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Respond vs. React - Dealing With Bullies On The Internet

Aug 17, 2007
It is unfortunate, and inevitable, that if you spend any amount of time on the Internet you will eventually have an encounter with someone who is rude, troublesome, or even downright insane.

After 9 years on the internet, I have seen my fair share of trolls, idiots, troublemakers, script-kiddies, and many other aggravating types online. While never pleasant, and encounter with these types of people can be dealt with in a positive manner that will allow you to stop the frustration and anger while discouraging them from continuing their actions.

Whenever you have an encounter with anyone online, it is completely different from a real-life encounter. Online, you can't pick up verbal or physical cues that you normally would, not to mention that the internet is a huge place and to use the old saying "It takes all kinds". Some problems you will encounter will people online are easier solved than others, and while it is hard to understand, there are people online whose sole purpose is to start problems with others and to cause others pain and aggravation (these people are generally termed "trolls" in the online communities). Additionally, there are sets of online mannerisms, etiquette, and codes of conduct that are sometimes unspoken and unwritten that must be acknowledged in any online community.

When you first encounter someone who is giving you a hard time on the Internet, the first thing to do is to not react emotionally to the situation. Sometimes these people can become very personal, or even downright cruel or threatening, so you need to step back from the situation, calm yourself down and not make an immediate reaction to the person's actions. To send an immediate reaction of your emotions and thoughts will most likely just encourage that person to keep responding and trying to get further under your skin. They have, much like a three-year-old might do, gotten a reaction out of you and will now continue their actions to get more of a reaction.

So after you have stepped back and allowed yourself time to calm down, the next part of the process is to identify the person's goals in what they've said. Allow for the possibility of miscommunication first. If the person is responding to something you've said, is it possible that they misunderstood you, or that you are misunderstanding them? Remember, we can't take non-verbal cues over the Internet, such as tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language - and some people are simply not good communicators.

So take a look at the intent of the action and ask yourself if the person could be confused, or if you are misunderstanding them. If you think it may be a miscommunication on either part, respond with calm, collected thoughts and re-state your original intent with different wording and perhaps explain it out a little better to see if that helps the situation.

If the person seems to be just communicating to you to harass, insult, or you get the feeling that they are being hurtful on purpose, then that person probably falls into one of the following categories: People who are idiots, People who are naturally mean (and would be in real life), and People who are trying to purposefully get a rise out of you for their own amusement. You can recognize these types of people if they use any of the following tactics:

1. Not making any logical sense in their communication.

2. Their communication has little, if any point to it.

3. The communication is filled with curse words, insults, and/or threatening language.

4. The communication may even be worded with correct grammar and a sense that they are stating a perfectly acceptable and even "righteous" statement, when the intent of the email is to hurt or anger you.

5. "Masked" threats, or hidden and subtle language that contains verbal "daggers" to get to you.

6. Continued communication to you, especially if you have chosen to ignore their actions.

7. The whole point of the communication is to insult you, demean or demoralize you, or to make you angry or fearful.

When coming into contact with these types of people the very first thing to do is to NOT RESPOND TO THEIR EFFORTS. I can't emphasize that enough. While initially, ignoring their efforts may actually seem to make the problem worse (there is nothing a troll hates more than NOT getting attention!), in the long run, the game will get old to the person, and usually they will move on. This may take some time, and will be frustrating for you until they get tired of the game. Usually, their entire purpose in this is to cause you to become emotional, and to "keep the fires going" by encouraging their further response.

And as the emails can be sometimes very personal, rude, and hurtful, it can be extremely hard to step back from the situation and remain calm while receiving these communications. Just remember that the other person does not know you, does not care about your feelings, and is simply a rude person. While their communications may seem very personal (they love to include personal attacks) they are only going by what they know of you online, and are using every tactic they can to get you to respond emotionally.

With that being said, there is a final category of people that thankfully, most people do not encounter over the internet, and these are the most dangerous - and most seriously disturbed - people on the internet. Just as in real life, there are sometimes true psychopaths on the Internet as well.

These people may send you direct threats - to your own person, your family, your business, or other direct threats. These people cannot be reasoned with, and while they may or may not carry out the threats, it is important that you deal with these people quickly and thoroughly. The first thing to do if you get personal threats is to SAVE all copies of any messages that are sent by that person. If the situation escalates, you may need all of the proof you can get. The next thing to do is to NOT respond. Do not acknowledge their emails or correspond with them in any way.

Next, you need to call or visit your local police office, and file a report on the person threatening you. Any direct threat to you, your family or business should be taken very seriously and not ignored. Take copies of the threatening communication to the police, along with any information you have on this person (name, email address, IP address, location if you know it, and anything else that might help the police). Also, if the person has directly threatened you, make sure you step up your personal security!

Be sure to lock all the doors on your house, be aware of suspicious vehicles or people around your neighborhood, and let someone else close to you know that you've been threatened. Even if the person making the threats isn't serious, it is impossible to tell that over the Internet, and you should take every precaution to make sure that no harm comes to you.

You may also report these people to the following online resource, Wired Safety (do a google search for Wired Safety and you should be able to find their site). You should also immediately report these people to their ISP if at all possible, or at the very least, to their email provider.

Finally, when dealing with idiots on the Internet, it is important to remember that there are billions of people on the internet, and eventually you will have to deal with people you don't like or come into conflict with. Be sure that when you do respond, it is with intelligent thought and with a calm, non-confrontational message. Stooping to their level will only make things worse. Also, keep as much information about yourself as private as you can. The more information someone has about you, the easier it is to bully you. Try to recognize what the person is wanting from you: A reaction? To hurt you emotionally? To get you angry? Recognize their purpose then don't give them the satisfaction of replying in that way. If their messages are being sent through an online community of any sort, be sure to report their communications to the administrators or people in charge of that community as well.

You can deal with online bullies, cyber stalkers, idiots, and mean people! Don't give them the power over you that they want, and be sure to keep yourself safe at all times!
About the Author
Stephanie Davies is a 27 year old Missourian with a loving husband and an 8 year old son. She currently owns her own business, Mystickal Incense & More , and sells handmade candles, incense, bath & body products and more at http://www.mystickalincense.com
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