The internet is a strange phenomenon. It can bring people together, fostering powerful connections. It has assisted groups like End Rape on Campus in carrying out meaningful work and uplifting others. But all too often, the internet is an unwelcoming place. As recent high-profile incidents demonstrate, the internet can be particularly hostile to women, LGBTQ people, non-binary folks, and people of color. Just this year, actress Leslie Jones became the target of racist and sexist epithets and was doxxed. Feminist writer Jessica Valenti, no stranger to online abuse, went on a social media hiatus after receiving a rape threat directed at her five-year-old daughter.
These are just a couple high-profile examples of the abuse that takes place online with disturbing regularity. Such cruelty can take a serious toll on victims, shattering their peace of mind and feelings of safety online.
The conversation surrounding online harassment tends to focus on what people should do to safeguard themselves from abusive behavior carried out online. But just as important is broadening the discussion about helping victims of online harassment preserve their physical, mental, and emotional health. Check out the following tips for practicing self-care in the event that you’re harassed on the internet.
Take the Blame Off Yourself
If you find yourself on the receiving end of online abuse, your first impulse may be to mull over what motivated the harassment. Remember that you don’t deserve any of the malice directed toward you. As is the case with any form of abuse, online harassment is not your fault. Unfortunately, our culture has led survivors to believe that they must have done something wrong to provoke the abuse that they endure.
Author, journalist, and UNICEF ambassador Tara Moss talked to CNET about the inherent harm in forcing people to change their behavior to prevent harassment. Victim-blaming doesn’t reverse the damage done and only diverts the conversation from those spewing vitriol.
“It's the perpetrators that need to be changing their actions, not the people who are the subject to crimes,” Moss said.
Allow Yourself to Go Offline
How you deal with online abuse is an entirely personal decision. Some people find it empowering to directly address their attackers. But for many, that interaction can be traumatic, and may even be dangerous. While nobody should have the power to force you offline, taking a digital break doesn’t make you weak or cowardly. Distancing yourself from the internet may you need to return energized. Deactivate your social media accounts for a while or simply keep your computer turned off if possible. There is no timeline for when you should go back online—take as long as you need to heal.
Embrace Your Feelings
When it comes to online harassment, the old “sticks-and-stones” adage doesn’t hold up. (Actually, that expression probably needs to be retired altogether.) Victims of abuse that takes place in a virtual realm know how terrifying the experience can be, but those on the outside often struggle to grasp the weight of the situation.
“You do internalize it, and even though it is not someone directly in front of you, there is something about the anonymous nature of it—when you don’t know where a threat is coming from—that really gets into someone’s psyche,” U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark (D) Clark told The Atlantic.
Clark, who has fought for legislation to suppress online harassment, has herself been a victim of the abuse carried out over the internet. The same goes for my friend Derrick Clifton, who wrote a brilliant piece for The Daily Dot about the ways that online harassment is often downplayed:
“Stay cool, calm down, breathe easy for a while, the Internet tells me. But breathing gets harder when you’re wading in death threats, rape threats, or hateful epithets.”
Abuse is abuse, no matter if it takes place on the street or via Twitter. Your feelings are valid.
Do Something You Enjoy
It’s easy to fall into despair when you’ve been harassed online. When depression seeks in, a natural inclination is to shut down. Know what you can acknowledge your pain while also finding ways to soothe yourself.
There’s no shame in cooking your favorite meal, getting a massage, or binge-watching a great show to lift your spirits. Any activity that you find comforting is worth the effort, no matter how small. Remember that you are worthy of love and you deserve joy, even in your darkest moments. Doing something nice for yourself can help you remember that.
The great Audre Lorde said it best: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Ask Others for Help
As isolating as online abuse can make you feel, you don’t have to endure it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other people, whether they’re trusted friends or family, or even allies who support victims of online harassment. If you need to maintain some presence on social media, ask for a hand in updating your posts on various platforms. Your support team can also keep tabs on your accounts to report instances of abuse.
For more information, check out the following resources for dealing with online harassment:
Julia is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. Her passions include creating media for social good, feminism and pizza. She has written for USA Today College, People.com, Parents.com, Healthline and more. Keep up with her writing and random thoughts @Julia_Haskins