The rise of social media over the past twenty years has revolutionised trans and non-binary communities. Once isolated, these groups have been able to connect over the Internet and share their stories and experiences. However, this new dimension of connection has not been without its drawbacks. There are people who, for whatever reason, use the reach of the Internet to spread hurtful or false content, or make attacks on transgender people. At GenderGP we’re unfortunately used to coming under fire online – so we’ve used our experiences to produce this blog post about how to recognise online bullying, and how to deal with it.
It’s easy to think that, because it’s not happening in real life, online bullying can’t hurt you. But the consequences can be serious, particularly if it’s sustained over time. Online bullying can negatively affect your mood, your mental health, and your social life. It can even be dangerous in certain situations, so it’s really important to know how to recognise it and what to do.
Online bullying can take a lot of forms. It can be content that is offensive (such as graphic images or slurs), harassment (like name calling or threats), misinformation, unwanted contact, and similar. It’s possible to encounter content online that is upsetting or controversial, but doesn’t constitute bullying or harassment. For instance, some political disagreements might be upsetting, but they don’t constitute bullying in their own right unless you are harassed as a result.
The easiest way to keep yourself safe and sane is to block and move on. When we’re harassed online it’s tempting to fight back or try to win the argument, with logic and evidence based information. In practice, this hardly ever works as those instigating the attacks are rarely interested in being educated. The anonymity afforded by the Internet makes people far more likely to say and do things they wouldn’t in real life, and arguments are unlikely to resolve productively. What’s worse, some Internet trolls deliberately draw out conflicts to try and wear down their targets. Our advice is to save your energy for more important things – like yourself – by ignoring the person in question and moving on. Some accounts on sites like Twitter maintain ‘blocklists’, large lists of accounts known for bullying, harassment, or hateful behaviour. These can help preemptively protect yourself online.
You can also use the report function to flag inappropriate, hurtful, or hateful content with the site moderators. All mainstream social media sites have this functionality. Examples of content to report might be a social media post containing offensive images or slurs, or sharing discriminatory content about trans and non-binary people (or any marginalised group) in general. You can also report individual users if they are producing this kind of content, or if they are harassing you. Reports will be reviewed by the site moderators, and can result in a ban for the user in question. You can also report misinformation, whether about transgender people or anything else, particularly if it is also discriminatory. For instance, posts that share debunked theories or inaccurate statistics about trans and non-binary people can be reported for inaccuracy. You can find specific information about blocking and reporting on different websites here.
You can also protect yourself online by limiting the amount of personal information you share. Some malicious users try to ‘dox’ trans people – finding out real world information, like their addresses and workplaces, and leaking it in a public forum.
A few simple checks can help you to stop this from happening:
- disable location sharing (this is usually under ‘Settings’)
- don’t share details of your full name, where you live, or similar
- be cautious with friendly strangers – remember, you don’t know them and you don’t have to tell them anything
- don’t use a picture of your real face
Sometimes individuals are targeted by lots of accounts for co-ordinated harassment, sometimes called a ‘pile on’ or ‘dogpile’. If this happens to you it can be really distressing, because it can feel like there are too many accounts to individually block. Always remember, there’s nothing wrong with logging off and taking some time for it to blow over. Blocklists can help prevent pile-ons by blocking lots of users at once.
Online bullying isn’t always overt. It can come in the form of unwanted contact, particularly of a suggestive or sexual nature. You should always feel like you’re comfortable with and in control of who contacts you online. If someone pushes your boundaries you can block them, or if someone sends you inappropriate content, you can report it. It can feel difficult to take action against unwanted approaches, but remember that by doing so you’re improving the online community for everyone.
Some people will specifically target young or vulnerable people with this kind of attention, and are often very friendly or supportive at first. If you or someone you know has a sudden change in behaviour around the amount of time they spend online, or is upset about something that happened but doesn’t want to talk about it, they may be being bullied. Gently try to encourage them to open up and help them with some of the tactics outlined above.
Likewise, you should always tell someone – a friend, colleague, or family member – if someone is making you feel uncomfortable online or sending you unwanted messages. Keeping it to yourself can be bad for your mental health and makes you more vulnerable to manipulation. In fact, if anyone asks you not to tell anyone that they’re talking to you, it should be an instant red flag.
You can get further advice and information about online bullying here. We also have lots of resources for trans and non-binary people and their friends and families in our FAQs. Finally, if you have any queries about GenderGP or the work we do, you can get in touch via our Care Centre.
Have a question that would be beneficial for us to answer? Ask us here, and we might add it to our knowledge base!