Dealing with online harassment

What is online harassment and how to report it.

A recent Universities UK report highlighted that social media has a near-universal reach with 99% of 16-24-year-olds using social medial at least once a week. However, 50% of young people have experienced online bullying before the age of 25.

What is online harassment or cyberbullying?

Online harassment is the use of networked technologies (such as a smartphone, computer or tablet) to direct offensive, abusive, insulting or threatening words or images at an individual and/or group, in ways that are likely to cause them alarm or distress, intentionally or otherwise.

The most common places where online harassment occurs are:

  • Social media for example Facebook or Instagram
  • SMS or text messages sent through networked devices, such as a smartphone
  • Instant message via email, apps, and social media messaging features
  • Email.

Negative effects of online harassment

Anyone affected by online harassment may experience a range of physical, psychological and emotional effects, which can include:

  • Stress, anxiety and/or panic attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts and self-harm
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Feelings of powerlessness
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Hypervigilance
  • Fear for safety.

Forms of online harassment

As social networking continues to expand so does online harassment. Examples of online harassment include:

  • Cyberstalking is repeated and deliberate use of the internet and social media to engage in persistent, unwanted communication intending to frighten, intimidate or harass someone. Cyberstalkers can be either strangers or quite often, are people that are known to the individual including ex-partners. Motives may be to control or intimidate you or to gather information for use in other crimes, like identity theft or offline stalking
  • Exchange of online sexual images or videos. Where sexual photos of adults are shared online between adults (that is, over 18), without permission of the person/people photographed, this is usually classified as ‘revenge porn’. It is illegal to share sexual photos of under 18s and is classed as child abuse
  • Trolling is the sending or posting deliberately inflammatory, inappropriate or controversial messages or comments on the internet in order to deliberately upset and provoke responses from other internet users. Trolls will often say something controversial in order to elicit a response from others
  • Virtual mobbing is where a person tries to attract attention to someone else by getting other people to bully a person for example by using hashtags to encourage others.

Online misconduct

Behaviours that the University of Liverpool regards as online misconduct includes:

  • Threats to cause harm (physical, emotional, reputational) to another person
  • Identity-based harassment: posting offensive comments about someone’s racial, sexual, gendered, religious identity and/or physical appearance
  • Posting personal information about someone online without their consent
  • Online impersonation (e.g. setting up online profiles in someone else’s name)
  • Sharing or creating private sexual materials (i.e. those made of an individual with the understanding that such material would not be shared) online or in digital spaces
  • Sharing or creating public sexual materials (i.e. pornographic materials that are widely available via media outlets) online or in digital spaces with the intention to sexually harass and/or incite gender-based violence
  • Online communication that employs forms of coercion to extort sexual favours from the victim
  • Repeated unwanted and unsolicited contact with another person by email, text message, social media or in any online or digital space
  • Indecent, disorderly, threatening, intimidating or offensive language, photos or other content, expressed electronically, including blogs and social networking websites
  • Distribution or publication of any electronic publication including audio-visual material, social media post, blog or webpage, which is offensive, intimidating, threatening, indecent or illegal.

The policy on student conduct and discipline gives more detail on what constitutes online misconduct. All students joining the University of Liverpool agree to abide by all its policies and procedures and to adhere to the standards of conduct and behaviour expected of every member of the University community, both online and offline.

How to report an incident of harassment

If you have experienced any of the above during your time at university you can now report this harassment via our online platform Report + Support.

When you report an incident you will then be contacted by a Wellbeing Advisor who can offer support and guidance.

You can also choose to report anonymously.

Speak to Advice and Guidance

If you are unable to find an answer to your query on our web pages you can email or book an online confidential one-one appointment.