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Online Abuse: What It Is and How To Deal With It

Nick Bell

In a black and white world, the internet is like a big grey area. It has shifted our view of acceptable ways to deal with other people, which has no doubt magnified some dark aspects of human behaviour. 

A 2017 survey by The Pew Research Center shows some alarming, but sadly not surprising findings supporting the rise in antisocial online behaviour. For instance, online abuse had been experienced by 41% of respondents and 66% had seen it directed at others.

Here, we will discuss the different forms of online abuse, along with some practical tips on how to deal with it should it happen to you. 

Digital Cruelty

This type of behaviour is not outright cyberbullying, but it’s not socially acceptable either. Digital cruelty refers to the run-on effects of the pervasive sentiment that “everyone is fair game online”. 

Varying levels of anonymity across different websites lead to a phenomenon penned as the Online Disinhibition Effect.  This leads to people feeling emboldened to “act out” online in one way or another, and unfortunately, it’s usually negative.

Digital cruelty is commonly seen in cases where people make strong statements and reveal more about themselves or their beliefs than they would in real life. It can be either general or targeted in nature. 


A more widely-known manifestation of online abuse, cyberstalking can take many forms. These include:

  • Making unwanted contact over online means, e.g. texting, instant messaging, emailing or calling
  • Monitoring your movements or behaviour online with GPS, tracking apps or other spyware 
  • Threatening to share embarrassing material about you in hopes of humiliating you

    Unfortunately, there are many more ways to cyberstalk someone beyond the ways outlined above. 



Also spelled “doxxing”, this term comes from the phrase “dropping dox”, a 1990s hacker term meaning “documents”. These “documents” contain identifying information about a person, such as their address, place of work, personal phone number and more.

These details are used against the target with the goal of attracting harassment. Prevalent on sites like 4chan, doxing someone can easily result in significant distress for the target. 


As discussed at length in our previous blog, trolling is a prevalent form of online abuse. Often disguised as “just a joke” and downplayed as “that’s just how people are online”, trolling can have disastrous implications for those affected.

Sometimes, it can be “just a joke” – however, it tends to escalate into outright bullying once the snowball effect occurs. People pile on further troll comments on top of the original until it becomes unbearable. 

Malicious Impersonation

Known as Digital Identity Theft in its more severe forms, the phenomenon of Malicious Impersonation arrested legal attention by 2010 and made itself known as an ever-growing threat to digital denizens worldwide. 

Malicious Impersonation can affect both individuals and businesses, often carried out through phishing scams via messages from fake customer service representatives. This passes on important details about your identity to the scammers, leaving your bank account vulnerable. 

Image-Based Abuse/Revenge Porn

A top-ranking scenario of dread for women (and men) across the globe, Revenge Porn refers to the unauthorised sharing of intimate images of another person.

This is easily one of the lowest acts a person can commit online, and no one deserves to be on the receiving end of this treatment. 

What You Can Do 

Make sure you enact the tips below if you are experiencing any of the above scenarios. 

  1. Keep A Record

    Be absolutely unscrupulous in keeping exact documentation of all offensive communications. You may need to provide it as evidence in future if it escalates to that point. 

  2. Don’t Be Silent

    Don’t let the perpetrators win. For your own wellbeing, don’t “just log off” and let yourself be punished by online abusers.

    Standing up for yourself may not look how you think though – for instance, it’s not always the best idea to address bullies directly. This can muddy the waters if you need to pursue further action. Instead, find other people in your situation who can provide sound advice. 

  3. Protect Yourself 

    Take measures to fortify your security and safety online to reduce the likelihood of future attacks. These include setting up 2-Step Verification, strengthening your passwords, being mindful of what you post online and being aware of posts associated with your name (so basically, Google yourself regularly). 
  4. Consult the Professionals

When people say “get professional help”, they often mean psychological help. This, of course, is often advisable in situations of severe mental distress. 

In this context, “professional help” has other connotations. If people are posting content about you that affects your reputation and wellbeing online, you would seriously benefit from speaking to Removify. 

The Content Removal Specialists at Removify understand how online abuse can hurt people, and offer tailored plans to rebalance the scales again. If you’re being affected by harmful online content, reach out to Removify today