Online harassment and offensive content runs the gamut from individual hate-filled posts to bullying, stalking, doxing and campaign harassment. It might be helpful to check out the charts and figure out what kind of harassment you are experiencing. It’s also helpful to know the terminology when reporting the offense to the platform, school or employer.
You can check ADL’s list, or see the list and recommended steps in this great infographic from TrollBusters.
Online Harassment Glossary
Online abuse is a continuum of tactics that range from bullying, harassment and trolling, to stalking, violence and coordinated attacks. It’s useful to know what kind of harassment you are facing when deciding how to combat the problem. Below you will find definitions of general harassment strategies and specific harassment tactics.
Cyber Harassment Styles
Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying refers to bullying, especially among youth, that takes place through online means such as social media. The bully repeatedly communicates hostile or aggressive messages intended to inflict harm or discomfort onto others.
Bullying includes physical, verbal and relational abuse, which harms the social, physical and psychological health of both the bullies and their targets. Bullying usually involves repeated negative actions that create a power imbalance between perpetrator and victim, although not all studies conclude that the action must be repeated to constitute bullying.
For young adults, cyberbullying is most likely to take place through social media and texting.
Cyberstalking: Cyberstalking refers to threats and harassment to a particular individual that cross the border between online and offline. Cyberstalkers are usually driven by anger at a specific person, in contrast to trolls who harass for fun.
Cyberviolence: Aggressive forms of online abuse are best understood as cyberviolence — that is, harm perpetuated through online or digital means, especially based on sex and gender. It encompasses online harassment and abuse, usually directed at women, girls, sexual or gender minorities, and intimate partners. Cyberviolence often overlaps with cyberstalking and intimate partner violence, and may cross from online to offline. Cyberviolence, like cyberstalking, often correlates with offline violence and abuse.
Campaign Harassment: Many incidents of harassment involve numerous perpetrators working in concert, contrary to the stereotype of the lone anti-social troll. The term “campaign harassment” describes distributed, networked efforts to harass, intimidate, threaten and silence victims. Such campaigns typically target women, celebrities, people of color, academics and journalists.
Harassment in Gaming: A major subset of cyber harassment takes place in online gaming, especially immersive MMORPGs (Massively Multiple Online Role-Playing Games, like World of Warcraft). Many methods of harassment deployed in gaming later spread to general cyber harassment.
Cyber Harassment Tactics
Verbal abuse: The most common form of direct harassment most people witness or experience is verbal abuse. Verbal abuse includes name-calling, slurs, threats (often graphic), humiliation and flaming (aggressive verbal attacks/arguments). Verbal abuse can take place in view of others, as on social media and in comment sections, or privately via email, text or chat. Verbal abuse can multiply when numerous attackers (or multiple online identities for one attacker) target a victim en masse.
Defamation: False statements intended to damage or harm someone’s reputation, such as lies intended to get someone fired.
Deadnaming: Calling a transgender person who has transitioned or adopted a new name by their prior given or legal name, especially with the intent to out them or undermine their identity.
Denial of Access: Using tech tools or features to overwhelm a service, site, personal account or server. Attacks, which are often distributed across a large number of users and/or devices, may send excessive unwanted messages to make an account unusable, execute Distributed Denial of Service attacks (DDoS) against a web server, generate tweetstorms or submit many requests to block or report targeted users. Denial of access can also include seemingly innocuous messages that take up a target’s time, sometimes called “sealioning”.
Doxing/Doxxing: Publishing private, identifiable information about a victim, such as a name, address, personal email or phone number, which enables in-person stalking, harassment, threats and violence.
Flaming: Virulent verbal attacks in an online forum, often as part of an argument. Relates to flamewars, incendiary online debates or fights (which are not necessarily initially a form of harassment).
Griefing: In online gaming, “griefers” are uncooperative players. They can obstruct desired goals in multi-player game environments by repeatedly killing players, interfering with building or destroying works made by other players.
Hacking: gaining access to someone’s computer, stored files or accounts on their own or third- party services.
Happy slapping: Using a mobile device to record or film abuse or an attack.
Impersonation: Pretending to be the target by creating accounts in the target’s name or using the target’s domain, often to harass, insult or intimidate others, seemingly on behalf of the target.
Pranking: Mainly a tactic of trolls, pranks can involve tech tools like hacking to target a website or an individual. While pranking may appear simply mischievous, it can have harmful consequences for victims, and often targets vulnerable or marginalized people. For example, in 2008, hackers hijacked the Epilepsy Foundation’s website and flashed images, inducing at least one epileptic seizure in a site visitor.
Meme abuse: Using memes, especially hateful, violent or offensive ones, to harass or abuse someone.
Sexting: Sending sexually explicit text messages as part of abuse (sexting is typically not abusive, but can be used in a campaign of partner/dating abuse or harassment).
Shaming: Harassment based on a person’s violation of a perceived social norm.
Swatting: Falsely reporting a crime at someone’s address to send a special police (SWAT) team to investigate, which can result (and has resulted) in violence or death.
Tracking/monitoring: Using GPS to track and surveil a targets’ movements and communications.
Trolling: The meaning of trolling has transformed over time, from intentional provocation of individuals in online communities, especially new members, to more generalized disruptiveness and harassment, aimed at strangers or public figures, often according to specific categories of identity.
Non-consensual distribution of intimate images: Sharing or distributing sexually explicit images of someone online without their permission. Sometimes referred to as “revenge porn”.
Vandalism: Digitally defacing a website or other online medium.
A Note on Trolls
As Troy McEwan explains in The Conversation, “trolling is acting in deceptive, disruptive and destructive ways in internet social settings with no apparent purpose”. According to a 2017 study by Justin Cheng et al., however, what constitutes abusive or disruptive behavior depends on the norms of a given forum or community: “behavior outside the acceptable bounds defined by several community guidelines for discussion forums”. What counts as trolling, in other words, depends in part on the norms of the social milieu in which the activity is pursued. The often fuzzy border between good-natured joking and malice is a feature of this style of harassment.
Social scientists have attempted to identify the motivations for this behavior in cases when it is not directed by hate. For many trolls, the aim is to control an online social space or to seek amusement through their harassing or disruptive behavior. For example, a review by psychologist Mark Griffiths similarly describes trolling as “an act of intentionally provoking and/or antagonizing users in an online environment that creates an often desirable, sometimes predictable, outcome for the troll".
A study of trolling on Wikipedia by Shachaf and Hara found that trolls are motivated by boredom, attention seeking and revenge, causing intentional harm not only to other users but to the site itself. Other research, such as the 2017 study by Cheng et al., finds that trolling behavior depends not solely on personality traits, but setting and context, concluding that “ordinary people can, under the right circumstances, behave like trolls”.