Online harassment

12 Sep 2018

Online harassment is online behaviour that goes out of the way to cause trouble for someone by intimidating, threatening, or humiliating them, and can have serious social, psychological, or even physical consequences.

Given the degree to which all aspects of a person’s life have integrated digital media – for socialising, to work, and as a mode of relaxation – it is unsurprising that people have leveraged these same devices and networks to harm others. The ease with which information can be shared and spread online is often considered an advantage for businesses wishing to promote products or people wishing to promote their services, but also means that malicious or baseless comments can be shared with equal ease. It is also impossible for any individual or organisation to have complete access to all the information or content shared by users online, making it difficult to gauge how long such statements have been online – and how far they have spread – before the victim comes to know about it.

Thus, it is important to be aware of the issue of online harassment and the steps you may take to safeguard yourself in the event of being harassed online.

What are examples of online harassment?

  • Posting defamatory or derogatory online statements for the purpose of hurting or humiliating a person, such as by targeting their appearance, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability
  • Creating and sharing false information about a person for the purpose of ruining their reputation, such as by making false allegations about a person on social media
  • Sharing personal information about a person online, such as sharing their contact details with lewd comments in a forum or chatroom so that the victim receives unwanted attention from strangers
  • Sending offensive or obscene material, such as explicit messages to a person or their friends
  • Sharing intimate or sexual messages, photos, or videos online without consent, to shame a person
  • Encouraging a vulnerable person to self-harm or commit suicide

I am being harassed online. What can I do?

  • Don’t blame yourself: remember that this is not your fault, and that harassment, regardless of reason, is not okay
  • Talk to someone you trust: tell your partner, a friend, or a counsellor about what is happening
  • Report the material: most social media sites have the option to report offensive content
  • Report the harasser to the social media site or mobile service: if they find a different platform from which to approach you, or use a different number, continue to report them
  • Keep all information providing evidence of the harassment: take screenshots before the service provider removes flagged content or the harasser deletes the evidence
  • Do not respond to the harasser
  • Create safe spaces for yourself: if possible, try to have physical spaces or times of the day where you can distance yourself from digital devices and create a space where you will not face harassment, for example, not using your devices at night
  • Create a support system: tell friends and family members who can support you online and make you feel safe in your daily life
  • Contact the authorities: consider involving law enforcement or a lawyer. Most forms of severe online harassment are illegal in Singapore under the Protection from Harassment Act. You have the option to apply for a Protection Order under the Act.

There is a threat to my safety.

  • If you feel that the harasser might be able to locate you or find you to act out their threats, there is a credible threat to your safety
  • Call the local police if you feel:
    • There are threats to your safety
    • There are threats to visit you, your family members, or friends
    • There are threats to hurt you, your family members, or friends
  • Tell someone you trust: receiving such a threat can be an overwhelming experience, so tell a friend or family member for support, particularly through the process of filing a police report or engaging a lawyer

I think I need professional help. Where can I go?

There are several organisations that can help you in such a difficult situation. Here are some: