In a recent Ask Me Anything (AMA) questions and answers session on Reddit.com, Tim Berners-Lee, ‘the man who invented the Internet’, answered questions about the misuse of the Internet.
His comments emphasise just how important it is to protect yourself online. One of the key areas Berners-Lee focused on was the harassment of women, and how it has become a major problem on the Internet.
Internet harassment is a problem for women
According to the Washington Post, Berners-Lee, in response to a question on the treatment of women on the Internet, wrote: “I think that the mistreatment/abuse/harassment of women is a very serious issue. I think in general boys need to learn early on to have and to show total respect for all women. If you look back at your online behaviour and realise you have made even one off-colour remark, then cringe and never do it again. It has a massive negative effect. It is not funny. It is not cute.”
It is interesting to note that this was the ‘lowest-rated question and answer thread in the AMA’. Which if anything only confirms Berners-Lee’s point.
A recent survey of nearly 3,000 web users conducted by Pew Research found that ‘73% of adult Internet users’ have witnessed harassment online, while ‘40% have personally experienced it’ – 66% of those users said ‘their most recent incident occurred on a social networking site or app’.
Pew’s research highlights the fact that individuals are facing many forms of harassment online. The survey found that while men were more likely to face ‘name calling’ or be ‘physically threated’ women were more likely to be ‘stalked’ or ‘sexually harassed’.
Forms of online harassment
There are many forms of online harassment faced by individuals, but also by companies and brands too. Trolling, images posted without consent, defamatory comments, unsubstantiated reviews are just some of the issues commonly faced by Internet users.
Young people are particularly vulnerable online. Igniyte’s e-book A Guide to Managing Your Teenager’s Personal Information Online highlights some of the issues young people face on the Internet. The accompanying infographic shows that almost three quarters (74%) of young people use the privacy settings on social networking sites. Cyber-bullying is becoming more commonplace, as statistics from No Bullying reveal, 52% of people were cyber-bullied in 2014.
The impact on your online reputation
Online harassment is not only emotionally damaging, it also has the ability to impact on your Internet reputation. If comments and images include a reference or are tagged with your name, they are likely to rank on the first page for a search for your name on Google. The material – which may be offensive to others too, will rank because the search engine will recognise that it is relevant to you.
A recent report by the Market Research Society indicates youngsters are taking extra steps to protect themselves online. This is good news, and is a shift away from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s comment in 2010, that privacy was no longer a “social norm”.
How to protect your reputation
Request content is taken down:
- If someone posts false or abusive content about you online, ask them to remove it, or contact the website directly. Check the site’s terms and conditions to see if any of the content contravenes their content policy.
- If someone tags you in an unflattering post or picture on social media, these can be removed on most sites.
- Some sites have policies that allow you to request content concerning your name is taken down under certain circumstances. For example, in its community standards Facebook states it does not tolerate bullying or harassment and will “take action on all reports of abusive behaviour directed at private individuals”.
Remove material on defamatory grounds:
- If the harassment contains content that is untrue, offensive or unsubstantiated you can ask for it to be removed on defamatory grounds.
- Sites allow you to ask for content to be removed if you can prove it is defamatory. For example you can ask to remove content from Google if it has defamed your character.
Report the abuse:
- Report abuse by using the report links on social media sites.
- Young people should always tell parents and teachers.
- If someone makes a threat to you on the Internet they may be committing a crime – report any requests that make you feel uncomfortable, or cause you distress, to the local authorities and to the police.
Make sure you have strong presence online:
- Having a good online reputation is essential. Maintain a positive online presence by regularly adding new and fresh content to your profiles. Develop a website, blog and create social and professional media profiles on sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
- Optimised with your name and updated with fresh, relevant content, your profiles will rank on the first page of a Google search for your name, helping you to control what is seen in your page one search results.
- Set up Google Alerts for your own name to alert you to mentions – take steps to challenge or remove the content if necessary.
Safeguard your privacy online:
- Ensure your privacy settings are optimised – if your profile is public anyone can see what you post or even find out your location.
- Check terms and conditions of websites before you sign up.
- If someone is bothering you online, block them from seeing your profile on social media sites.
Internet harassment is a serious issue that can have a dramatic impact on your reputation online, however there are steps you can take to protect yourself online and safeguard yourself from trolls and others intent on causing you harm.