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Be an Ally

What do you do when you’ve witnessed an out-of-line comment in a social media post or a tweet filled with hate directed at someone you follow? 


You might want to support the person targeted, but it’s not helpful if you end up putting yourself in danger, so:

First: Assess the safety risk


Just as airlines advise you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, it’s smart to assess how vulnerable you are to being attacked, too.  


What investments have you made in protecting your own cybersecurity? Are you vulnerable to being doxxed, hacked or impersonated? If you have any concerns about putting yourself at risk, assess the threats and trust your instincts. 


Second: Consider the nature of the abuse 


What is the nature of the attack? Does it involve insults, vulgar comments or explicit threats? Does it contain personal information about the victim? 


PEN America provides a great manual on combating the different types of online harassment. Check it out here.


Third: Reach out to the person being targeted 


If you can, connect with them directly and ask what kind of support they need. 


While some might want help drawing attention to the situation, responding to the abuse or enlisting the police, others might prefer to starve the harasser of the oxygen of a response, aiming to allow the matter to fade away.


If the person is overwhelmed or unsure, you might just offer to listen.


You can also point them to resources like this Toxic Hush kit. 


Fourth: Consider Hollaback’s “Five D’s” of Bystander Intervention


Not all means of support require direct intervention. Hollaback has developed and tested the following approaches -- all of them valuable -- for its in-person bystander program. 


The following suggestions are aimed at adapting this program to online contexts, and countering the cyber-abusers efforts to silence and isolate. 

  • Insults & Harsh Criticism
    Comments that mock your physical appearance or belittle your intelligence and abilities.
  • Profanity & Vulgarity
    Comments containing swearwords and/or sexual or demeaning references to body parts.
  • Sexist, Racist, & Homophobic Attacks
    Comments that draw on demeaning stereotypes or that disparage real or perceived aspects of your identity, like sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, and country of origin.
  • Gaslighting
    Comments intended to negate and/or make you question your judgments and realities.
  • Implied Threats / Intimidation
    Comments intended to shut you up by suggesting physical harm.
  • Explicit Threats
    Comments that express precise and clear intention to harm you.
  • Doxxing
    Broadcasting private information about you (like your home address or social insurance number) that puts you at risk.
  • Slanderous or Libelous Comments (forms of defamation)
    False statements that damage your personal and/or professional reputation.
  • Rallying Others
    Comments that encourage others to join the attack against you.
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