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Cyber Bullying: It Happens to Adults, Too. Here’s How to Handle It

Updated on June 5, 2013

Are you being bullied on Facebook or other social networks?

In-person bullying and cyber bullying have been in the news quite a bit as of late. Most of the stories focus on children, who tend to be a bit more cruel and nasty than grown-ups. Most adults have learned to filter what they say, but immature people of any age can be bullies, too, and they hide behind the perceived anonymity of the computer screen to carry out their vicious attacks on strangers and even their “friends.”

Maybe this has happened to you: You innocently post something on Facebook only to find numerous horrible comments and ad-hominem attacks in the comments section by someone who claims to be your “friend.” These comments can be embarrassing or humiliating because everyone else on your Facebook page can see them. Or maybe your “friend” writes you a nasty letter behind the scenes, patronizing you, putting you down, or picking a fight over politics. Perhaps they Tweet nasty comments to you repeatedly or harass you on other social media.

You may not realize it, but you’re being bullied. It’s something few people talk about, but many people suffer from every day. It’s not fashionable to discuss adults being bullied, but it can happen just as easily as it can between children. Here’s how you can handle it:

Learn to Identify What Constitutes Cyber Bullying

The first step in being proactive against a bully is learning what things can be classified as bullying. Someone disagreeing with an idea you’ve stated, or presenting evidence in opposition to what you’ve posted is not bullying. If you have begun the disagreement without provocation, and the person responds to you, that's not bullying. Bullying is:

-Ad hominem attacks that begin with the word “you,” such as “You are ignorant and you don’t know what you’re talking about!” Ad hominem attacks address the person, not the idea.

-Profanity, as in “You’re a dumb s***head and an a**hole.” Profanity is harmful and abusive.

-Repeated attempts to engage you in a fight or any kind by sending private messages to your social media accounts. This is akin to harassment.

-Posting sexual jokes, pictures or statements to your account or on your wall that make you uncomfortable.

-Spreading false information or rumors about you behind your back; revealing personal information to those who have no right to the information. These are gross violations of your privacy.

-Kicking you when you’re down or blaming you for something that went wrong in your life.

-Airing personal grievances in front of others and naming you as the subject of those grievances.

-Any posts, messages, pictures or other digital communications that make you feel hurt, upset, angry or embarrassed.

-Any threatening messages, either physical or non-physical. These go beyond bullying and should be reported to the police.

Now that we have a handle on what cyber bullying is, let’s look at what we should do about it:

Zero Tolerance

-When possible, adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for cyber bullying, whether it is directed at you or someone you know. Unfriend and block the bully from Facebook or other social networks that allow you to remove the person from your feed.

Interpersonal Political Relationships

If the culprit is someone with whom you have an “interpersonal political relationship,” you may feel that you cannot unfriend and/or block them. An “interpersonal political relationship” in this case is defined as: a family members (yes, bullying can even happen within families,) a co-worker, an important colleague of your spouse, a good friend’s relative who you see often, your best friend’s spouse, any acquaintance with whom you must maintain good relations, or even your boss. In this case, if you feel it’s appropriate, go ahead and write them a polite, private note asking them to refrain from putting you down in public or whatever behavior it is they are doing. If the person is a work superior, or you feel you cannot write such a note, you can block them from further status updates without unfriending them or them ever knowing you’ve blocked them. To block someone from status updates on Facebook without “blocking” them entirely, simply click on the button where it lets you choose with whom to share your updates. It’s located on the right-hand side of your status. You will see a list. Choose “custom” and then go to the field where it says “Don’t share with these people or lists.” It will give you a field where you can fill in the person’s name, which will automatically populate the field. After you choose the person or people’s names, choose “save changes.” You can then post freely without fear of the person being able to comment, because they won’t be able to see what you’ve posted.

Keep Your Private Life Private

They say “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and you can avoid certain situations by keeping your work life and your private life completely separate. Make it a policy to never “friend” anyone with whom you work, ever, no exceptions, no matter how much your company may pressure you to do so. You may create a separate account which is solely for professional relationships, such as LinkedIn, but do not invite anyone from your company to Facebook. Also, try to refrain from revealing too much personal information in general. In this age of digital over-sharing, there is tremendous pressure to reveal everything about ourselves. However, we must learn to say “no” to this pressure. Keep your status updates light and positive, and don’t engage in debate unless you’re prepared for a lot of abuse. Refrain from political, religious or highly controversial posts. If you do post something of this nature, do be prepared for people’s tempers to get out of control. Nothing is an excuse for cyber bullying, but by taking these steps you can minimize the potential at the front door.

Defend Yourself

Feel free to defend yourself from false rumors, lies or put-downs by explaining why they are not true, especially if other people have seen the posting. It’s important to clear your name. Be concise, refrain from ad hominem attacks on the bully, and use “I” statements to explain your ideas. It is o.k. to say “I feel hurt by this post because…” Don’t be afraid to express why the attack is unwarranted, but don’t attack back. Specifically, never use profanity or put-downs toward the bully. This will only deteriorate the situation further. Disarm them by remaining calm and succinctly explaining why you disagree with what’s been said.

Gather a Posse

Since the bully is acting like they are in grade school, it is o.k. to be just a tiny bit “grade school” right back, but in an adult manner. Enlist your friends to support you. Ask them to share what they think about your character or qualifications in a way that is constructive and positive. Since a bully’s remarks can really hurt, you need to feel lifted and supported by your peers. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends for help in vouching for your good name, especially if you have been called out and humiliated in a public forum. A few kind words can go a long way in both making you feel better and showing the bully that your friends have your back.

Use the Tools Available to You

There are several free tools available to you which can minimize the potential for cyber bullying to happen. Social Fixer is a fantastic application and it gives you tons of options for customizing your Facebook feed to your liking. You can block pictures, certain kinds of status updates, whose newsfeeds you can see, and who can see your posts. Take a few hours to play around with this and also Facebook settings to see how to customize your experience to weed out the wackos.

When It's a Stranger

Let's be realistic, sometimes the temptation to return a bully's vitriol is overwhelming, especially when the bully is someone you don't know. If you keep certain guidelines in mind, it is possible to defend yourself and make the bully look bad without stooping to his or her level. When you post something on a public forum, such as a company’s page, or to a newsgroup or a message board, be aware that these are prime places for bullies to lurk, or, as it’s called in the digital world, “troll.” They might call you names, put you down, use profanity, or write a diatribe against you. Here, you have two choices: either completely ignore them or go right ahead and say something back if that will make you feel better. You are also perfectly within your right to post an article or other data to support your point. Do not get engaged in hours and hours of debate or fighting. Do not use profanity. Do make a joke, say something ironic or quickly point out a flaw in their argument. Keep it brief; the bully is not worth a lot of your time or attention. Your responses should be short and curt. If you’re naturally witty, go ahead and outwit the bully with your words. After you’ve said your piece, leave the message board or wall and do not return.

"C'mon People Now, Smile on Your Brother"

As the song says "everybody get together, try to love on another right now." Remain calm and try to keep love for your fellow human in your heart even as you're dealing with a cyber bully. At the end of the day, we're really all the same.

By being able to identify cyber bullying and being armed to take steps to stop it in its tracks, you can mitigate the damages the bully might do. If there are any steps not mentioned here, feel free to add your own in the comments section. Together, we can stop adult cyber bullying before it gets out of hand.

Let's Fight Bullying Together

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