You thought it only happened in the movies or bad spy novels. But it’s happened to you. Unknown individuals have swamped your Twitter and Facebook accounts and your email inbox with hateful postings. Everyone you know has been inundated with believable half-truths hinting at scandals in your past. Some believe what they say, saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
You’ve been cyberbullied.
If a high-tech lynch mob hacks your reputation, consider these steps.
Think through what’s happened
Don’t let yourself respond in the heat of the moment. If you impulsively delete hateful posts, you waste the evidence you’ll need to track the cyberbullies down. If you lash out at those who send the posts, you feed their egos and may spur them to create an infinite multitude of dummy accounts and post increasingly worse content. Instead, plan your counterattack.
Collect, trace and use evidence
Cyberbullies think their pseudonyms and usernames can permanently and completely conceal their identities, allowing them to voice inflammatory opinions without worry. If they go too far and provoke counterattacks, they believe they can press reset and simply not log in again under those usernames and pseudonyms. The truth? Like banana slugs, cyberbullies leave behind them a trail of slime.
If cyberbullies haunt you on social media, print and save the posts as evidence. Provide their hateful posts to Internet service providers who can trace and take action against them for violating their abuse policy. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram all have online mechanisms for reporting abusive content. Once you’ve called in the cavalry against your bullies, use the service providers’ applications to block the bullies. If they, like whack-a-moles, reappear, they give you more chances to trace them.
If you receive threatening messages on your cellphone via text messaging, you can trace the phone number through a reverse look up directory or by searching for the phone number on Google. Save and print the texts and report the harassment to the mobile phone provider and police. Cyberbullies who threaten your life step over the line into illegal activity.
Obtain a cyber-stalking injunction
If you suspect a specific individual of cyberbullying, ask a computer security specialist to track the bully via their Internet Protocol address. Then, file a civil action. Your attorney can use a civil subpoena to obtain the bully’s IP address login record.
If a co-worker cyberbully foolishly uses his employer’s technology to go after you, your employer’s IT manager can help you collect evidence.
If you obtain evidence showing the bully has used electronic communication to cause you substantial emotional distress through defamatory content, you may win a nonmolestation order or cyberstalking injunction. Judge-granted ex parte cyberstalking injunctions start immediately, and final injunctions last forever.
Tackle the perception battle
Although you may want to run and hide, don’t let cyberbullies shame you into isolation. Connect with your friends and co-workers. Ask them to participate in a counterattack, by blocking online aggressors, reporting hurtful messages to moderators, and creating posts supporting you. Launch a counterattack.
According to a recent survey, 48 percent of employers allow employees to access social media for personal use on employer-provided computers at work. This creates potential liability for employers; ask them to help you.
Close the door
Finally, stop the cyberbully’s attacks from reaching you by canceling all social media and personal email accounts. At work, your company’s IT provider can show you how to permanently filter out unwanted messages. When you open new accounts, install security measures blocking the cyberbully’s emails.
© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.