ONLINE HARASSMENT - A Female Problem? #MoreThanMean
What Makes Some People Harass Others Online
The Internet is a magical place jam-packed with cat videos, perfect-for-any-situation gifs, and tweets from Kanye West. It's also, unfortunately, filled with online harassers waiting to threaten the next person who says or does something they don't agree with.
That's something that Melissa Anelli, the woman who shared her story of online harassment in our May 2015 issue, experienced firsthand. From 2008 to 2014, a woman named Jessica—who Melissa had blocked from a Harry Potter fan site she moderated—harassed her constantly. Jessica bombarded Melissa and her family with e-mails, social media messages, and eventually even snail mail. Melissa's harasser fluctuated between begging Melissa for attention to straight-up threatening to slit her throat. After six years of torment, Melissa's harasser was arrested for the second time for attacking her online—and hasn’t contacted Melissa since.
What is it that motivates a person to go beyond disagreeing with your Facebook status to flat-out threatening to rape or murder you? To delve a little deeper into that question, we spoke with Robin Stern, Ph.D., a psychologist, associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and a cyber bullying consultant for Facebook, to understand who's behind the keyboard, why online harassers do what they do, and why they can be so hard to shake.
RELATED: This Video Documenting a Woman Being Street Harassed is Seriously Disturbing
Who Harassers Are
According to a Pew survey of over 5,000 U.S. Internet users, about 64 percent of those who were harassed online didn't know the person who was harassing them. The same survey found that a majority of harassment took place on a social networking site; the second most popular location for harassment was the comments section of a website.
Unfortunately, there's not much demographic information on the people behind viscous comments and threats—probably since most of the harassers are strangers.
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But psychologically, we know that all harassers are not created equal, says Stern. "Harassers don't all have one personality type that makes them attack people online," she says.
In fact, there are a number of reasons why harassment might appeal to those who do it, she says. First, it's possible that the harasser never learned how to manage his or her emotions. So when they see something that ticks them off online, they lash out to deal with those feelings, she says.
RELATED: Check Out Selena Gomez's Strong Response to an Internet Bully
On the flipside, it's possible that they can totally handle their negative emotions but don't do it online because there aren't consequences for being a loose cannon, says Stern. They can repeatedly hurt you without seeing how you react. Though that fact is true for anyone who uses the Internet, the difference for harassers is that they might also get a high from putting you down, says Stern. A harasser might have learned somewhere that hurting other people makes them feel powerful or happy, and that power trip or happy feeling can be addicting for them, says Stern. "Sometimes, they have to keep up the harassment to hold on to that feeling of power."
How to Deal
Whatever the reason behind an online harasser's offensive behavior, it's clear that they don't quite have their emotions together, says Stern.
Video: Here's What Online Harassment Looks Like | AJ+
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