topic – so anything you want to chat about is totally fair game. I promise to be here with some helpful tips and support, and our broader Ask Trish community will always have your back!
Thank you all,