Online hostility takes on many different forms – from the relatively mild to the extreme and illegal.
How can you tell if online speech is hostile? First examine the context the statement is in. Facts and circumstances often impact whether something is intentionally aggressive or just a sharp, off-the-cuff comment. Keep in mind that something can fall within the realm of hostility without being illegal.
Some questions to ask yourself: (1) Was it a one-time or ongoing attack? (2) Was it perpetrated anonymously, by an online pseudonym, or under someone’s real name? (3) Was there one attacker or are several involved, i.e. mob attack, (4) Was the attack unprovoked or a defensive response? (5) Was it made privately to the target or publicly online? (6) Do the attacker and the target know each other, and if so, what is their relationship? (7) Was the attack made exclusively online or has it migrated offline as well? (8) Was it about the target’s appearance, character or behavior? (9) Was a specific or general threat made against the target? (10) Could someone interpret that attack as humor or satire?
It bears repeating – online hostility covers a broad spectrum of actions which may or may not be illegal depending on content and the law. Actions include but aren’t limited to:
- Rude comments aimed at target
- Online screaming at a target
- Belittling target
- Teasing or mocking target
- Online cursing at target
- Insulting and name-calling
- Negative insinuations about target that have no basis of truth or are knowingly false
- Negative gossip about target that is intended to harm target, which may or may not have a basis of truth
- Ad hominem attacks against target
- Criticism of target’s appearance, age, gender, race, intellect, and so forth
- Revealing personal or private information about target
- Revealing embarrassing or damaging information about target
- Privacy intrusions
- Sharing or publishing information the target thought was private between the attacker and him/her, including photographs
- Impersonating the target online
- Spreading half-truths of lies about target and his/her family
- Photographic or other visual manipulations placing target or his/her family in an embarrassing or negative light
- Accusations of fabricated wrongdoing by target
- Threats of attacks against target’s reputation
- Sexual or racial harassment or harassment due to sexual orientation
- Hate speech
- Defamatory statements about target or his/her family
- Google-bombing campaigns
- Denial-of-service attacks
- Hacking target’s site or online accounts
- Threats of physical attacks against target and his/her family
Note: Download our Quick Overview: The Spectrum of Online Hostility here.