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Anonymous Hate

March 26, 2013
It's no secret that the web makes it easier to track others' actions and to engage in negative and harmful behaviors, such as cyberstalking or cyberbullying (the difference between the two being age and context).  With certain social networking platforms, like Facebook, users know who they are receiving messages from. This doesn't stop someone from creating a false profile, 'friending' another, and then sending harmful messages.  Other platforms allow the option to send anonymous messages, which further disinhibits a person whose intent is to bully another.

It is a very unfortunate truth that it's not uncommon for social media users to receive negative anonymous messages, with content ranging from insults, to encouragement to self harm or commit suicide.  While the option to disable anonymous messages remains open, once the message is received it has already caused harm.  One might say, "well, disable the anonymous option and you're good to go," but it is not that simple.  The anonymous feature on Tumblr, for example, allows users to send messages to their friends without having to create an account if they so choose.  And there is the other side of the coin, receiving affectionate anonymous messages.

anon hate

The problem isn't enabling or disabling the anonymous feature.  It is the fact that social media users are being cyberbullied.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, youth who are at risk of being cyberbullied tend to have some of these factors in common:

*They may be different to their peers in some way, such as having different physical characteristics or socioeconomic status.

*They don't tend to belong to the "popular" crowd.

*They tend to show symptoms of depression or anxiety.

*They tend to have low self esteem.

It is important to remember that not all people who identify with these factors are bullied or cyberbullied, and that there are people who have been victims of cyberbullying but do not identify with any of these.  It is important to remember that someone who is being cyberbullied will likely show an increase in symptoms of depression or anxiety, or begin to show them if these were not present before the cyberbullying began.  Other effects of cyberbullying are isolation and a decrease in GPA.

How to stop cyberbullying?  That starts at the home of the cyberbully, and by increasing education about the problem.  Unfortunately as an individual victim you cannot control the actions of whoever is sending you hateful messages.  But, you can control what you do about it.

Take a few seconds, step away from the situation and think to yourself, "Why is this person going anonymous to send me this?"  Usually, those who send anonymous messages do so because they are afraid of sending them with their name attached.  They are afraid of the consequences, they know what they're doing is wrong, and they don't want anyone else to know they are doing it.  Maybe they think it's funny, maybe they don't know how it makes you feel.  It's easier to detach from emotions through a computer screen.

Whatever the case, I recommend that if you are receiving anon hate, don't publish it, or delete it if it has been published already.  Unfriend or block the person, depending on the platform you are using.  On Facebook, you can change your settings so that only certain groups of people can send you messages or friend requests.  On Tumblr, you can use the 'ignore' or 'block' feature.

If you are receiving anonymous hate and you don't want to tell an adult, text or call a friend immediately.  Talk to someone you trust, tell them how you are feeling, ignore or delete the harmful messages.  It's important that you identify your feelings and where they are coming from.  If you are feeling suicidal, call someone you trust who can help you, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.  They have counselors available to talk to you.

If you are a parent, keep communication open with your kids.  Remember that adolescence is one of the hardest phases of life, and with all the changes going on, plus the usual desire to gain their own independence, it is important to let your kids know that you are present as a source of support even when they may not tell you everything.  The typical bit of advice I see is to ask your kids what they're doing online, to know what activities they are engaging in, what sites they are visiting.

My honest opinion is that this is unrealistic.  You aren't always going to get a full, honest response, they may not tell you everything they are doing online, and it's likely that --unless your job requires that you know a lot about technology and are completely up to date on everything tech-- they know more about navigating their computer than you do.  At some level, adolescence is the age when you must start giving them some sense of independence while keeping the structure.  So, they may not provide you with a complete list of websites they've been visiting, friends they've made online, social network profiles they have, usernames, or things they've downloaded.  As long as you make sure they get the message that you are and will be present, and most importantly, a nonjudgmental source of support, they are more likely to approach you when they encounter a problem, online or offline.  Schools are starting to teach more about bullying and cyberbullying now, and so should you.

All this applies, of course, to parents of adolescents.  If your child is not yet an adolescent, then you need to exercise more control over his or her computer activities.  Parental controls, firewalls, virus protection, setting up accounts with them.  If your young child wants an email account and you want to let him, say, they want to email their grandparent, set up a family email account instead that you all would have access to.  If you have an apple device, set up the cloud to synchronize bookmarks and other accounts. If you need help with any of this, go to your local Fry's, Apple Store, Best Buy, or other electronics store, ask someone who can do it for you and show you how to do it yourself.

Whether you are a victim of cyberbullying, or a parent or guardian of a child who is being cyberbullied, whether your child is 11 or 17, the most important thing you can do is educate yourself.

See also:
National Crime Prevention Council
Preventing Cyberbullying: Tips for Teens (PDF)

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