Hate mail, death threats, doxing, lewd images and garden-variety insults. If you’re active online, there’s a possibility that one day you could find yourself on the receiving end of harassment. That risk is higher for people more likely to be targeted because of their race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.
It’s a huge problem and one that needs to be addressed through moderation, filters and social media policies. However, there are some things individuals can do to protect themselves in the moment. Here is a checklist to get you started.
- Turn on Twitter filters. If you’re receiving unwelcome tweets and replies, there is a quick way to make them invisible to you. On Twitter, go to Settings and Privacy → Privacy and Safety → Mute and Block → Muted Notifications. Check all the boxes here you think you need.
- Turn on TikTok safety features. If the harassment extends to TikTok, go to Settings and Privacy → Privacy. Set your account to private or turn off comments, allow only friends to mention you and set your following list to “only me.” If you leave comments on, set comment filters, which allow you to block comments based on key words.
- Block, mute, repeat. If you’re dealing with harassment from specific people on social media sites, messaging apps, text, phone or email, you can block them so their messages don’t come through. Muting is another option on sites such as Twitter, and it means you won’t see what they say and they won’t know that you’ve muted them. Perhaps that could prevent them from seeking out other methods to contact you.
- Set social media accounts to private. One of the easiest ways to avoid online trolls is to set your social accounts — including your profile on LinkedIn — to private so that only the people you are connected to can see your posts. You can often select a setting to keep even those limited profiles out of search results.
- Turn off comments and close DMs. If you want to stay public-facing, most social media sites have options for turning off or limiting comments. On TikTok and Instagram, you can turn off the ability to comment on individual posts. On Instagram, you can also hide comments for all posts if they contain offensive words or custom phrases. On Twitter, you can make it so only people you follow or people you mention can reply to a tweet.
- Use an anti-harassment tool. Third-party apps such as Block Party can filter your notifications even further, including sending harassing messages and tweets to a separate folder for later review. Tall Poppy is a similar anti-harassment tool companies use for employees.
- Email filters. Set up email filters that are triggered by harassing terms or words. You can reroute messages to a separate folder to keep your main inbox harassment-free.
- Ask someone else to screen your messages. If you block, mute or filter harassing messages, you can designate someone to read the messages in case any contain real-life threats or imminent danger, while sparing your mental health.
- Avoid posting personal information. Once the online harassment begins, be cognizant of everything you post during that time. Don’t post photos that may show identifiable information about where you live or pictures of loved ones, or anything with location data.
- Ask Google to remove sensitive information. Google recently added an option to request the search engine remove personally identifiable information from results or its own pages, such as credit card and social security numbers. It won’t remove public records and will ask if you’re being threatened when considering some removals.
- Remove any visible connections to family and friends. Online trolls will often go after your loved ones during a harassment campaign. You can protect the people in your life by removing profile links to members of your family, spouses and children from social media accounts such as Facebook. Be sure to hide your friend lists and even temporarily unfriend those who share your last name.
- Untag all photos of yourself. This will prevent trolls from harassing people that appear in photos with you or from finding images of you to use in negative ways. You can change settings on most social media sites to prohibit people from tagging you without permission. Also, make sure your albums on online photo services are set to private, including those you may have forgotten such as Flickr.
- Erase your details from the Internet. Manually removing all that sensitive data can be time-consuming, if not impossible. Consider a paid service like DeleteMe or Kanary, which regularly check data-broker sites and delete the information they have on you.
- Report all threats. You can report social media posts to those services and to your employer’s security team, if they have one. If you have received messages threatening harm to you or your loved ones, or if your address has been exposed, it is time to alert law enforcement.
- Document all harassment. Keep a record of all harassing messages you receive, whether by saving emails or taking screenshots of direct messages or tweets. You may need the evidence to alert authorities or your employer. To ensure the original version is available, archive instances of harassment in online forums and on social media using sites such as archive.org.
- Have a plan for relocation. If your personal address has been compromised and you receive a dangerous threat, you may need to relocate. Make sure you have a place where you can go until the danger subsides.
- Share safety tips with your family. Make sure those closest to you know that they may also be targeted and that they should take similar steps to protect themselves.
Taylor Lorenz contributed to this report.