The advent of the internet has changed the world in myriad ways. Sometimes, the change has been for the better. We can now communicate easily and instantaneously, at any time of day or night, across vast distances. But this power has brought with it a number of unfortunate consequences.
For one thing, it’s allowed abusive and malicious communications to proliferate as easily as benevolent ones.
Online abuse is difficult to deal with, because it’s easily concealed. This goes especially when children are involved. But if we know what signs and behaviours to look for, we stand a much better chance of stopping the problem in its tracks.
Common Signs and Behaviours
Let’s consider a few of the more common symptoms.
Sudden changes in the amount of online time
Changes in mood after Internet use
Mobile phone secrecy
Many new texts and emails
Online abuse is an umbrella term that can describe a whole range of behaviours.
Cyberbullying is an online form of what we understand to be bullying. Insults, taunts, ostracism and threats can all contribute. It is the practice of following someone through the internet. The stalker might find out who the victim’s friends are, where they go to school, or even what the victim is doing at any given time. This information can then be used to stalk the victim in the real world.
Trolling and online harassment involve an often concerted attempt to make the victim feel miserable, by subjecting them to a barrage of ridicule, and making their life online basically unbearable.
Grooming and child sexual exploitation sit at the more extreme end of this spectrum of behaviours. They involve first earning the victim’s trust, and then manipulating them into providing sexual or otherwise compromising images of themselves.
Why Recognising the Signs is Important
Naturally, the earlier we spot that these problems are developing, the earlier we can intervene to prevent them. Online abuse, if it’s not dealt with, can have a serious impact on the victim. It can also allow the perpetrator to go on and attack other people.
Online abuse can lead to anxiety, depression, self-harm, relationship problems, and substance abuse. In extreme cases, the results can be catastrophic.
Responsibility as Witnesses
If you suspect that online abuse is going on, then you have an ethical duty to step in. This doesn’t mean involving yourself in other people’s business, but it does mean raising the subject tactfully with the relevant caregiver – or the person you suspect is suffering.
Fortunately, there are a number of steps we might take to protect ourselves against this form of harm. In cases where harm is serious and obvious, we might make an abuse claim through an appropriate solicitor. But what about preventative measures?
You might set up privacy settings on your machine, to prevent specific parties from contacting you. You might block certain numbers and accounts, or report problem behaviours to the relevant platforms.