Bullying can happen anywhere people congregate and lose their sense of courtesy and boundaries. Facebook is no different given its networking purpose; indeed, bullying on Facebook can cause even more distress and fear than being bullied in real life because the bullying enters your home sanctuary as well, extending both the extent and time frame of bullying.
If you're a victim of bullying on Facebook or you've witnessed it happening, here are some suggestions for stopping the bullying in its tracks.
Make your Facebook account as bully-proof as possible. Be sure to make your settings safe by only letting your known friends see your account and interact with you. If something happens in real life that you think could spill over onto Facebook, consider taking pre-emptive action to remove the problem person before they can try anything. For example, if someone you know from school or work who bullies you there asks you to be their friend, deny the friend request. If they ask you about it in real life, be polite and say that you don't have the time for more than 20 friends and family members and that all the spaces are already filled.
Spot bullying tactics. Bullying can come across in different ways to different people and online it is not always easy to detect a person's real meaning and sometimes you'll need to assess whether or not you're reading too much into something. But some things that might denote bullying on Facebook include:
- Wall posts that say intimidating, mean-spirited, or outright nasty things about you, your friends, and the things you care about. For example: "Marcia, May and me all hate you. You've got really bad breath. Don't bother coming to school tomorrow."
- Consistent abuse about the things you've posted. For example: "Why do you post such STUPID things???? You're a waste of space!!!!"
- Use of lots of punctuation, such as WTF?!!! on a consistent basis, intended to ram home a message without any subtlety.
- Use of ALL CAPITALS can denote a menacing attitude. Online etiquette views most usage of ALL CAPITALS as the equivalent of shouting and if the message is accompanied by negative words or implications, it might be an attempt to bully you.
- Posting photos or videos of you online that are unflattering, that show bullying of you that's happened in real life (for example, phone shots of people roughing you up), or tagging you in photos that suggest negative things.
- They use threatening, harassing, or nasty language in Facebook chat.
- They start a Facebook group based on you, such as something like "10 Reasons to Hate Hermione B".
Look for a pattern. Be sure that the bullying commentary is not just a one-off stupid, petty or insulting comment that was added thoughtlessly. If there is a pattern of leaving nasty messages on your wall, it's obvious that the person doesn't intend to stop. Also consider how this person behaves toward you in real life if you know them in your daily life. Is this something they're carrying over from their everyday behavior?
- Be aware that it's possible for one thing to be enough to establish harassing behavior, such as threatening you, or adding compromising photos of you with suggestive comments, etc.
Tell the bully to stop. Initially, it might be enough to ask the person to stop bothering you. Message them quietly at first. If they keep it up, leave a public request; knowing that your other friends can read it might shame them into ceasing.
- If the bully is someone known to you in a professional capacity, remind them of their need to remain professional in the online sphere. You might do well to remind them that your wall is read by many people too and that other people's perception of them is likely to change if they read anymore of the harassing comments.
Talk to your trusted friends about what is happening. They may be able to leave messages asking the bully to stop as well, and to make it obvious in public that the bully's behavior is unwanted and not tolerated.
- If you're a teen, talk to your parents. Your parents can contact the relevant parents or school and discuss what is happening. They can also consider legal action if the bullying does not cease.
Don't stoop to play their game. You might feel safer responding in kind from the relative "safety" of your computer, but this will only increase the problem, and could result in flame wars and real life confrontation. Ignore their attempts to lure you into responding and block them from being your Facebook friend. Ignoring is usually the best means for deflating a bully's satisfaction.
Report them. There's no need to pussyfoot around if you've been nice and things didn't stop. Report the bullying behavior, activities, and the bully to Facebook administrators. Outline the facts and the impact that the bullying is having on you and request that action be taken, including removal of any bullying posts, groups, or other public elements. Parents can report on behalf of teens; for more information, see Facebook's own instructions at http://www.facebook.com/help/?safety=parents.
- If you have a guidance counselor at school, college, or your workplace, you might consider going to them for help. Ask them for the school, institution, or company policy on bullying and harassment to see whether Facebook is covered. Even if it's not, the substance of the bullying itself should be the subject of an anti-bullying or anti-harassment policy. Find out what you can do to get help and support, and to get the bullying to stop.
- If you're unhappy with the response of a counselor or other person, or of Facebook, consider talking to someone in your local police station for further advice. They may be able to help you directly, or to send you to someone else who can help.
- The police should be involved if you have received physical threats, racial taunts, or if photos or videos of you being mistreated, demeaned, or showing nudity are involved.
Close your Facebook account. If you're really unhappy using the Facebook account and things feel out of control, or you feel over-exposed, consider deleting your Facebook account. You can always open a new account when you're feeling stronger or when you're older.
- Another way to cope may be to open a new Facebook account using a different name, such as your first and middle name. You may need to talk to Facebook administrators about opening an account with a "non-real" name but if bullying is the issue, then you have good grounds for being exempted from the usual name policy.
Don't participate in Facebook bullying yourself. Put a stop to cyber-bullying via Facebook by pointing out when it's wrong and reminding those who participate in it how it harms others, including to the point where some teenagers have killed themselves as a result of bullying in the online environment.
Be prepared to wait for Facebook to erase the bullying groups/pages. You will be probably be waiting a LONG time. It is unfortunate that Facebook does not take their own abuse policy seriously.