Defining “Online Harassment”: A Glossary of Terms

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There are many kinds of online harassment out there, from the annoying (rude comments made by online trolls) to the invasive (doxing) to the traumatic (cyberstalking, threats of violence, and everything in-between).

For the purposes of this Field Manual, “online harassment”—also known as “cyber harassment,” “cyber abuse,” and “online abuse”—includes, but is not limited to, the behaviors described below, carried out in an online setting.

Online settings include email, social media platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram), messaging apps (such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp), blogging platforms (such as Medium, Tumblr, and WordPress), and comments sections (such as those found on digital news platforms, personal blogs, YouTube pages, and Amazon book reviews).

This glossary is intended for two audiences:

  • 1. Targets of online abuse. Our goal is to help you identify the particular form of online harassment you’re experiencing and offer tips and resources for addressing that particular abuse. Each “What to Do” section offers a brief and immediate course of action for that particular form of harassment, as well as links to more in-depth resources.
  • 2. Witnesses, allies, loved ones, and employers of writers and journalists. Our goal is to help educate groups and individuals who intersect with writers and journalists about the specific kinds of online harassment out there. Raising collective awareness around online harassment and fighting back requires possessing a vocabulary for describing and addressing the abuse.

We encourage you to explore the rest of this Field Manual for more detailed information on the topics covered below.

Glossary of Terms

Cyberbullying

Definition: An umbrella term (like “online harassment”) meant to encompass a number of harassing online behaviors. Like physical bullying, “cyberbulling” is generally aimed at young people and may involve threats, embarrassment, or humiliation in an online setting. As Cyberbullying.org states, cyberbullying isn’t just a kid problem; it affects young adults on college campuses as well.

Example: In a tragic and now infamous episode of cyberbullying, a twelve-year-old girl took her own life in New Jersey.

What to do: Visit Cyberbullying.org for the best resources and information related to cyberbullying.

Cyber-Mob Attacks

Definition: A cyber-mob attack occurs when a large group gathers online to try to collectively shame, harass, threaten, or discredit a target. According to online harassment legal expert Danielle Keats Citron, targets overwhelmingly belong to traditionally marginalized groups.

“Outrage mobs” or “shaming mobs” are a distinct kind of cyber mob made up of internet users who collectively troll individuals in the hopes of silencing or publicly punishing them. Targets of outrage mobs are often attacked for expressing opinions on politically charged topics or ideas the outrage mob disagrees with and/or has taken out of context in order to promote a particular agenda. Outrage mobbing can sometimes have severe consequences offline and has even resulted in targets losing their jobs.

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